Sports leadership is set for a shakeup.

John Grisby on sports leadership and the football industry’s Perfect Storm 4.0

· by WFS2017

Do you want to stand out as a sports leader in 2021? Do you know what Perfect Storm 4.0 means for the football industry and your business? John Grisby, managing partner at leading strategy consultancy Grey Matter Global Ltd., speaks exclusively to WFS about the future of sports leadership.

First of all, John, can you introduce yourself and what you do?

I’m John Grisby and I have two roles. The first is a Professor of Practice in academia and second as a managing partner at Grey Matter Global Ltd. – a leadership strategy consultancy for business and industry 4.0.

I help prepare and shift leadership mindset to be effective in the fourth industrial revolution of business and industry. I do this by designing practice based transformational learning experiences – ranging from short digital learning packages to fully tailored leadership development programmes and consulting engagements.

You have proposed ‘sports 4.0’ as the industry’s next major shift, but what is industry 4.0 and what does leadership look like now?

Sports business or industry 4.0, for a lot of people including myself, is really exciting: AI, super fast connections and 5G technology making our lives easier. I’m afraid, however, it’s a lot less glossy, with a lot more pain. Any industrial revolution, like 4.0, means change. Change causes problems and creates complexity in all areas – from the board room, to performance, management, and leadership.

Leadership 4.0, meanwhile, is the ability to effectively lead your organisation/sector in the 4.0 context. More specifically making sense of complexity, leading through change and solving difficult problems. For leadership this means adapting skills and keeping up with the pace of change.

Can this leadership framework be used beyond the sports world?

Yes, most definitely. Sports leadership mindsets systems and structures are both a theory and practical application. The theory is supported by the sciences and the practical application by a framework and principles. It can be applied to any leadership role and context in business, finance, politics, sports, etc.

Well known examples of application in politics include helping F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela transition from apartheid to democracy.

And is leadership the same in sport and business?

Definitely not. If leadership were cross functional, we’d see world-class leaders in sport become world-class business leaders, and vice versa. There are some ‘genius’ level leaders in sport who would not have a clue how to lead in industries such as finance, media or technology. That’s another reason why it’s so difficult to transition roles, for example from player to coach. You can be a leader as a player but to lead as a coach is a completely different set of skills.

Business and sport share many general functional concepts and models like goal setting, objectives and mental focus. But there are significant contextual differences and subtleties that they end up being two completely different worlds.

One major difference between the two, for example, is how a leader leads people, or their ‘followers’, to perform or achieve a result. In sport, leaders help followers to perform or achieve a result through the human performance domains – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

A leader can’t lead people in the financial, chemical or IT sector in the same way. Moreover, in sport a leader has a very short window to develop these domains before the peak fades. In the business world, development is ‘lifelong learning’ with many peaks and fades, well into your 60s.

What is the most important thing that people don’t know about leadership that they need to?

There seems to be a narrow vision when it comes to understanding leadership. Despite the fact that we’re in the twenty-first century, there’s still little awareness about the subtler nuances of culture and context. I think some leaders don’t understand how to work with that, which can cause problems – especially at the current rapid pace of change.

Finally, what are the most important things you’ve learned about leadership?

Two things: One, context is king. Contextual and environmental nuances determine what the definition of a leader is, not pre-determined archetypes, characteristics, personality traits or behaviours.

Two, problem solving. In the 21st century, leadership is about solving difficult problems – because the rapid pace of change and mass connectivity makes everything much more complexity.