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Leadership Lessons learnt from the Sports Field

By October 15, 2015No Comments

I have never been more convinced that there are so many useful lessons organisations and sports people can learn from each other. Even as a casual spectator of sport I can’t help but notice the amazing drive and resilience of the players in this year’s Rugby World Cup, not to mention the variety of  leadership styles used to  build  such high performing teams. I don’t know an organisation that wouldn’t benefit from such leadership and teamwork.

I recently had a coffee with Jim McGuinness, Performance Consultant to Glasgow Celtic Football Club and former Donegal Senior Football Team Manager before he spoke at the Irish Management Institute’s Annual Conference. Although passionate about performance, his philosophy of leadership is to
challenge and support every member of his team to do their personal best rather than focusing solely on winning. Jim stressed the importance of building a strong culture of openness and honesty where you can constantly give clear developmental feedback, adding “sometimes this will mean hearing something you don’t want to hear but it will only help improve your game”. It did make me think do most organisational cultures allow for such openness? such honesty? such opportunities to give clear developmental feedback? I see a move in this direction in some organisations but I know there are many others that would say they have some way to go.

During his interview Jim talked about his time with Donegal, taking over the management of a team always at the bottom of the league to leading them to win two All Ireland medals. I, like many others in the audience, scribbled notes throughout his 40 minutes on stage and these were my take-aways:

1. Culture is everything. Culture is the backbone to all the behaviour and stretches as far as the fans. Building a culture means behaving the same way consistently so that the team, supporters, management and everyone involved know they are dealing with loyalty and honesty.

2. Balance collaboration and competition.

3. Planning is a necessity to success. Have a plan in place with a clear measurement matrix.

4. Focus Focus Focus. “Focus is the connection between two things”

5. Reflect and Review – make time to think. Reflection is key for continuous improvement and to understand what might be holding back success. He recommends scheduling at least two hours as week to reflect and review.

6. Know Your teamMcGuinness got to know the team really well, he understood their personal circumstances, knew intimately how they played so he could work on individual improvement plans and tactics for each team member. This commitment was part and parcel of the culture Jim embedded during his time with Donegal.

7. You learn more from defeat than you do from victory

McGuinness like all the motivational speakers at the IMI at last week’s conference left the audience of CEOs, Managing Directors, HR Directors, and Talent Managers amongst others with a copy book of ideas and strategies and lots of food for thought.

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