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Combating Fear In Management And Learning From Sports Teams

October 09, 2019 - By Dr Axel Zein, CEO of WSCAD, a company delivering CAD software for electrical engineering. In three years he turned the company around, grew revenues 57% and achieved number two status in Central Europe. He had previously achieved similar growth in another German CAD software company.

COMMENT BY IAN MUNRO, LEGITIMATE LEADERSHIP, ON THIS VIDEO

At Legitimate Leadership we frequently use sports metaphors to highlight good (or bad) leadership practices. While leading in a business is obviously not exactly the same as leading a football team, the comparisons are often close enough to be really valuable – as is the case with Dr Zein’s insights.

While we agree with all five of his recommendations, I focus here on “obsession with training”. When we work with leaders one of the most important messages we at Legitimate Leadership try to convey is: “Go and do something. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Without practice, nothing will change.” Competitive sports people understand this implicitly. The difference? Because performance on a sports field is usually so transparent and measurable, ‘return on investment’ (feedback) on training success is real-time and easy to see. The more I train myself to kick the ball straight, the more accurate I get.

Leadership is different. It takes time and belief and consistency to build trust – especially if there was little there before. People on the team may be sceptical at first when they see you shifting your focus to helping them. Feedback will likely be tentative while your people try to figure out whether the change is real and lasting or something that will disappear at the first sign of crisis. Keep at it. It might take 6 weeks, 6 months, a year. But when they do finally trust and support you, it will undoubtedly be worth it.

OUR SUMMARY FROM THIS VIDEO: What happens when you start a job and you’re not really prepared for it? There are two possible human reactions: One, “Wow, what a cool thing!” Another, fear.

Fear in a manager is a recipe for disaster. Because instead of seeing opportunities, you see threats. And you want to protect all that you have achieved.
So you start kissing up and kicking down, you don’t encourage others to grow, you remove every person from your way that could be a potential threat. It’s a nightmare for your business, because in the long term you’ll ruin it. And it’s an emotional nightmare for the people involved.

But fear in a manager comes mostly from the fact that that person is not prepared for the job.

So I advise you to look at sports, look at a soccer team.

Learn as much as possible, learn as fast as possible – before you become a manager.

The players on the field are the ones working. There’s a team manager, there’s a clear goal to win the game, and there’s a clear strategy on how to win the game.
Every professional sports team has a high-performance culture. But what is a culture in business? It’s not taking your people to the opera – it is the way people behave in the organization.

If your culture is based on innovation, people in your organization will welcome fresh ideas.

Everybody in a sports team knows, it’s about winning the game. The president knows it and the cleaner knows it.

But in a business, go to the accountants’ team and ask an accountant if he knows it’s about winning against the competitors, if he knows who the competitors are, and if he knows that his work counts – that he is actually competing against the accountants in the competitor’s organization.

Maybe your accountant thinks, “We aren’t competing, sales is competing.” That’s wrong. Because everybody in a company matters, and everybody is competing, whether you know it or not.

And, regarding individual performance, what I love about sports is that individual performance is highly visible. Anybody can see who the top players are, and anybody can see who doesn’t deliver.

In business, we tend to put a veil over the performance issue. We act as if everybody delivers the same performance. Yet people in a team know exactly who the top performers are and who the low performers are. So when we’re paying everybody the same, what we’re actually doing is encouraging low performance. It’s not a high performance culture, it’s a low performance culture!

Imagine Cristiano Ronaldo, the best football player in the world, having the same salary as somebody else from his team who mostly sits on the bench. In sports it’s not possible because anybody can see how good this guy is.

Also what I love about sports, is their obsession with training. When they’re not competing, they’re training. Three, four, sometimes six times a week. But when was the last time you improved your business skills? And how often do you do it? Is it once a day, once a week, once a month, once a year, once every five years?

In a business environment that is driven by change and uncertainty, training has to be an ongoing activity, and it has to be enforced by the managers.

Every sports team has a captain, the captain is the leader on the field. He or she is chosen as the best leader. Seldom is the captain the best player. But in business, we take the best consultant and make him head of the consulting team, instead of picking the best leader. Or the promotion goes to the boss’s friend, or to the one kissing his rear.

This causes frustration and stagnation in the company.

If we made individual performance highly visible in business, this wouldn’t happen.

In sports, if the team manager names somebody captain but that person doesn’t deliver, mass media will kill them both. Why? Because performance is highly visible.

Another thing, in sports, when they win, they celebrate like there’s no tomorrow! This is something we should do in business. There should be room for joy. When a team delivers top performance, reward them with money, hug their souls, celebrate with them – not only because they deserve it but also because it makes them stronger.

So, take these five concepts from sports and put them into business:

  1. The high performance culture.
  2. The extremely visible individual performance.
  3. The obsession with training.
  4. The way they pick their true leaders and not fake ones.
  5. The way they celebrate.

Yes, the perfect boss, doesn’t exist, because nobody is perfect. But when it comes to goal setting, I’d rather try and be a perfect boss than a mediocre one.

In Pep Guardiola’s four years as team manager of Football Club Barcelona, it entered 16 competitions out of which it won 14. He told the team when they first met: “I don’t expect you to win titles. I expect you to give it all. And when you’ve given it all you’ve got and we lose, I will defend you. But if you don’t give it all you’ve got, then you’re in the wrong team.”

For imperfect human beings like us, giving it all we’ve got is the highest level of perfection we can achieve. When we’ve given it all we’ve got, we are as perfect as we can be. So being a perfect manager/boss, at home, at work, lies within ourselves.

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