The correlation of leadership in business and in sport


Every weekend throughout the land in both amateur and professional ranks team managers and team coaches grace the playing fields and sports centres of the nation and together with their respective charges they gather to go into metaphoric battle with their adversaries. In doing so, whether those team managers and coaches recognise the fact or not, they are all viewed as leaders by their subjects and are undoubtedly tasked with doing an exceptionally difficult job. So what lessons in leadership can be learned from business and applied to the sporting arena and vice versa?


Naturally some sports coaches will be more adept than others and certainly if they are in amateur sport the standard they bring to their weekend activities will inevitably be influenced by whatever their day job is and the degree to which they can be a ‘leader’ at work. Being a leader at work will no doubt bring advantages when engaged in a sporting activity as a coach, especially if you have been subjected to some excellent training, coaching and general good leadership practise from your own leaders and managers in the workplace.


Not everyone has that luxury though and if you are not in a management position and therefore not able to practise leadership skills at work then learning to be an exceptional leader as you go, by managing an amateur football, netball or rugby team will almost certainly provide many more challenges. Leadership skills are exactly that, skills and they can be learnt. There are very few natural leaders, and even those who seem to possess an innate ability generally have the foresight and humility to know that they have continually learn and grow. Therefore improving their skills allowing them to practise constantly honing them into powerful behaviours that help get the best from others attracting respect and admiration from those under their care.


We often hear coaches issuing instructions from the touchline, such as; “concentrate”, which seems to be a firm favourite, but concentrate on what? In the workplace it appears that we are also subject to the same ambiguity. Managers will mete out instructions at times with such vagueness that colleagues are often left wondering what exactly they are supposed to be doing. Sports coaches and managers alike need quality training and tuition to become better at what they do and it is no surprise to discover that these skills required in both cases have remarkable similarities.


All sports have outstanding coaching programmes and in many cases you will not be allowed to manage a team until you have reached the required standard. Certainly in professional sport you will be put through your paces as an elite coach and leadership skills are very much part of the agenda. However, having the piece of paper doesn’t necessarily equate to being able to deliver pre-match speeches that Churchill would have been proud of as leading others to success provides many and varied challenges.


Many coaching programmes, much like junior management courses at work, aimed at the introductory and middle levels will tend to deal more with the technical aspect of the sport and help the coach to sharpen their skills at teaching and observations in core activity within the sport as well as game planning and strategy. Certainly these skills have to be mastered before one can really become an accomplished leader in sport just as it is in business. It will only be when you reach the higher levels of coaching status that leadership skills will come more into focus and you are subjected to the skills and techniques of dealing with the X factor i.e. the unpredictable nature of human behaviour and all the uncertainty that leading people brings. Powerful leadership in sport nd business demands many skills such as coaching and directing as well as nurturing, listening and counselling where people are concerned.


When we examine leaders in sport there are many skills and behaviours that skilled exponents have brought to the sporting environment that we can learn from and transfer those qualities into our business lives.  There are many instances of exceptional leadership in sport where we can learn valuable lessons. The much vaunted and missed Seve Ballesteros’ unforgettable performance leading by example as Captain in the 1997 Ryder Cup at Valderrama where he inspired European victory.


The ultimate example of sporting leaders for many would be the way the popular and inspiring Bobby Moore led his side to win the 1996 football World Cup final for England. Again if leading by example was the main criteria for outstanding leadership then the way Diego Maradona in 1986 and Franz Beckenbauer in 1974 led their respective teams to a football World Cup final win cannot be ignored.


One final example of steadfast leadership and utter resolve would be the England rugby captain Martin Johnson who displayed many qualities as a leader on the field pf play but who did not endear himself to the Irish crowd at Lansdowne Road in 2003. When, having already lined up for the anthems, it was demanded that he move his team down the pitch so that Irish President Mary McAleese could be introduced to the teams. Johnson flatly refused and stood fast ordering his team to stay where they were. It is said that he was standing exactly where he had been previously told to stand with his team and making them move was an act designed to unnerve the English before the game. Agree or disagree, your choice, but it cannot be denied that he showed great resolve and strength of character where the result was that his team would have followed him anywhere that day.


If we examine the key characteristics, qualities, skills and attributes of a leader they are inevitably found in sport just as they are in business. Effective leaders in both instances have to display a high degree of integrity and honesty. They are invariably good communicators, confident in their own ability and exude a positive attitude. Winston Churchill was for many the ultimate leader and certainly if what we want from those who lead us is strength of character, resolve and commitment in the way that Martin Johnson displayed, then these are all qualities that the British Prime Minister during the Second World War had in plentiful supply.


If you are a coach in any sport then look to the skills and qualities that help you at work and apply them to the way you lead and manage your team in sport. If you are a team coach but are not in a management position at work then a good place to start would be to look to those around you who display the same qualities of an effective leader and simply copy their behaviour. Likewise, if you have a magic formula that works for you with your sports team at the weekend then try using the same skills and techniques at work; you may be surprised at the results.


At Maguire Training we seek to bring all these comparisons and more to leadership training and indeed during teambuilding events whether outdoors or classroom based. You can find out more about leadership and team building events by following the links below.




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Team Building & Team Working Events


Alternatively call us on 0333 5777 144 to talk through how we can help you build effective leaders in your organisation.

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