Blog Archives

How sports coaches use world class leadership to create winning teams

Before I elaborate, I have a confession to make… I’m an ex senior AFL player, now a football coach and more recently, a professional recruiter.

To outsiders, a senior coach is the face of their club, much like a hiring manager is a window to their organisation. They are engaging and genuinely passionate, or as cold as stone.

The strengths of a good coach are universal, but let’s tackle the sport I’m most familiar with – AFL football. Consider the 2016 reigning premiership coach, Western Bulldogs’ Luke Beveridge.

Beveridge walks the fine line between instilling confidence in his players, and holding them accountable for their actions and behaviours.  All the while, he demands exceptional on-field performance.

It is well documented that since commencing his tenure as Senior Coach he has focussed on open and honest communication. He’s built strong relationships with the players, the club, its supporters and a wide range of people associated with the sport, including commentators, the media, and sponsors. These are not unlike the types of relationships we aim for in business when interacting with our clients or customers (who for me in recruitment are candidates), colleagues, suppliers and even competitors in our professional networks.

Much like recruitment, in professional sport, and AFL football in particular, nearly every transaction includes working with the uncontrollable elements inherent in dealing with people. In sport and recruitment alike, those without the qualifications or the requisite experience to pass judgement, often shout the loudest and voice the most criticism.

For Beveridge his clients are predominantly made up of both existing and potential club sponsors and members. These clients have made financial commitments and naturally want to see a return on their investments. In this context a winning performance as a coach could mean a cohesive team, with high levels of morale amongst players, who have the motivation to attend training and associated club events, and are well supported by family. It may translate to increased membership, a higher media profile, greater sponsorship and other opportunities. A winning team is more than match winning performances – think of the otherwise poor practices of the West Coast Eagles circa their 2006 Premiership.

High level sport, in some aspects, is not much different to the corporate sector. We’re juggling all manner of expectations from various parties. There are set timeframes (seasons) with efficiency targets (statistics). In business and sport, we all have to consider best process and methodology. Importantly, just has Beveridge does, we have to establish a culture and live the values, brand and standards of our organisation. Sound familiar?

Some players, as with corporate talent at the top of their game, are hot property.

In other cases some candidates are like promising young players; potential but struggling with form, gaining experience but not quite good enough – yet. How Beveridge manages the pool of talent in his playing group is his greatest challenge, because although he understands the industry and his client demands, his players output and abilities will often predicate game results.

So, would Luke Beveridge be the sort of manager you’d like to have in your organisation? Based on the attributes we’ve explored, I think so. His stakeholder management skills and ability to communicate with a broad range of people and personalities would be a strength. He has the proven experience in implementing a game plan, follows process, allowing him to work efficiently and consistently. Lastly, and I think most importantly, it would be his character and the impact he has on his organisation’s culture. His confident and engaging personality, combined with his strategic thinking, willingness to provide feedback and people management skills would make him successful in a non-sport leadership role. I’d like to recruit him.

Which qualities do you value in a manager? Who would you like to recruit to for your team?

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

The noble heart of a hard-headed leader

Seeing Jeff Kennett up close and personal headlining the 2015 Deakin University David Parkin Oration for Sport and Social Change, is an opportunity to see a leader in action. He’s animated, engaging and at times a little embarrassing.

Speaking on professionalism in sport and its effect on workplace health, Kennett’s words are prophetic, delivered just hours ahead of the tragic events at Adelaide FC.

Kennett says we’re not well equipped to deal with the pressures of everyday life in modern society. Stress, change and anxiety can get the better of us because we haven’t been taught to deal with these issues. Despite being more connected than ever before in the digital age, social media can have the opposite effect, causing social isolation.

He talks about elite sports people living in a cocoon, out of touch with the real world, empathising with the likes of Ian Thorpe, unable to come out and reveal his true self until well into retirement.

Passing under the red and yellow beams on the Citylink freeway into Melbourne CBD, or attending a conference at the Melbourne Conference and Exhibition Centre (colloquially known as Jeff’s Shed), you cannot help be reminded of some of the legacy infrastructure from former Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett.

In government Kennett was a polarising figure, and to get ‘Jeffed’ didn’t always have positive connotations. His vision for a Greater South East State remains understandably unpopular, and in my local community we’re still hopeful for a new high school to replace Richmond Secondary College, closed by the Kennett Government in the 1990s.

I lived in Sydney for the most part of that decade and I don’t know a lot about AFL, so while Kennett’s achievements as President of the Hawthorn Football Club (including a Premiership) may qualify him to talk about sport, it’s his work as founding Chairman of beyondblue, an organisation raising awareness of mental health, which is a real crowd-puller these days.

Over the course of the David Parkin Oration, Kennett offers personal advice from the perspective of a learned professional with many years of experience at the top of his game. His universal wisdoms, in the form of parental guidance and family stories, are also put forward, which makes him authentic and even endearing. He’s certainly charming and knows how to work an audience.

Deakin University awarded Kennett an honorary Doctor of Laws for distinguished services to business and the community, so it’s fitting that he’s a strong advocate for education as one strategy to meet life’s challenges. In fact he’s equally passionate about education and sport, suggesting ongoing learning as a pathway to equip young people for life after professional sport.

But what Kennett said that really hit home with me was this: “Professionalism does not yet recognise the human frailty of those in a profession.”

In our pursuit of professionalism, to excel in our career and to be the best that we can in our field of expertise, too often we lose sight of our humanity. There’s a body, without which there’s no brain. Athletes are reminded by injury. In the corporate sector, often we’ll wait until it’s too late to take care of our physical and mental health.

To be capable of great things, we need to play fair with ourselves too. Kennett says the second most important function of any leadership group, after good governance, is health and wellbeing of its members. This month beyondblue launches a series of projects aimed to reduce stigma around mental health conditions in men. It’s a timely reminder for professionals to check in with our team mates on and off the field.

What lessons can business leaders learn from professional sport? What’s your game plan for a healthy body and mind?

Featured image: Jeff Kennett by Craig Sillitoe Photography, Creative Commons Attribution

Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in The world @work