Running a business can be a lot like coaching a sports team. As I’ve become involved in my children’s sports, as a coach of a basketball team of eight-year-olds and an under-six Rippa Rugby team, I’ve learned some surprising lessons about how to behave and lead a successful team in business.
Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your leadership:
Gather a strong team. Kids will instinctively pick the strongest first when building a team. People like to do business with a brand that is strong and can deliver.
Leadership Action Tip: Who do you surround yourself with? Do a talent stock take and (if necessary) make a plan to develop or change your team.
Ideas are not worth much until they become actions. Innovation is essential to growth, but good implementation must follow. On the sports field there are usually a few disruptive kids, I’ve found that soliciting their help in the set-up of a drill gets them focused.
Likewise, at work, you have to get your stakeholders on board by providing context and fostering their buy-in.
Leadership Action Tip: Think of the current projects you’re working on and make a plan to bring in any stakeholders who aren’t sufficiently involved.
Change is the only constant, and a strong leader must be good at adapting. We turned up recently for a sports game to find the other team absent. There were parents and grandparents looking restless, kids ready to play. I found another team in the same situation, so we decided to play a game with them which ended up being one of the best of the season.
We later discovered the other team had a few players down with illness and had just not bothered to show, without telling anyone. The lessons: a) Be willing to adapt and build this into your planning; b) Protect your reputation. The missing coach damaged his club’s reputation and tacitly told his team that irresponsibility is acceptable.
Leadership Action Tip: Ahead of your next meeting, take five minutes to consider alternatives should the meeting not go as planned. Write down as many feasible scenarios as you can.
4. Focus on the game.
At every game and practice, there is child who would rather pick grass than catch a ball. Business productivity is similarly challenged by distraction and lack of focus.
Leadership is about setting examples; you must be available to your team, and to manage the various pressures on your time you could set up guidelines to enable you to balance regular catch-ups and open-door time with isolated time that allows you to work alone on the big idea that will transform your business.
Leadership Action Tips: Turn off your phone and email when you really need to focus, and let your key team members know in advance. Check out online focus tools such as focus@will (this is a good one, and I have no financial or other interest in this product).
Even for under-sixes we practice for at least an hour a week, allowing the kids to devote time to develop their skills. When was the last time you or your team did this? How about an hour every week?
It doesn’t need to be a course or structured event, but something as simple as doing online research in your chosen field, subscribing to a few blogs and putting aside relevant material to read during your development time. One of the biggest things you can do for world-class leadership is invest in your continuous development.
Leadership Action Tip: Make a recurring appointment of one hour per week for development time. Use this time to read industry papers, blog about your industry or do research.
Kids can teach us a lot about world-class leadership and how to create a positive, creative team culture. Don’t let your business be the last one picked. Surround yourself with a strong team, foster and implement great ideas, practice being flexible, become a master at focusing, and prioritise your own and others’ development. Last and most importantly, have fun! I want the kids I coach to have fun, and the same should go for a team of people in business.