Leadership puts the team in with a sporting chance

DOES sport psychology have something to offer business? Sports performance certainly needs leadership, team processes, goal setting and measured outcomes, which are also part of any management effectiveness program. So, what is transferable between the two?

The most powerful statement that can be borrowed from sport is that leadership, when isolated from a single shared sense of purpose, is impotent.

Any less-than-successful coach will cite lack of commitment and loyalty as two major reasons for poor team success. Therefore, both sports coaches and organisational leaders must find the unifying “sense of purpose” that all team members can buy into in the pursuit of shared success. In this “sense of” are the identification, acceptance and empowerment that individual members develop for the team or organisational “purpose” they are charged with achieving.

Therefore, finding the mortar that binds and supports motivation, relationships and effort in pursuit of success is an integral part of effective leadership.

John Bertram knew this in 1983 when he made the statement at 3-1 down in the America’s Cup “…nothing has changed. After Sunday we had to win three boat races. Nothing has changed”. Nothing more was needed for his crew to collectively embrace the issues, passion, sacrifices and acceptance that were essential to success under pressure – and to leave self interest out of the equation.

So, how do modern managers, establish this “followship” that is essential to achievement? The answer lies in staff development – after all, the word educate comes from the Latin “to lead forth”.

While it is easy to say “train your staff”, the challenge is to select training models that transfer skills developed during training into a realistic “sense of” for actual management and/or vocational demands.

Typically, I have found that adventure training has rarely provided sustainable improvements in team processes in sport or business. This is simply because the purpose and knowledge required for physical and intellectual challenges associated with roping, bridge-building and the like are quite specific. Therefore, this style of team building will often bring out the best in people who may not be in a position of authority or who don’t strongly identify with processes and outcomes in a business environment.

Where does this leave us in terms of organisational effectiveness?

First, any leadership/followship model assumes that the necessary expertise needed for the relevant operational tasks is already available within an organisation. Otherwise, needs analysis and direct vocational training is required.

From there, the emphasis must focus on leaders themselves – on their capacity to manage information sharing, to confidently delegate, pursue resource development, install effective incentive and reward systems, and how they establish agreed and realistic goals.

Successful techniques for instilling these have been executive mentoring and coaching; delegation and team development; and a range of intra-personal mental skills focusing on high level, sustainable leadership.

The third step is for staff to adopt the processes and outcomes embodied in the “purpose”. Performance strategies involving personal goal setting, time management, confidence, comm-unication and stress management need to be targeted. Changes in these allow for recognition and evaluation of sense of purpose at any point in time.

This organisational effectiveness model shows that, when vocational expertise joins with effective leaders and motivated staff, then performance can be expected to increase on any set of indicators relevant to modern enterprise. This comes about from top to bottom development that establishes the single shared sense of purpose for organisational goals.

Geoff Paull is principal consultant at Pathways to Achievement. He can be contacted on 9444 1510 or

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