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Leaders employ various strategies for success in sport

This is an excerpt from Fundamentals of Sport Management by Robert Baker and Craig Esherick.

The Art of Sport Leadership: Strategic Applications

In essence, the art of leadership involves applying the right strategy in the right way. Baker and Nunes (2003) identified the following strategies that leaders can apply in order to enhance their success in sport settings: communication, trust and respect, goal setting, creativity, development, individualization, team building, conflict management, and role modeling. Leaders should value and employ sound communication techniques, which include attending to both verbal and nonverbal content, as well as the emotion, of communication; in fact, superior communication can be practiced and developed as a habit. A leader can facilitate multidirectional trust and respect by valuing members and empowering and supporting them in their activities. Being respectful and trustworthy begets respect and trust in return. Leaders can then trust able and willing members with levels of responsibility and accountability that they expect from themselves. As part of this process, effective leaders should help members set and pursue SMART goals (see discussion earlier in this chapter).


Leaders should also foster creativity in all organizational members by focusing on excellence rather than on the unattainable standard of perfection. Leaders, members, and organizations should not be afraid to make mistakes, but they must learn from them. The pursuit of perfection hinders creativity, whereas the pursuit of excellence—in combination with other appropriate leadership strategies—stimulates creativity and effective risk taking. Similarly, leaders should engage in self-development and facilitate the development of team members; in fact, doing so is essential to the leader’s sustained success. As is evident in successful sport teams, an organization accomplishes its goals only through the collective effort of its members. Thus effective leaders build each member’s confidence and genuinely care about his or her professional well-being. Such leaders support each individual’s pursuit of organizational goals. In this way, individualization is irreplaceable in achieving desired collective outcomes. By connecting motivated, supportive members to each other and to the organizational culture and goals, leaders can use team building to enhance organizational success. Indeed, when members are actively engaged in decision making, social and task cohesion can be enhanced. Putting all of this together, a sport manager who facilitates collaboration, emphasizes the common interests of everyone in the organization, and promotes interactive communication will build a culture where the organization is valued by its members.


Conflict, of course, is unavoidable, but an artful leader can use it to enhance organizational commitment and develop win-win opportunities. Vernacchia, McGuire, and Cook (1996) noted that "conflict is a natural and healthy part of the group process” (p. 46). In addition, effectively addressing conflict can provide a direct path to acceptance as a leader (Maxwell, 2001). Engaging in an inclusive negotiation process yields win-win outcomes wherein the perception of having compromised is minimized by the spirit of collaboration.


In all of this, a leader’s use of role modeling can be an extremely effective strategy. If the leader or organization sets an expectation for high energy, enthusiasm, effort, commitment, or any other quality, the leader must model that quality. When leaders provide an embedded role model supported by the organizational culture, members rise to meet that expectation.


These strategies, like the theories from which they have developed, are not applicable in every circumstance, for every leader or member, or in every organization. Therein lies the true art of leadership. While some nearly universal insights into leadership have been posited, the leadership process remains both personally and environmentally determined, very diverse, and dependent on an array of antecedents, best practices, and intended consequences. For confirmation of this point, we need look no further than the varied personalities of the successful owners in professional sport, whether in the Premier League, the NFL, or the NBA. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, for example, presents a much different study in leadership than the owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft. Both men are good at their jobs, but their approaches are very different.

Learn more about Fundamentals of Sport Management.

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