I’m an avid sports fan. I like all kinds of sports. I like the individual intensity at track meets, the determination of tennis, and the ferocity of boxing. I enjoy team sports such as baseball, softball and volleyball as well. But, I am especially fond of two team sports: American football and basketball.
While living a life filled with leadership responsibilities, I often use sports analogies to paint a picture of opportunities for work leadership. These painted pictures help bring an understanding in ways that aren’t always obvious on the surface.
The usage of some of our favorite past-times, as visuals, can help drive a point home. As a former collegiate athlete and professional coach, athletic lessons frequently come to mind in everyday leadership scenarios at work, in the community, in ministry and at home.
Leadership, many times, requires a change process. This process can happen for you, yourself, as a leader; or you can influence others to change. In athletics, change is inevitable in order to reach the ultimate goal of a championship. At work, many organizations are striving towards their own version of a championship.
Football, to me, is the greatest team sport. I’ve found that many team sports can be dominated by the play of a great individual. You might be able to think of examples of this in your favorite team sport. But in football, one must rely heavily on teammates to achieve the goals that were set previously.
In organizations, while there may be several standout individuals who are able to carry a lot of the workload, top-notch teamwork is a beautiful thing to witness. Like football, everyone at your job should have a designated role. One person’s role is to do “X” the other’s is to do “Y” and when everyone does what they’re supposed to do, results are achieved.
If roles are not clearly defined, and if you do not place people where they’re strong, you may be in for a disaster. Imagine if a football team was composed of the same types players (quarterbacks, linemen, wide receivers, kickers, line backers and the secondary), but you had a wide receiver playing on the offensive line. That doesn’t make sense, because the receiver’s strength is their speed and catching ability. Conversely, an offensive lineman’s strength is their ability to block and their girth. Having these players out-of-place will not make the team thrive. In fact, in that scenario there are bound to be injuries a plenty!
Examine your employee’s strengths, are they were they should be? Are they performing a job they should be performing? If not, think about how you can enhance the team so that everyone is being fulfilled and operating to the best of their ability. Once their operating, it’s time to think about how to evaluate these individuals.
Evaluating employees is a lot like coaching players in a live basketball game. Many evaluations in the workplace happen on a yearly basis, which is not a very effective way to create consistent change in your employees. Evaluating your employees throughout “the game” is a great way to keep everyone on track.
What coach have you ever seen, in a game, wait until the final buzzer to address their players? I don’t ever recall seeing that. Coaches give constant and consistent feedback throughout the game.
Prior to the start of the game, a coach will explain the game plan. This is the equivalent of setting expectations at work. The game then begins; work is being performed. Time outs are specifically used to discuss recent performance. In these time outs, there is usually information about the best plan of action moving forward.
When players are substituted in a basketball game, they are generally greeted by a coach who communicates what they’ve done well or need to improve upon. This is a consistent practice in the game of basketball and should be a consistent practice in your workplace as well. By the time the end of the game comes, the coach will generally celebrate the bright spots and reflect on what needs to be improved upon. This should be a standard business practice. Celebrating the things that have gone well while consistently holding employees accountable to get better.
Evaluation and feedback are constant processes. Take advantage of the time you have with your employees.
Lastly, as a leader you’ll be able to offer opportunities for others. In order to obtain these opportunities, your employees will have to be in the right place to receive them.
I like thinking about the game of football as a game of potential opportunity. When playing backyard football or playing video games I would play a receiver. The position of wide receiver can be one of the most rewarding positions in the field. To play this position it takes patience. Not every play is run for this receiver, and quite frankly, most times, they don’t know when they’re going to get the ball. Coincidentally, in life, your employees may not know when they’re going to get “the ball” also known as opportunity.
Additionally, when you look at how plays are drawn up for receivers, they are to go to a spot at a certain time. The only thing they know is that they’re supposed to run their route. Maybe they’ll be rewarded for doing so, maybe not. You, as a quarterbacking leader may have the opportunity to gift your receivers with fantastic opportunities.
Quarterbacks, like leaders, can be gift givers for those willing to receive them. The funny thing about these gifts are that they’re not handed to your employees, like running backs. They’re thrown at a spot that they’re expected to be at. If they are not there to receive their gift of opportunity, then they may miss out.
How many opportunities are you throwing to your receivers? Are they aware of the routes that they’re supposed to be running? Remember, when leaders give opportunities to their talent, everyone scores.
Leadership and sports have many parallels that can be used to enhance teams and organizations. I’m blessed to have been a part of some great teams, with great teammates and great organizations with great “teammates.” It’s my hope that you can advance your organization by thinking like an athlete.