Sport and Leadership #49 #cong21


Does sport, particularly for female athletes, develop leadership abilities for business and lead to better career success?

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Always be true to yourself
  2. Know your values
  3. Sporting traits transfer well to business
  4. View sport as a lens for society

About Yvonne Comer

I spent years working in London before returning to Ireland to do an MBA and I’m now a budding entrepreneur who has started a business that is going to revolutionise video analytics for sport.

I played a multitude of sports when I was younger and I’m a former rugby international who now coaches, manages and like any good volunteer has many other hats that I wear in my local rugby club.

I’m one of the first women nominated onto the IRFU Board alongside my former Irish captain. Meetings are my new going out…

I like to learn about new things and then quickly forget how much time and effort studying takes so I put myself through it all again.

Contacting Yvonne Comer

You can connect with Yvonne by email.

By Yvonne Comer

Leadership is an interesting concept and it’s been fascinating over the years to see how people’s thoughts have evolved in what makes a leader and if it can be a learned skill. This is something I’m still not sure about, do you need to have a traumatic event happen to enable vertical development, can you grow naturally with experience or is it like great athletes who have innate ability and talent that can be trained to become exceptional?

I had a Director years ago that was highly critical of my leadership style when I first moved into a management position, as it wasn’t the authoritative style that was his default approach. This style was always one that I struggled with before I knew what a good manager or leader looked like, but his criticism was something I carried with me for a long time that affected my self-belief. Thankfully I stayed true to my own style and remained authentic in my interactions which have brought me to where I am today. More recently as I’ve learned more theory around leadership, I can see how my early experiences of being involved in sport has helped me develop some of the characteristics, traits and philosophy that are now viewed as important in leaders.

Although there’s currently little empirical evidence or research into athletic leadership in general, and even less on female leaders, and how that may manifest later a business context, Transformational Leadership (TL) has been linked to effectiveness in sports settings as it leads to increased motivation, trust, effort and satisfaction.

Transformational leaders inspire and motivate teams to achieve more than originally expected and are seen as agent of social and organisational change. They can engage team members by merging their personal goals with organisational goals by creating a shared vision, coaching, team building, being open minded and developing cultural empathy which leads to better performance. These types of leaders also perform well under dynamic conditions and are effective under challenging conditions. emale athletes are significantly more likely to fall within the high and moderate files of TL than their non-athletic peers.

Companies like EY with their Women. Fast Forward initiative did a 3-year study on the role that sport plays at every stage of a professional woman’s life and have shown that sport is a powerful way to advance women in society and that the foundations laid by sport are critical to career success. Wages of former athletes are about 7% higher than non-athletes, and the EY/espnW global study of senior women executives shows that sport is a positive determinant of leadership performance and achievement and that 94% of C-suite women played sports. Other factors developed from sport which provide an advantage in business are a strong work ethic, determination, team spirit and thriving on competition which have been noted as the biggest factors in women who reach c-suite levels careers.

The UN has also recognised the potential for sport for global development and women’s empowerment, and the International Olympic Committee are pursuing an agenda for Planet 50-50, a gender equal world by 2030 which is enabled by sport.

My experiences of captaining teams from a young age means I was in leadership roles years prior to beginning a career. The same keys to success as a captain of a sports team such as communication, honesty, respect, positivity, emotional control and building the trust and gaining respect of peers, has meant that I was unknowingly cultivating a leadership style that has transferred over to business. The resilience and determination that was required to become an elite athlete and learning to accept failure combined with critical feedback as part of everyday life, has also shaped how I approach my work and has likely fed my entrepreneurial side, as well as my passion to try and improve the sporting environment for those coming after me. The drive to learn more about the sports I played so that I could be successful has translated into a thirst for knowledge in the various industries that I’ve worked in too.

There can be the expectation that women in male dominated environments take on board the competencies that are deemed important by men to become successful. My experience is that it is important to know what these may be but to always remain true to your own values. Values are particularly important as they are triggers for behaviour and can sometimes cause you to act in a way that seems counter to them. This was a revelation for me when I discovered the link. I’ve found it’s more vital to surround yourself with the right people instead be they mentors, mentees, the people you work with and your overall network and to be willing to be uncomfortable and vulnerable so that you can grow.

If we continue to strive to be better and do better and help those around us do the same, we may not always get it right, but we can hopefully become the type of leaders that will inspire others in both business and life.

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