Be a captain and not a boss

Key to success

By Fran Metcalf

Corporate bottom lines could be more healthy if executives ran their workplaces like sporting teams, according to leadership coach and author Ray McLean.

Having worked with AFL, NRL and NBL clubs as well as private organisations for the past 15 years, McLean says sportsmen have the upper hand when it comes to team work, leadership and genuine self-assessment.

"In corporate teams, culture is often driven by the mechanics of business and the bottom line," McLean says.

"Feedback usually centres around technical abilities and there’s not so much focus on behaviour of team members, even if it’s bad for business.

"There could be a really destructive team member but if they get the best sales results, that’s the indicator that prevails.

"Sporting teams rank behaviour as just as important as performance."

McLean, who just released his second book, Team Work: Forging links between honesty, accountability and success, says feedback and reviews are more honest and rigorous on sporting teams than in corporate environments.

"A sporting team has a very public performance every week and they review really honestly against that," he says.

"Corporate Australia really only measures against one thing – the bottom line – and they often only do it once a year.

"The selected leaders of a sporting team take responsibility for review and performance regularly and they review behaviour of their team as well.

"I have worked in corporate Australia where people are resentful or fearful of feedback because sometimes it’s not aimed at improvement but used against the person.

"In a sporting environment, you give honest feedback because everyone on the team wants to get better and improve so they can win."

McLean, who lives in Victoria, spent eight years teaching physical education in schools after graduating from university. He went on to become a training and leadership officer in the RAAF before starting up his company, Leading Teams, in the early 1990s.

The company helps sporting and corporate teams develop strong cultural and leadership models by identifying which behaviours they accept and reject and by aligning all players’ goals with the organisation’s rules and vision.

The first step, according to McLean, is developing mutual trust and respect among the team’s players and stamping out any fear or artificial harmony within the ranks.

Involving all players in the creation of the team’s culture and then aligning everyone to shared goals leads to clarity of purpose and, ultimately, a committed squad.

"The most important thing for any organisation is to believe that empowering people will lead to improved performance," McLean says.

"It doesn’t matter which team you’re in, you want to create a sense of ownership amongst the players.

"To do that, you need to assess where you’re at, how you’re seen as a team, what behaviour you’ll accept and what behaviours you won’t.

"This creates a culture and you can then select leaders and build a framework from that."

McLean says the last step in team management is developing action plans to change identified behaviours or areas in need of improvement.

"If there’s a behaviour you want someone in the team to stop or improve, you support them to do that through an action plan," he says.

"Sporting teams use mentors – if a player is asked to modify a certain behaviour, you ask him or her who they think does it really well and then try to link them together.

"I don’t see as much of that in the corporate environment either."


* Does your team’s culture harbour any deep-seated excuses for poor performance?
* Have you got the guts to ask the right people (those who won’t just tell you what you want to hear) what they think of your culture?
* Can you acknowledge that you might be a significant part of the problem?
* Who are the custodians of the behavioural standards in your workplace?
* Among the people around you, do you hear the language of responsibility or do you hear the language of blame and excuses?
* When you look at your organisation, are you looking for a long-term cure or a short-term fix?
* Are you prepared to follow a process to get sound outcomes?
* What are three words you think your colleagues might use to describe you?
* What might they ask you to stop doing?
* What might they ask you to start doing?
* Are you prepared to ask your staff to honestly assess where your team is now, and to share any reservations they may have about your capacity as a leader to engage in the process?

Team Work: Forging links between honesty, accountability and success, Ray McLean, Penguin, 2010

Article from The Courier Mail, June, 2010.

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