The Leadership Lever in Sports and Business

I’m in my happy place! September through December is my favorite time of the year. Not only is the weather beautiful in Central Ohio (at least through the fall), but the holidays are just around the corner and it’s the start of college football season. I didn’t attend The Ohio State University but growing up in central Ohio. I’ve always been a Buckeye fan, going back to the Woody Hayes era.

Deion Sanders

As the 2023 college football season started, there was quite a bit of intrigue around Colorado University with the hiring of Deion Sanders as their head coach.

After his 14-year career in the NFL, Sanders was elected to the Hall of Fame. He was away from the game for more than a decade when he was hired as head football coach of Jackson State, a historically, black college and university (HBCU). This was a risky move because Sanders had not coached at any level, let alone head coach. Being a great player is never a guarantee of coaching success.

His first year at Jackson State, during the Covid shortened season, the team went 4-3. In 2021, they turned things around and went 11-2. Then last season, Sanders led the Tigers to an undefeated season, only to be upset in a close game in the Division I national championship.

Colorado University

Back to Colorado. The football team has been irrelevant for quite some time despite having won a national championship in 1990. Last season the Buffalos finished with a dismal record of 1-11.

There’s been a lot of excitement about the hiring of Sanders, but there has been just as much doubt and many questions. Could he coach at the highest level of college football? Could he turn around a program that’s struggled since their glory days? How long would a turnaround take?

In their opening game, Colorado traveled to TCU, a team that played for the national championship last year. In a thriller, the Buffalos defeated the Horned Frogs in a close game. They followed that up last weekend with a victory over the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Things are moving in the right direction.

Leadership in Business

But this post isn’t about Deion Sanders. It’s about leadership, and how the leader is the lever to success, in sports and business.

Since leaving my corporate role in insurance, nearly five years ago, I’ve attended many conferences around the country. Something caught my attention during these travels. There are many good people in the insurance industry, who want to do their best to help the insurance agencies they support to grow.

I recall, sitting in one conference, listening to a leader speaking from the stage. It’s almost cliché to hear someone say, “Our people are our strength.” That sounds good, but seldom is it fully realized.

In an organization of almost any size, there’s usually a large sales team. The larger the team, the less impact any one individual can have on overall performance.

Consider basketball for a moment. Only five players are on the court at any one time for each team. Having a superstar like Michael Jordan or LeBron James has a huge impact on the team’s ability to win. Even in football, although there are many more players on the field for each team, a superstar player can all make the difference between a win and loss.

However, when an organization has 25, 50, 100, or more salespeople, the presence of a superstar makes very little difference to the overall sales success of the organization. Simple math tells you, someone who is 20% to 30% better than their peers can never make a huge difference when there are 50 or more “players” on the team.

The Leadership Lever

It’s the leaders who can have an outsized impact. That’s because leaders set the stage for success. Archimedes, the Greek mathematician and philosopher, gives us insight into this. He famously said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Leadership is the lever.

A leader who can coach the sales team, so they are continually improving their skills can make a huge difference. The leader is the one who can remove the obstacles that are preventing the sales team from maximizing their potential. A leader who can help improve the team by 10% or more will have a much greater impact on the overall organization than any superstar can possibly have.

In addition to coaching and removing obstacles, a leader needs to influence and inspire the team. Inspiration is instilling the belief that each person on the team can do even more than they might have thought possible. Influence comes into play because, after inspiration, it’s about influencing the team to do the things necessary in order to succeed.

The Rest of the Season

The season is still young, and Colorado has quite a few games to play so the jury is still out on the program’s success. Having watched their first two games, I went from a skeptic to a believer. But my shifting belief, and perhaps yours, is irrelevant to Deion Sanders, because he doesn’t know you or me. The only thing that matters is that the players believe in him. It’s apparent that they do.

Does your team believe in you in the same way? You may not need to move the world but are you a lever that can move the organization?

Brian Ahearn

Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE and a faculty member at the Cialdini Institute

An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, Brian helps clients apply influence in everyday situations to boost results.

As one of only a dozen Cialdini Method Certified Trainers in the world, Brian was personally trained and endorsed by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His follow-up, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was an Amazon new release bestseller. His latest book, The Influencer: Secrets to Success and Happiness, is a business parable designed to teach you how to use influence at home and the office.

Brian’s LinkedIn courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by more than 650,000 people around the world. His TEDx Talk on pre-suasion is rapidly approaching a million viewers!

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