Joe Torre, a four-time Major League Baseball World Series winner, as manager of the New York Yankees said this about sports,
“Competing at the highest level is not about winning. It’s about preparation, courage, understanding and nurturing your people, and heart. Winning is the result”
Similarly, management is not just about making profits. It is about preparing yourself and your team, nurturing them, and having the courage to make the right, and sometimes tough decisions to steer your business towards making profit.
The role of a manager in business isn’t much different from a manager at a football club. They both have to get their teams, comprising of diverse groups of people with different skill sets, to work together and motivate them to achieve a particular goal. There are several areas a business manager can learn from a sports manager.
KEEP ‘EM HUNGRY
While management in both sports and business is about managing and motivating your team, sports management has evolved to allow for separation of duties of manager and coach. Business managers on the other hand tend to do both, coach and manage. Business managers can therefore strive to increase output by creating a role for coaches who can add a more personal side, as they work closely with teams to bring out peak performances. Bales and Slater (1956) discovered that such division of roles leads to self-emergence of two types of leaders, with a distinct set of roles- the ‘task leader’ and the ‘socio-emotional leader’. It was found that a task leader has to be identified before a socio-emotional leader can emerge, with a good manager being able to handle both tasks and lead his/her team.
Sports managers have long known that athletes perform best when they are in the fired up zone. In training, they are normally in the middle or down zone. When they are in the down zone, their coaches lift them up, and if they are fired up during training, the coaches settle them down. Similarly, business managers should identify the motivational levels of their team to know when an individual needs extra motivation or calming down. Teams are made up of different individuals with different reasons for getting motivated. As a leader, the manager should not only lead but also be aware of individual personalities and their needs, to keep them hungry enough to get things done.
GET IT DONE
A good manager knows that he cannot do everything and needs to delegate some authority to his team. In the sports arena, the manager makes the major decisions regarding the team, strategy and tactics. But once on the pitch the team makes play by play decisions depending upon the situation. Similarly, a business manager should be able to delegate as far down the line as possible in order to allow the team flexibility and creativity in their work and personal growth as individuals. Managers can therefore assist in bringing out the best in their team instead of trying to run everything.
PLAN TO ADAPT
Sports managers plan for every game separately, taking into consideration the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition as well as that of their own team. Similarly, business managers should take each project as a separate game and plan its execution based on the scope of the project, strengths and weaknesses of the team, meanwhile also keeping in mind the financial and human resource needs. While all projects may be similar the challenges faced in the projects may differ drastically. The downside to planning however is that outcomes can never be confirmed. Changing circumstances coupled with unlimited variables related to the business, indicate the importance of flexibility and adaptability of a manager. The team will therefore need to adapt to changing circumstances, whereas business managers should always plan their broad strategies with an allowance for flexibility and change to deal with unforeseen circumstances.
In business, as in sports, preparation is key. Sports managers spend hours going through videos of their opposition to decipher their strengths and weaknesses, prepare dossiers on the opposition team and its star performers, and go through their own play book to come up with the best way to tackle the opposition. Business managers should learn from sports managers in preparing for their projects by doing the same in regard to all aspects of a project before its execution. They should try to figure out possible hurdles and be prepared, before it happens. Such exercises can help highlight areas that the team needs to improve in, helping them constantly stay ahead of the competition.
The best sports managers are not the ones who win all the trophies. Even if they are, they do not rest on their laurels. Great ones go straight back to the game and point out areas of improvement. Just winning isn’t enough for them and they want to ensure that all weaknesses of the team are eliminated, for the team to stay on top. Similarly, business managers should also constantly look towards improving as a continual process. Business managers tend to get complacent after turning big profits for their company, instead of looking at how they can ensure a better performance the next time, be it through higher profits or lower costs. It is only when they strive to get more that they will be able to stay on top.
ESTABLISH TRANSPARENT RESULTS
One big advantage that sports have over businesses is that in sports the results are transparent. You either win or lose. You can also gauge the level of performance in the win or loss. If you win trophies or medals, then you are successful, and if you don’t then you aren’t. In business if you turn in a profit or increase turnover, then managers might be satisfied. But does it mean that they are the best in their area of work? Performance measures should be quantifiable and a manager should have Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) which can give a good indication of performance and verify performance improvements.
SIMPLIFY THE COMPLEXITIES
To the layman, sports in general, is simple. In football you pass the ball around and put it in the net for a goal. In tennis you try to put the ball past your opponent. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. There are numerous hours of preparation and individuals working as a team that is not readily visible. In such situations it is up to the sports manager to make sure that all these complexities come across as simple. In a similar way, business managers should be able to handle the complexities of work, like logistics, time management, and personnel management to bring about a good performance. The manager should realize and discern the complexities which may seem simple to others. This is perhaps the biggest lesson for business management from sports.
All good managers know that they can get their team to perform better if they are well prepared and have a shared vision with the manager. If they can visualize the task and results, their performance will improve. It doesn’t matter if it is in sports or in business; managers need to be able to transfer their thoughts to their team properly in order to realize their goals. Managers may be different; some are unassuming while others want to take control. But at the end of the day, how they get their team to perform is what matters.