Coaching, adapting as much in play for businesses as sports teams
Many of same tactics apply in corporate arena; Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has been in both and shares some insights
Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville speaks with his team during a time out late in the third period against the Phoenix Coyotes in February. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune)
But Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has been where you are, behind a desk in an ordinary office where nothing was much louder than the chirp of an unanswered phone.
National Hockey League playing career ended. In some ways, it wasn't so different.
"Around the firm, you're supportive like a team," Quenneville recalled after a recent Blackhawks practice. "It's a competitive world. You make sure you're organized, prepared. Understanding what the other people are thinking helps as well."
Business and sports play out in different arenas. But anything that's competitive involves winners, losers and a game plan. So it's hardly coincidental business leaders often sound and act like coaches, and coaches sound like business leaders.
Sports is business simplified.
To watch is to see what it takes to win. It's all in front of you and on the scoreboard: which coaches have the best game plan and can adjust to conditions and opponents, and which players are fulfilling their promise, doing the jobs they've been assigned and working together.
In sports, we find inspiration and life lessons. And it's always easier to analyze someone else's situation. Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler may not spot the open receiver who's so obvious from the cheap seats.
"You have to be ready to change," Quenneville said, offering one piece of advice useful for both the ice and office. "We do change quickly and we do change when we don't like the way things are going," Quenneville said.
"A good leader is a good leader," Blackhawks President John McDonough said. "Joel possesses a number of skills that translate to the business side. He's incredibly well-prepared. He's very, very passionate. He handles crisis very well. He empowers people and relies heavily on his assistant coaches. There's a high level of intensity."
Look around your workplace from the sports fan's perspective and the similarities to business are easy to spot. There's your boss, the manager. Even without chewing tobacco, he or she is spitting out orders, directing the action, hoping for victory.
And in their cubicles, you'll see a familiar array of complementary players: the specialists and those whose value comes from their versatility, the promising up-and-comers and the seasoned veterans. Over there is the guy who's probably going to get waived.
The manager tries to get the most out of the group without burning out his bullpen of sales associates. Just be glad that at the end of every workday, none of you has to take questions from the media second-guessing your every move.
"Running a business and running a company are both about getting people to follow a vision in pursuit of a team goal," said Peter Marino, a president of Minneapolis-based Olson, which acquired Chicago's Dig Communications, a Chicago-based firm he founded. "Our uniforms may be different and it's a lot tougher to pull a muscle in business, but many things are very similar."
It's possible to overdo the metaphors, but watching a ball game, or playing in one, can provide genuine insight for the student of business.
Irene Rosenfeld, the chairwoman and chief executive of the Northfield-headquartered global conglomerate Kraft Foods, learned plenty as a youth basketball player.
"There's no question … one learns about leadership through watching great coaches," said Rosenfeld, named the most powerful woman in U.S. business this fall by Fortune magazine.
The greatest challenge in leading any team, according to Rosenfeld, is execution. Anyone can say Adam Dunn of the White Sox shouldn't strike out so much, but breaking free of a baseball slump can be as difficult as shoring up a flagging revenue trend or bucking up a division in decline.
"Figuring out strategy is part of it, but very often the strategy is obvious," she said. "The challenge is how one brings that strategy to life. It's a combination of understanding the capabilities of the team, how they interact with one another, what the barriers are and how you remove those barriers. For me, that's the art of leadership."