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Leadership lessons from the wide world of sports

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There are many leadership lessons to be taken from the wide world of sports. These sporting strategies can teach you lots of things – business dos and don’ts included.

Recently, I caught up with the man who skippered Alan Bond’s Australia II to victory in the 1983 America’s Cup, ending the States’ 132-year reign as number one – sporting hero John Bertrand. When we spoke on my Sky News Business Channel program, he revealed Bond’s business strategies that secured the win.

The winning team in 1983 approached the sport like a business, says Bertrand. This, combined with exceptional skill and camaraderie, led to victory.

“We had to be world-class in all of our administration and our management. We had to be world-class in our technology and eventually the team had to be world-class,” he says.

“Eventually we had enough knowledge and momentum to pull it all together. It wasn’t just one element. It’s like links in a chain – if any of those links are weak, then the whole thing falls apart.”

Business great and bestselling author Jim Collins talks about the need to get the right people on the bus, that is, on your business. Only then can you go from good to great. As a leader, it’s up to you to handpick those on your team, to make sure you’ve got the right people on the bus.

So, what was the team captain Alan Bond like as a leader? According to Bertrand, Bond’s skill was in his ability to target the issue at hand and communicate effectively with the team.

“He had a tremendous bandwidth, in terms of listening,” says Bertrand. “His questions got right to the nub of the issue unnervingly accurately.”

This is a valuable lesson for any business leader – listen to your team. After all, you picked them to help you build your business, so have faith in your decision.

According to Bertrand, Bond also had a way of creating loyalty within the team and was able to motivate members to achieve their full potential.

“He opened up so you felt like you were part of his inner sanctum. There was this great sense of loyalty to him, which is a natural trait of a leader in business or sporting teams. You felt very empowered with that type of leadership quality.”

These approaches are great leadership strategies, but what drives them? The secret is vision and drive – crucial attributes for any business leader.

“He was an entrepreneur in the purest sense,” says Bertrand of Bond. “He saw himself as a global trader. Bond’s vision was not Australia – it was the world. When he first challenged [America’s Cup], which was way back in 1974, he was 34-years-old – 34-years-old and he had the audacity to challenge America’s Cup!”

This proves it doesn’t matter how young or how old you are, confidence in your own ability is crucial. That said, with great power comes great responsibility – and while many lessons can be taken from the rise and rise of Bond and his triumph in 1983, his tale should also serve as a cautionary lesson.

“This country needs people who are willing to take risks and even though he fell over and he paid the penalty, without that type of risk-taking and that entrepreneurship, then a wild country like Australia, which has had very little past history, wouldn’t have been developed at the rate that it has been so far,” said Bertrand.

Yes,Bond had his wins and losses – from flying high in the corporate world with Bond Corporation to bankruptcy and indictment. So, what are the lessons other entrepreneurs (that’s, you!) can make from Bond’s extreme highs and devastating lows?

Bertrand tips Bond’s mistake as his lack of measured risk-taking.

“He was moving too fast … the deal-making was such that his management couldn’t keep up and then they lost control of the empire.”

Since then, Bond and many others have learnt to finetune the pace of business, setting a precedent for a change in the culture of businesses.

“We’re talking about the roaring 1980s, when a lot of people were doing incredible things and the rules of engagement were very elastic … of course, things have been brought back dramatically since then,” he notes.

The lesson? Go slow for growth.

So, if you’re looking to work on your business rather than being stuck in it, book in for a complimentary business assessment today with Switzer Business Coaching

Important information: This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.

Published on: Monday, July 19, 2010

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