Lessons in Leading

Published September 12, 2014

What does it mean to lead an organization? Research and business leaders will tell you it comes down to culture. High performing organizations are driven by leaders who invest in creating stimulating, values-driven, responsive and dynamic environments where people feel motivated to contribute. I recently read a story in the Financial Post. I often skim this section to extract knowledge from great minds. A regular column sponsored by Waterstone Human Capital highlights success stories of organizations who have gone above and beyond to create thriving cultures. In Dr. John Izzo’s most recent article, he speaks to some of the highest performing business leaders and provides a theory as to why these leaders have been successful. The central driving theme is their focus on values and a relentless commitment to instill a positive culture. This philosophy requires a discipline to investing for the long-term, a passionate belief in treating people with respect, and the ability to take risks. A dose of care, compassion and humility is the booster juice of these top performing CEOs. What lessons can sport leaders take from this perspective as you look to instill a culture of high performance in your organization?

A few things to consider. The sport landscape is changing faster than most of us can manage. A way to navigate the turbulent waters of uncertainty is to ensure your ship is built from solid materials. From a management perspective, this means being committed to three things as leading management author Jim Collins reminds us: Be passionate about what you do. Do it better than anyone else. Make sure you can make a living at it. These three key ingredients requires discipline to stop doing what distracts you from your chosen course, the commitment to hire people whose values are aligned with your mission (first who, then what), and the ability to respond swiftly to the environment.

Speaking of values, my research into how values can help organizations move from good to great confirms Collins’ findings. In my book Values-in-Action: Igniting passion and purpose in sport organizations, I spent time studying the practices and beliefs of nine National Sport Organizations and their leaders. My research confirmed that it is critical to be intentional about the kinds of values you want to see influencing your culture. In the absence of doing so, employees felt a sense of disconnection and a greater lack of commitment, and there was a general sense of mistrust infecting the culture. A management philosophy called Management by Values makes the case that when employees and leaders identify and define a core set of values to inform how they work together to achieve their mission, a greater sense of belonging gets created. And once this happens, trust increases. And once trust is in the mix, great things can happen.

Let’s take TELUS for example. This corporate giant is considered to be one of the worlds’ leading telecommunications companies but that was not always the case. When CEO Darren Entwistle took over 14 years ago the first thing he did was focus on creating a personality for the business. He involved thousands of employees in defining the company’s values. The values that emerged paint a powerful picture that has shaped and defined the organization for over a decade: passion for growth, courage to innovate, spirited teamwork, and embracing change. He then proceeded to systematically embed these values in everything from hiring and training to compensation and recognition. In my book I speak to some of these examples and showcase practices from sport leaders who have found innovative ways to leverage their values. It turns out that a belief that values can make a difference can be the difference maker between surviving and thriving.

As author Thomas Teal reminds us: “Managing is not a series of mechanical tasks but a set of human interactions.” When one can speak from a position of values, we have the ability to connect with others in a way that feels empathetic and authentic. These final two ingredients are attributes that great leaders have cultivated to generate thriving cultures. Connect with me to discuss how investing in your organization’s culture can make a difference at dbl@sportlaw.ca

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