Saturday, April 14, 2007

Sports and Leadership

As a senior manager, I look for leadership examples in various realms, and the world of sports often provides some good examples. There an example recently that I found really transcended sports. Here goes...

After a game a while back, Dallas Mavericks Head Coach, Avery Johnson had this to say, "It's one thing to have a system and a philosophy. But if you don't have the right kind of players on your team it is all smoke and mirrors." You see this play out quite often when a new coach comes to a team - especially if he has had other stops in the same league. You saw Bill Parcells bring in some key players from his previous teams when he came to the Dallas Cowboys. He also cut ties with some long time players from the glory days such as Emmit Smith. A coach needs to have players in the trenches who support his philosophy.

In the corporate world, the same principle applies, but it does not work quite the same way. People rarely become "free agents" looking for a new team. Managers also seldom have the flexibility to make drastic changes to a staff that they inherit on new assignments. Since people move around much less, what is a manager to do to ensure that his philosophy and system take hold? In essence it comes down to leading change, and it happens slowly in most cases. It is critical to gain an understanding of the current staff and their practices in order to see where there is the greatest gap. The gaps may be closed in three ways: the team adapts to the manager, the manager adapts to the team, or they work together to find a new, third way of doing things. I have experienced all three of these in my working career.

Along the way, a manager will have a very limited set of changes that he can make to his team. Unlike the sports world where changes are largely driven by money or championships, these work best when managers work with people to move on or off of the team to further the individual's career development. People need to see different parts of their company in order to keep a healthy exchange of ideas flowing. There is one caution to consider, though. Much like the sports world, too much change at one time can result in a decline in the team's performance. It takes time for people to build rapport with new teammates and learn the local culture. Like most other things, it works well in moderation.

Next time, we'll consider something that I found from the University of North Texas Head Coach, Todd Dodge.


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