Right in Sports, Wrong for Business — the 4 Differences Leaders Must Realize

2 min read · 7 years ago


Sports play a big role in my life. Participating on teams as a child taught me lessons about the power of hard work and group effort – lessons I continue to find valuable as an adult. And I admit that I’m guilty, like many others, of drawing comparisons between professional sports and the business world.

Upon further review, though, I realize pro athletes, coaches and sports managers often demonstrate the antithesis of how business leaders should strive to be. Here’s why:

Related: 5 PR Takeaways From Watching the NFL Fumble the Ray Rice Scandal 

1. Fans celebrate obsessive behavior by players.

Take an NFL quarterback for instance. Fans want to know that their favorite team’s footballer spends every waking hour of his day practicing, watching game film or otherwise preparing for the next event. A balanced life often isn’t an option in a professional athlete’s world.

Yet in business, creating a culture of nonstop work and pressure is a recipe for employee fatigue and poor morale.

2. Athletes focus on earning for the short term.

Professional athletes find that their prime income-earning years are limited. I can’t blame an athlete for testing free agency or holding out for a better contract.

For business professionals, I offer the opposite advice: In the short term, never focus on money. Seek opportunity for growth and meaningful work, and over the long run, the money will take care of itself.

Related: What the NFL’s Toxic Achievers Can Teach You About the Workplace

3. Yelling is just fine on the playing field.

You’ve perhaps seen footage of the baseball manager who gets in an umpire’s face to shout or even kicks dirt on him. This tradition seems to be as ingrained in the sport as making home runs and stealing bases.

This somewhat barbaric approach may seem entertaining to some. But it’s not how business leaders should interact with customers or employees, however, no matter the circumstances.

Yes, a raised voice can get across a point, but it won’t be the one you’re trying to make. Managers should keep calm and realize that their job isn’t to entertain and appease fans, staff and clients. Rather, it’s to present themselves as a professional in all situations.

The same rule goes for employees. Athletes are often guilty of shouting at other players as a way to “get inside their heads.”

Train members of your team to spend time building up their skills and confidence instead of bringing down co-workers, competitors or irate customers.

4. Players are encouraged to blur the lines in the rule book.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard players-turned-broadcasters use this phrase “if you’re not cheating you’re not trying.” In the ultracompetitive world of sports, the difference between winning and losing is so small that teams and players will take any edge they can find.

Fans may even look favorably upon a player who’s willing to blur the lines of the rule book. The excuse: It’s just part of the game.

This reasoning is shortsighted. The right people – the kind you want on your team – will think less of any leader who’s willing to skirt the rules just to get ahead. Play fair and expect other team members to follow your lead.

Related: What Elite Athletes Can Teach You About Dealing With Pressure    

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