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It’s Most Definitely a Team Thing…

Feb 20, 2015

By Jane Rawden.

The leadership strategy advocated by Dr Howard G. Awbery proposes that strong relationships with close team members are critical to high performance. Jane Rawden of Awbery explains this theory - and how it is especially pertinent for those working in the pressure-cooker environment of sport.

In the business world the role of the manager has changed significantly to become a role with a greater emphasis on leadership, which requires a new skill set to complement existing management skills. When it comes to sport, however, there are a whole new set of challenges that require additional, unique skills.

Stephen Covey has been a frequent commentator on the leadership and management debated and believes that: “Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.” It acts as a useful working definition of the leader’s role.

Working ‘on’ as well as ‘in’ the business

The first point to recognise is that successful managers in sport, as with their business counterparts, need a cocktail of both management skills and leadership skills. They need to balance working ‘in’ the business at an operational level with working ‘on’ the business and to be able to adapt and adopt the appropriate skill in response to situations and circumstances.

It can be difficult to balance the two skill sets. More often than not, in times of stress, business leaders migrate to micro-managing as a means of improving business performance. It’s a philosophy that is as naively misguided as it is widely held. Sports and business leaders alike should consider whether their time would be best spent working ‘in’ or ‘on’ the business.

A high intensity environment

All leaders are paid to deliver results. The challenge with sport, however, is that their future can sometimes only be as far as the next game, requiring them to make the right decisions daily. There is little room for trial and error in decision making and short-term results are essential to secure long-term stability. Additionally, decisions are transparent and public - and the success or failure of them immediate - a situation not shared to the same extent by the business world.

A number of academic studies conclude that over extended periods, long-term stability presented above-average performance. While short-term changes can generate improvements, it will only be initially before cracks begin to show again.

Satisfying the stakeholders… Now

Business leaders face neither the constant conflict of pleasing their four stakeholders - the fans, players, owners and media - on a daily basis nor the weekly ‘AGM’ that is a matchday. This level of accountability requires the manager to develop high levels of emotional resilience, mental toughness and emotional intelligence to survive.

Managing the psychological highs and lows of players and helping them keep their confidence under pressure during a game is crucial. A sports leader has to consciously choose the right words at half-time, knowing it will have an immediate impact on the result - and the way they are viewed by stakeholders.

It’s much rarer for business leaders to need to operate at such a level of public intensity. Most business leaders have the luxury of privacy and time to make business decisions and certainly do not make then within a time frame of 30 to 45 minutes.

The importance of team dynamics

A high performing sports team is measured by the effectiveness of the whole of the manager’s team; from coaches to dieticians, from scouts to physiotherapists. This is arguably no different to any business leader, where the statement ‘he/she is only as good as the team around them’ holds true.

Research by Dr Howard G. Awbery reinforces that view and the importance of managers developing high performing dyads - one-on-one relationships - with the members of the team. He concludes that a high-performing team needs to have a successful blend of single, visionary leader and a group of subordinate managers who can deliver outstanding results. A specially nurtured relationship needs to exist with each subordinate manager for the formula to work.

Inheriting a team

However, rarely does a manager have the luxury of selecting their teams from scratch. More often than not they inherit teams and need to make early judgments on who are the ‘in’ subordinate managers and who are ‘out’. Each must share the same deep-rooted set of values and an unerring belief in the potential of their partnership. Without the strategic fit of vision and operational application, maximum results can never be achieved.

Sports psychologist Dr Misia Gervis argues that managers should have three key aims: To develop more effective interpersonal communication skills, to enhance understanding of group dynamics and how to affect them, and to focus on to personal stress reduction.

Understanding emotional intelligence

Psychologist Daniel Goleman is convinced today’s sports managers need to ‘understand themselves emotionally, understand others and understand how to influence others.’ The major skill that sport leaders demonstrate over some of their business counterparts is ability to perform at pace and under the intense pressure created by this place, particularly in decision making and communication.

To protect themselves from early burnout, their emotional intelligence and mental toughness needs to be honed from day one - an area from which many business leaders could learn much. With the right balance of management and leadership skills, and by surrounding themselves with strong team members, leading a high performing team within tight deadlines can become a reality.

Category: Expert Blog

Ben Quain

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