What CEOs Can Learn from Sports Coaches


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Regardless of the size or industry of your company, the responsibility for success rests with the CEO. Although most CEOs have teams that work together to achieve their business goals, all rely on the responsible person to lead the way.

While there are many strategies you, as a CEO, can use to drive your team’s success, one of the most effective approaches might be to learn from athletic coaches. Yes, you heard that right.

Athletic coaches know a thing or two about team building, goal setting and strategic execution that can be applied in the corporate world.

So, take a page out of the ancient book of sport and start incorporating some of the following rules and lessons into your business strategy.

Related Topics: 5 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Pro Sports Teams

1. Never start a game without a game plan

Whether the issue is business or sport, effective execution must begin with a clearly defined strategy. Important business decisions, both long- and short-term, are based on a strategic plan that moves your business forward. But no matter how strong your strategic plan is, it can only achieve its purpose if everyone involved knows and understands the plan.

As a leader, your responsibility is to properly communicate the strategic plan from top to bottom to ensure all team members are on the same page. Everyone needs to understand what the end goal is and what steps they need to take to get closer to that goal.

2. A good game plan is flexible

As with any exciting sports game, the market can change quickly and unexpectedly, as we’ve seen time and time again over the past few years. The companies that survived the global pandemic in 2020 did not survive by luck.

Rather, they have been able to quickly adapt to changing circumstances and pivot in times of crisis, just as sports teams need to be able to assess the changing circumstances of the game and adjust their strategy when necessary.

While it is important for all team members to know the primary plan, it is equally important to be prepared for changes. Plan B and C are just as important as plan A.

3. A team is greater as a whole than as individual players

In any team, each member has a role that contributes to the achievement of the overall goal, but it is the team’s ability to work together that creates real impact and value. A great team captain recognizes the achievements of the other team members because a united team is better than a single great player alone.

Good business leaders know how to leverage the individual strengths of team members and find the best ways to help them leverage their strengths to complement each other and operate as a unified whole.

4. Winners and losers are determined based on points

In sports, the score is the ultimate measure of success or failure. In business, too, subjective opinions are not enough to accurately assess performance.

Smart business decisions are based on data, not emotions. It is therefore important to collect and use as much data as possible. Track the progress towards your business goals OKRs and KPIs (Objectives and Key Results and Key Performance Indicators) helps you find out if your team is on the right track or not. Regularly measuring progress toward your goals helps you make informed decisions and optimize your strategic execution.

5. Check the scoreboard regularly

Since the score determines the final outcome of a game, most of the scoreboard is broadcast and continuously shared with players, coaches and fans so everyone knows who wins and by what amount.

In business, it’s equally important to give all team members a view of progress so they can see how they’re performing, which goals are on track, and which ones may be falling behind. Delay indicators provide insight into why a team member might be falling short of a goal. Catching these signs early gives them time to work with their manager to reassess the goal and tasks at hand, and make course corrections if needed.

Several companies use software tools to create this type of visibility. For example, Align offers KPI dashboards that show all your data in one view, including historical data for each goal visible to all team members.

Related Topics: 25 ways to lead, inspire and motivate your team to greatness

6. All team members must know their role (and that of others).

In sports, each player has a specific role and responsibility – attack tries to score, defense defends the goal, and so on. In addition, all players understand how their specific role contributes to the overall goal of the team.

Clearly defining roles and responsibilities in a company ensures that all team members are contributing and know what the others are working on. Each task or priority should be covered by a specific team member, although other team members may step in to help. This clear role assignment helps eliminate the need for micromanagement and reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings about who is responsible for what.

7. Trust your team and teach them to trust each other

Whether you’re talking about sports, business, or life in general, trust is the foundation of strong relationships. In sport, coaches must be able to trust their teams to understand the game plan and do their best to implement it properly, while players must also be able to trust one another.

As a CEO, you need to be confident that your managers are well equipped to lead their teams and that their teams can act as unified fronts. This includes providing your team members with the tools and resources they need to be effective and trusting their ability to function properly without micromanagement. Trust allows CEOs to foster a culture of collaboration, creativity, and open communication, and it also helps build a work ethic that leads to high performance.

8. Motivation is important

Imagine a sports game without fans. No cheerleaders, no cheers, no noise. Seems strange doesn’t it?

Cheering fans show their support and appreciation for players, encouraging them and making them feel valued. People are motivated by this type of peer encouragement and are more likely to perform well when they have a supportive and appreciative fan base.

The same is true in business: team members need moral support and recognition for their work. As a business leader, recognizing and rewarding your team members for their achievements is a great way to show appreciation and encourage strong performance. Celebrating achievements as part of company culture motivates team members to achieve higher goals and boosts morale.

9. Communicate constantly

As mentioned in the first point, a strategic plan is of no value if it is not properly communicated to all team members. But communication doesn’t stop after the original plan is shared.

Coaches often train from the sidelines, providing feedback and advice to their players as the game progresses. Players need to constantly communicate with each other on the field as well. It is their responsibility to call for help when they need it and to offer help when they are open.

Most mistakes in business are caused by misunderstandings or lack of communication. An easy way to improve communication and make it a habit to do it all the time is to hold frequent, well-structured check-in meetings. Whether it’s a team briefing or a 1:1 meeting, a calendar appointment is always a chance to provide feedback and engage in an open dialogue to ensure team members are in sync and on track .

Encourage your team members to ask for help when they need it and to help each other when they have the time and capacity.

Related Topics: 15 Success Quotes From America’s Top CEOs

10. Always improve

Win or lose, athletic coaches conclude each game with a debrief and an encouraging speech. They discuss what worked, what didn’t work, and what needs to be improved next time.

In business, too, regular debriefings and retrospectives can help identify areas for improvement and set new goals for the team. This includes reviewing progress toward goals at least quarterly, addressing backlogs, and adjusting your strategic plan as necessary to ensure you are meeting your goals.

Continuous striving for improvement and growth is essential for long-term success.

No team can win without a good coach. As CEO, you are responsible for preparing your team for success by leveraging their strengths, improving their weaknesses, and creating alignment and motivation towards a common goal.

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