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Sport leadership and management techniques for business ‘Insight Session’ – Review

Taking your business to the top of the winner’s podium
Higher Futures in partnership with the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) recently ran the third in its series of ‘Insight Sessions’.  The session looked at the benefits of harnessing the sport leadership and management techniques developed for the Olympics and using them to address the challenges and behaviours found in the business environment.

The Panel Discussion
On the panel were leading figures from the world of business and sport, they explored the issue and also heard feedback on the recent research in this area by the Institute of Leadership & Management called the ‘Elusive X’.  What emerged from the panel discussions were the following highlights from each of the panel members:

Sharron Davies, MBE, Olympic Silver and double Commonwealth gold medal swimmer,
For Sharron targets were key even during her childhood; inspired by Mark Spitz (nine times Olympic swimming champion) and her Dad’s ‘leading from the front’ coaching style, set Sharron up for Olympian success in adult life.  An example given was when Sharron was very young she broke both arms climbing a tree. Having had them re-broken in hospital and set in plaster her Dad insisted that she resume training after only one week.  To help facilitate the training he covered both of Sharron’s arms in plastic bags and taped them down to keep them water proof – nothing was going to get in the way of Sharron’s path to ultimate success!

Sharron emphasised that professional athletes needed the very best support covering all areas, from health and nutrition through to the best sports equipment and facilities.

Gail Gibson, Business performance coach
Gail felt that in most businesses the focus was on products and services rather than people and only an overall cultural shift would change this mind-set.  She illustrated how a manager (or coach) needs to introduce some ‘fun’ into the work culture as fun takes the fear out of failure.  This creates a less stressful environment for the employee.

Gail also referred to the ‘growth mind-set’ culture and how it needs to be encouraged and developed within the workplace. A ‘fixed mind-set’ culture needed to be dis-couraged.

Ross Hall, Faculty of Life Sciences and Education, University of South Wales 
Ross recommended that managers needed to really get to know their team so that they can truly understand what motivates individuals to achieve their goals. Focussing on key strengths, Ross was very specific about the skills that he felt were important to make a winning team listing: confidence; communication; attitude; discipline; trust; honesty and respect.

The high achieving athletes that Ross has worked with always set themselves unattainable targets; therefore a coach needs to manage expectations. It is important to equip the athletes with the psychological skills to be more resilient, to be able to deal with difficult situations.  This can also be translated to the workplace.

Steven Treharne, Managing Partner, Mogers Drewett
A keen cyclist, happiest out on the road clocking up the miles, Steven advised that cultivating the right high performance culture was important, however he felt that there needed to be an acceptance that you can’t always control the uncontrollable.

Steve also emphasised the importance of purpose and culture in business, giving the business a competitive advantage and attracting the right talent to the team.

Kate Cooper, Head of Research, The Institute of Leadership and Management
Kate started off her talk by explaining the background which led to the research, questioning whether there was such a thing as a corporate athlete.  Explaining that a lot of money was invested into the Rio Olympics, but what was the legacy and what was as she referred to it ‘The Elusive X’?   Kate embarked on research to look into this subject, convening a focus group from the world of sport and business. The research was extensive and some of the points she highlighted at the ‘Insight Session’ were clarity of goals; vision for the leaders, individuals and organisations; millennials want to be judged by results and the visible promotion of achievements.

In summary Kate referred to the ILM ‘Elusive X’ research which identified 4 distinct, beneficially transferable practices from sport to business: teamwork, clarity, metrics and mind-set.  The full research report will be published soon on the ILM website, visit

The Q&A Session
The audience supported the panel discussion by illustrating examples of their own experiences as business leaders.  For example Caroline Palmer from Raising the Baa emphasised that ‘fun’ is important through team activities as part of the work culture, making learning more accessible.

Further ‘Insight Sessions’ are planned for 2017 including rubber technology, manufacturing and construction.  Details will be published on the Higher Futures website when more information is available.


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Higher Futures is delivered by Wiltshire Council / Swindon Borough Council on behalf of Swindon and Wiltshire LEP.