From Sports to Business: Applying Leadership Lessons

Sports metaphors are entrenched in the language of business. For example, there were probably several important meetings going on in corporate conference rooms today where executives were reminding each other how important it is to "hit a home run" with their new marketing strategy.

And at the same time, these executives are giving a nod to how much the language of sports overlaps with the language of business. Certainly part of that is due to the fact that sports are such an important and central part of our culture. But another major reason is because sports and businesses are very similar in goals, team structure and leadership techniques.

The leadership lessons children learn when they participate in after-school sports come in handy when those kids grow up to be leaders in the boardroom. Even in an online Master of Business Administration program, students will discover the close kinship between sports and business.

Business Bestsellers

Writing for Forbes recently, customer service expert Shep Hyken noted that many of the top college basketball coaches – including some at the helm of Final Four teams – had bestselling business books. For example, John Calipari, who coached the Kentucky Wildcats, had a bestseller in 2010 called Bounce Back: Overcoming Setbacks to Succeed in Business and in Life.

In his article, Hyken asked, "How many authors release a book that is endorsed by both LeBron James, an NBA MVP, and Ken Blanchard, bestselling author of The One Minute Manager"? This clearly demonstrates that great business leadership and leadership on the playing field – or basketball court – require many of the same qualities.

Work, Teams and Teamwork

Perhaps the most basic and even overlooked word where business and sports overlap is “team.” When groups of individuals are working together toward a common goal, whether it’s to win a league title or a major account, the most important leadership lessons are those that give people the tools to work together and adopt a shared vision.

Along with reading through books written by top coaches from both the professional and collegiate sports worlds, actually playing together on teams can teach great leadership lessons to business professionals. Skills that are learned and values that are internalized include:

  • Treating people as equals
  • Leading by example
  • Providing continuous encouragement
  • Not dwelling on mistakes
  • Involving everyone

Leadership Lessons Off the Field

While the language and leadership lessons picked up under the guidance of a wise coach are valuable, it takes practical application before they truly become entrenched in the business world. Good online MBA programs, for example, explore group dynamics and leadership techniques – both of which have applications in business and sports.

In fact, navigating the dynamics within a diverse group of students who are all working hard toward the same goal – completing an MBA degree guided by a variety of experienced professors – can help students understand and hone their business leadership skills.

Learn more about the Boise State online MBA program.


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