SBJ/Sept. 20-26, 2010/Opinion

Successful leadership DNA includes a few common strands

Successful leaders who have devoted themselves to a career in the world of sports share a common thread of DNA. But if you Google up “Theories of Leadership” there are only 8,300,000 to choose from.
Role models don’t always make great leaders. We care more about the latest skinny on “Jersey Shore’s” Snooki and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” than doing something about the growing epidemic of childhood obesity. We spend more time breaking down our upcoming fantasy league drafts than building up a broken educational system. We live in a world of nano-second affirmation and even speedier deconstruction. It would have been instructive to have heard what John Wooden thought about the antics of the LeBron James “Decision.”
The only leadership consistency that I have seen is inconsistency. When successful organizations go under the microscope, you will see that there is consistent high-quality leadership at all levels. That successful leadership DNA strain is composed of the Eleven T’s. Think of the sports industry’s best and brightest — these should fit them to a T.
1. AFFINITY: The hours and pressures of the job mean that you can’t fake the way you get along with colleagues. The compatibility factor always shines through between leaders and their co-workers when times are the toughest.
2. AGILITY: Today’s world calls for incredible changes of pace to keep up with changing market conditions. If you can’t go to your left, then work on that move. If you are a winner-take-all negotiator, try beating your opponent senseless with a carrot instead of a stick every once in awhile.
3. CREATIVITY: Sports is a business that is defined by a herd mentality. A good idea causes the line to form. Leadership shouldn’t get stuck in a “Groundhog Day” thinking. Changing how you approach the business of your business is critical. Look to the outside world of creative business solutions, not just the best practices of your sport.
4. HILARITY: Working in sports is a marathon, not a sprint, whether it is a season or a career made up of many seasons. It’s a job with serious goals and objectives, bottom lines, wins and losses, hirings and firings, promotions and demotions, elation and deflation. In the end it is only a game. I have seen many leaders lose their way by weaving a web of woe. Show a sense of humor and a bit of wackiness every once in a while. It will lighten the load for everybody.
5. HONESTY: The most respected leaders tell the truth, good, bad or ugly. Think of the hardest teacher you had in high school or college. They never let you slide as you cursed them under your breath. A few years after graduation you realized they gave you the best education. The same is true with great leaders: They can pat you on the back and kick you in the gut without compromising the organization’s view on how to succeed.
6. HUMILITY: One of the many potential addictions in the sports industry that befalls leaders is defining themselves by what they do, not who they are. When they lose their way they can take their organizations over the edge. Your business card and title should never control your true sense of self.
7. LOYALTY: Leaders ask their staffs to invest their loyalty for the greater good of the organization. When a season goes wrong there is usually collateral damage in the form of terminations. Loyalty Street should always be a two-way avenue for team success.
8. MOBILITY: Mobility is leadership by walking around. Many executives barricade themselves in their office castles with a moat, a closed door and a fire-breathing executive assistant. The simplest way to lead is to walk around the office every day. The two-minute face-to-face is usually more productive than the 90-minute conference room agenda-driven meeting. At your venue, it makes sense to get out and walk around, sit with fans, and visit with game-day staff.
9. OPPORTUNITY: As a leader, everyone is going to want a piece of you. Think of those who mentored or spent time with you when you were banging phones trying to sell season tickets or breaking down video until 3 a.m. Every young person in your organization who wants to spend a few minutes with you deserves your attention.
10. SIMPLICITY: Between multitasking, social media of the moment, meetings by the moment and crisis management, the life of a leader is growing more and more complicated. The great ones create simplicity without dumbing down the product. If you can’t explain what you are up to in two or three sentences, it probably isn’t worth explaining. Many great leaders get people to do what they want while having others think it’s what they want.
11. UNITY: Most sports organizations are split into quarters with ownership, business operations, team operations and finance existing on different planets. “Ubuntu” is an African term that is generally defined as unselfishness and team unity. The spirit of Ubuntu that teams on the field strive for can become even more powerful if the entire organization lives it.
I don’t know which of those 8 million-plus leadership styles guarantees success. There are no magic wands, lanterns, carpets, silver bullets, secret handshakes, codes, Rosetta Stones, catchy phrases, or best-selling books that guarantee leadership success. It stands the test of time that human beings working together have accomplished far more than the sum of their individual efforts and capabilities. They have committed themselves to something larger than the individual. Leaders live teamwork every day, and the great ones make it happen.
Andy Dolich ( has more than four decades of experience in the professional sports industry, including executive positions in the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL.
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