How leadership connects sport, business and politics

February 6, 2008

sebastian-coe.jpgLeadership pervades sport, business, and politics. But are there lessons to be transferred from experiences in all three activities?

Early posts in Leaders We Deserve treated sport, business, and politics as three discrete worlds. To be sure, each offered interesting examples of good and bad leadership practices. But why should a politician study sports psychology? Why should a football coach worry about theories of organizational change? Why should a business leader bother about the antics of political parties?

Answers pretty soon came to me, as I found more and more examples that crossed the borders. After all, professional sport requires long-term planning. Every coach worries about finding and developing talent, and the same is true in business and in politics. That’s not to say that some leaders are at the same time worried that they may be hastening their own downfall by bringing on the brightest and the best. But that’s the topic for another time.

I recently scanned the twenty posts I wrote in 2007 dealing with sporting leadership. These have been written from the perspective of a business academic who plays a few sports very badly. My competitive experiences are limited to a sport that has tried unsuccessfully to be admitted to the Olympics, and at present is concentrating on its own world games and world championship (Maybe you know which ‘sport’ that is).

A range of sports were covered in the posts. Increasingly I began to see common themes emerging. Ideas I had come across in business fitted the stories of the day about sport, and sporting leadership. Sometimes the stories also had a strong political context, which I saw as the Governance dimension which surrounds any attempt to introduce change in a sport.

Football, Rugby Union, Track and field Athletics, Cricket, and Chess were among the sports which recurred. Football had the most posts, but Chess had quite a few, as well. Yes it the wannabe Olympic sport which I mentioned earlier. China missed an opportunity in failing to press for it, as they would have won many golds, probably more than any other nation, in the Women’s competition.

Football themes included

Charismatic leadership with Jose Mourinho and Kevin Keegan as case examples. These were contrasted with the post-charismatic ideas of modest leaders of fierce resolve.

Chess also offered various ideas

Chess suggested additional ideas for analysing business and sporting leadership, diplomacy, political gambits , and the power of the unfulfilled threat.

Other sports also contributed leadership concepts

such as vision, resilience. fall-back planning, team selection, and the bridging role of a leader,

To go more deeply

To help develop future posts in Leaders We Deserve you will soon be able to vote on an inventory (under development). In the meanwhile coaches and sporting administrators may find some ideas of practical value in browsing the posts above.