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Business leaders can learn from the soccer field

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    Business leaders can learn from the soccer field

    Although the 2010 Soccer World Cup hosted for the first time in Africa may now only be a vague memory for most, Janine Everson (University of Cape Town’s Business School) states that there are still lessons that business managers and leaders can learn from it. Essential ingredients for footballing glory include sharp strategy, great coaching, and inspirational leadership – and the same can be said for senior leaders and executives seeking organisational success. When these three areas come together in the business world, the result can be strong and motivational leadership. This is the king of leadership that companies need to steer them through uncertainty, complexity and rapid change.

    Maritz Research in the USA suggests that employee confidence in senior management is dwindling across all industries in the USA. The study found that only 11% of employees surveyed strongly agree that their managers show consistency between their words and actions. Further findings showed that only 7% strongly agree that they trust senior leaders to look out for their best interests.

    The study also showed that in cases where management trust was strong, employees were significantly more committed to their companies. Together, the findings paint a rather gloomy picture of organisational trust and leadership in the USA, and while one cannot assume that the same is true for organisations in South Africa, few would disagree that trust and confidence wane during times of cutbacks and retrenchments.

    Rick Garlick, senior director of consulting and strategic implementation at Maritz Research, says the link between trust in leadership and employee performance is made clear in the findings: ‘In times like these, trust is an especially critical issue’.

    Key to building trust between leader and follower is open, honest communication. It is the foundation for good leadership, according to Craig O’Flaherty, director of the Centre for Coaching at the UCT graduate school of business. ‘When coaching leaders, we often share a simple formula that illustrates how crucial communications to achieving goals, whether you’re a project manager or a CEO,’ he says.

    ‘The formula states that “Process multiplied by Conversation = impact’. Most managers tend to focus on the process and ignore the conversations, or pay very little attention to them. We believe that only when these two areas are given equal attention can the right effect be achieved.’

    Conversation is also the critical factor when leading strategic change within an organisation. Any kind of change programme within a company – whether it is a small or major change – can create mistrust within the minds of employees.

    To lead successfully under these circumstances, leaders need to cultivate a deep awareness of their own position and effect on others, as well as a deep understanding of those around them, in order to communicate clearly to ensure that their followers follow them.

    This means that leaders must develop their understanding of self, of others, as well as of their effect on others.

    Joss du Trevou, a regional manager at Absa Corporate, says that coaching ‘had a big impact’ on his leadership style. Anthony Percival, GN of auto logistics at Toyota Tsusho Africa, says sympathy, understanding and compassion are strengths in a leader, not weaknesses.

    The powerful feedback from these leaders is that, when the elements of sound strategy and honest, inspirational leadership come together, organisations – like football managers – can build strong, motivated teams that are committed to performing at their best during the most challenging times.

    Based on the excerpt above, what are the key characteristics of a modern leader?

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