What leaders can learn from sports

While the NRL Grand Final arguably outdid the AFL Grand Final in terms of an edge-of-your-seat viewing experience, no one can doubt how impressive Hawthorn’s “threepeat” victory was.

Alastair Clarkson has shaped a team culture which has sustained success in an environment which has stringent parity and equalisation measures designed to “even up” the competition each year.  There is much that business leaders can learn from Clarkson’s approach.

A developer of people
When Lance Franklin kicked his 100th goal in 2008, Clarkson famously said “well done, but I never want another one of my players to kick 100 goals”.   Spreading the load enabled other players to become better and to fill the hole when Buddy left for Sydney.

As a developer of the people who work for him, Clarkson’s success is evidenced by the demand for Hawthorn assistant coaches at other teams.  In 2016, five of his former assistants will be in senior coaching positions at competing clubs.

Taking a compassionate approach
Stories abound of his kindness to others – from instigating the moment of silence, arm in arm with opposition players, following Phil Walsh’s death to impromptu visits to sick Hawks fans.  He has taken less money, redirecting dollars to employ specialised coaches he thinks will aid the Hawthorn cause.

Trying new things
Each year Clarkson travels overseas to investigate systems from other sporting codes and international business.   He comes back committed to trying 10 new tricks in the off season in the belief that one or two may stick.  As a result, for every plan that gets used in a match, there will be many more which have been trialled and disregarded.

Being ruthless about continuous improvement
After 2014’s 63-point Premiership win, Clarkson and the board had a rigorous post season external review to examine deficiencies and how each could improve their contributions.  The attitude is not to congratulate on a job well done but to ask “how can we get better?”

An appreciative leader who shares success
In an interview with retired Hawthorn great Shane Crawford, Shane thanked Clarkson for knocking on his door with the premiership cups to surprise his children.  Clarkson responded that it was the most exciting part of his job – “A lot of different people have contributed enormously and it is great to share some of the success.”  

Flaws and all
Clarkson is not a perfect leader – his temper has famously made front page news, yet his other attributes are to be admired and can be a lesson to any leader, whatever their role.

In his own words, “There is nothing out there that can make your club bulletproof, except hard work and good people.”

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