CEO, Universities East,
Sodexo North America
On Sunday, Americans will gather around their televisions to watch the biggest football game of the year. We’ll see teammates forge relationships on the field, work together, and take home the title. At work, we want our teams to succeed, too. We want our entry-level employees to make a big impact just like the rookie on our favorite team did. And we hope our senior executives lead as effectively as the veteran QB does. In fact, by studying leadership on the field, we can learn great strategies for leadership in the workplace.
Take, for example, Tom Coughlin, former head coach of the New York Giants. Forbes reports that he ditched the outdated “command-and-control” leadership approach of old-school football coaches in favor of a “connect and collaborate” strategy. Rather than being a top-down disciplinarian, Coughlin chose to collaborate with his players, listening to their opinions and thoughts about how the team could be better. This collaborative style can work off the field, too. Listening to your employees and empowering them to make decisions can boost individual engagement and help your team thrive.
In football and in the office, a team leader has to understand each team member’s strengths and weaknesses. The leader also has to have a handle on individual personalities and motivations. That’s why it’s important to make the time to get to know and interact with all of your employees. Coughlin used to cancel training day to take the whole team bowling. And he didn’t just talk football—he also talked to players about their families and what was going on in their lives. He had them all do team-building exercises. The outcome strengthened the Giants and prepared them for a slew of wins.
Lastly, a successful team is led by a prepared leader. Just as the coach needs to assess the other team’s strengths, a workplace leader should be able to analyze the marketplace and the company’s competition. That comes from doing your homework. Just as a football coach spends hours looking at tape to find the other team’s weaknesses, it’s worthwhile to spend time assessing the marketplace to see where your team’s skills can help you break through.
Like football’s great coaches, the best workplace leaders are their team’s biggest cheerleader and main support system. What have you learned about leadership from your favorite sports coaches? Tell us in the comments section.