Sunday, September 11, 2016

Leadership and Sports

Organizations have to chart out strategies in order to respond to competitive forces. Strategy is nothing but a game-plan. The intention is to put forth full potential and come out with flying colors and to win the game following the system, rules and procedures of the game. Competition is a prerequisite for strategy and in the VUCA times it has become further challenging to compete. The belief that competition is with the external forces drives the organization to target only external parties or rivals. Surprisingly organizations have to learn to manage the competition from within and with the situation with more rigor and responsibility. And that is where leadership becomes key.

The whole science of game theory provide a guide to a leader to follow the principles of sports in order to make effective decision. The whole premise of team-building is built on the principles of work satisfaction. One enjoys doing what one does. It allows one to put across full strength to achieve greater targets and as one keeps achieving, one keeps putting more difficult targets and more efforts to achieve them. The strategic intent enthuses the sense of achievement to stretch the limits and attain better results. This is competition from within.

It is for around a century that we have learnt that work is a group activity as in sports. Even when one participates in individual event, one has to follow the basic principles of group dynamics.

A successful sport person always compares the present performance with the earlier one and studies the trend as to whether there is improvement or not. And at times to deal with the limiting factors or the situation. As time changes situation changes and one has to learn how to deal with the situation successfully.

The leader has to steer the team and the individual team members to understand their potential and to keep driving them to put efforts to realize that potential in the larger interest of the organization. A leader is a coach and a mentor providing direction and hand-holding to the team members and followers.

There are five important lessons leaders can learn from sports –

1. Trust – one needs to trust the team members and there has to be a mutual respect for each other in the team so that their focus is not diverted.

2. Participation – the sense of initiative and whole-faculty participation has to be encouraged as one does in any sport.

3. Adaptability – the ability to adapt to different circumstances and deal with situation successfully. It also adds to the point that one should not force one’s view and should try to understand other person’s perspective as well.

4. Togetherness – as mentioned earlier, work is believed to be a group activity so is sport. One needs to understand that the feel of interdependence should keep one grounded and one’s achievement should not lead towards creation of any arrogance which leaves one in isolation.

5. Sense of achievement – All the eyes have to focus on the target and the members have to display their valor towards achievement of the target. All the guns have to fire together to kill the enemy.

It is a general belief that if one is successful sports person one would have better leadership skills and would suit organizations aspiring to hire people for leadership positions. Interestingly, seventeen years back Marian Extejt and Jonathan Smith studied the relationship between organized sports team participation and leadership skills and found no relationship. Their work questioned generally accepted and established belief that organizations should hire team players or sports persons as they would command better leadership quality. However one has to look at cognitive and behavioural faculties of sport persons in order to have job-fit, organization-fit or position-fit.

We may need to revalidate their research in the present times and I have reasons to believe that we might get different results. Though leadership might reside in genes, it is the culture of sportsmanship which would unleash their potential and sharpen their talent to deal with the situation successfully and to lead efficiently. They would prove a greater asset for any organization and would certainly draw and implement strategies effectively. Strategy is nothing but a game-plan and a leader has to put forth efforts to ultimately win in the wrestling ring called the market.

[The author is Professor of HR at Department of Commerce, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, Delhi. He can be reached at]
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