Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm

Modern Sports Coaching For Business Leaders

The classic half-time locker room Churchillian oratory from the coach, whipping the team into a frenzy for the coming onslaught is now gathering dust in Hollywood’s archives.  Today’s most successful coaches are masters of human psychology, combining insight with superb communication skills.  What about leaders in business?  Conferences, off-sites, retreats are supplying substantial income for sports coaches, as they induct business folk into the mysteries of motivation.  Everyone heads back to work feeling fired up, but they often fail to adopt what they have been told, because they were not clear on how to do it. 
I originally came to Japan in 1979 to study karate, have competed internationally and have been a national coach for Australia representing my country.  In my experience, the Japanese model of sports leadership is antiquated, excelling in only one area - "gaman" (perseverance).  The Japanese really know how to gaman.  They do love technology, so lots of equipment in sports training, but the leadership soft skills are still underdeveloped.
No great proliferation of sports coaches becoming gurus on leadership for business audiences here.  Japan’s feudal militaristic regimes for leadership spill over into business from the domestic sports world.  University "club" members know that age seniority, group dominance, rigid hierarchy and the suppression of the individual are the key leadership lessons learnt at varsity.  Not a sparkling sport’s blueprint for leadership in the modern world of business.
In 1988, I attended a luncheon speech by John Ribot, the CEO of the Brisbane Broncos rugby league football club.  He had been a top player and was launching this new club, which today is a global powerhouse.  By that time, I had been a karate instructor for 17 years, had studied under Japanese karate masters for 4 years in Brisbane and had studied in Japan for 6 years.  I was a National Level 2 Coach, graduated from the Australia Coaching Council programme and thought I knew about motivating and coaching people. 
John Ribot said something at that luncheon which stunned me.  He was contrasting the old style rugby coaching technology with the more psychology based approach.  He made the point that in the modern era, leaders coach each player individually and the big rah rah rally style was gone.  He gave an example where one player would be reminded of his big salary package and that he better perform or else!  In the case of another player, the coach just said, "it's a beautiful day to play football, go out there and enjoy yourself".  Absolutely no pressure placed on that player.
The lesson for business in Japan is to train our leaders to motivate our teams, one person at a time, based on what that person finds motivational.  Sounds obvious when you say it, but how many of us have any experience of being led that way or in leading others?  Normally the leaders do whatever they want and we have to fit in with it. They are often "Driver" personality types, where the key philosophy is "my way or the highway". 
Motivating others requires a good understanding of the interests and aspirations of that person.  Communication skills and time invested in getting to know that person are critical. In a time-poor world however, of doing more, faster with less, we are skipping steps and rushing toward the finish line.  We just don’t invest enough time in knowing our people.  How many business leaders can you think of who are really great communicators or motivators?  What about yourself?
Let’s all pause, reflect and commit to improve. We need to build business success through our people, individual by individual and the time to start is right now.
Action Steps
Reduce the amount of mass broadcast communications with the team and add in more one-on-one opportunities
Get to know the team better so you can understand their interests and aspirations
Find out what motivates them and work off that base
Improve communications skills by having better awareness of others
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