Leadership Lessons From Sports Figures

Leadership Lessons From Sports Figures
The Siliconreview
27 May, 2021

The business world revolves around bringing people together to achieve a goal or build a company. In every instance, there is a leader that is inspiring the team and makes sure everyone is working towards the same end. In that respect, being a business leader is very similar to being a leader in the world of professional sports. In this arena you have to know how to manage people that are incredibly passionate and headstrong and keep everyone motivated and focused through the worst of times. With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at lessons we can learn from sports figures.

Kevin Cash 

MLB’s top American League manager of 2020 was Kevin Cash. Since taking over the Tampa Bay Rays in 2015, he has turned this team around immensely and now they are one of the teams that are most consistently discussed in the MLB picks and parlays. Cash’s accomplishments with this squad include two 90-win seasons and a World Series appearance last year. If we look at the success Cash has had, it’s clear that he owes the bulk of it to his leadership skills.

“Leaders treat their teammates the right way.” This is a recent quote from Cash that demonstrates his mindset. Everything the team does on the field and off was with a measure of equal respect and humility. Cash himself projects a friendly demeanor that allows the players to approach him at any time and discuss any issues. The MLB media also repeatedly mentioned Cash’s ability to relate to his players and keep a fun, light energy in the clubhouse. All of this put together allowed Cash to bond immensely with his players and make a winning team with one of the most modest budgets in the entire league. 

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan is known by most basketball fans as the greatest player in the history of the sport. Of course there are likely numerous reasons for his success, but one most certainly is his leadership mentality. In addition, his work ethic is absolutely legendary and there are few players in history that can match his dedication to the game. Jordan understood that the path to glory involved spending countless hours in training and this is what he did to achieve greatness. Before he was finished in the sport, Jordan had won six NBA championships. 

When we look back on Jordan’s career one of the things that is always mentioned is his ability to bring the best out of the players around him. Jordan constantly pushed others, but not in a way that stifled or pressured them, in a way that inspired them. When his teammates would see how much effort he put in and how much he wanted to win, they wanted to match his drive and ambition. He cultivated a culture of winning and this is similar to an atmosphere you may find in a car dealership or other sales based position. 

When times were rough or a game was looking to be lost, Jordan knew how to rally his team and bring them back from despair. Another important point is that Jordan put winning above all else, even personal feelings. The friction between himself and rebound-machine Dennis Rodman is a well-known tale by now. Before Rodman came to the Chicago Bulls in 1995, the team’s management refused to pick him up for years knowing that Jordan had a personal dislike for him. However, when they approached Jordan to say that Rodman would make the perfect addition to the team, filling a role they desperately needed, Jordan replied with “whatever it takes.” 


Jerry Rice

Jerry Rice is a beloved former NFL football player that has dozens of records that still stand today. Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, Rice was a force of nature on the field, tearing up defenses coast to coast. He has become somewhat of a mentor for the younger generation, imparting his knowledge and skills. 

One interesting thing that Rice has always said is very applicable to the business world and that is “practice like you play.” In football practice, too many players were only working at 50%, saving the best for game day. Not Jerry Rice. On every play, Rice was playing to the fullest extent, sprinting where others were lightly jogging and then some. 

In the business world, there is often too much theory involved. Too much discussion, or trying to find a slicker way to proceed instead of diving into the work. Instead, always give a project your complete focus and energy, and follow it through to the end. There are likely numerous times where you may just learn the bare minimum about a new software application in the office, or complete just enough to hand a project in. Instead, love the process and strive to excel in all areas, and inspire others to do so as well. 

Vince Lombardi

Vince Lombardi is one of the most iconic and important figures in NFL football history. He was there for the golden years from the 1930s to the 1960s. This period is remembered as a time when the sport was gritty, rough, and tremendously focused on hard work and force of will. It was Lombardi’s job as a coach to lead a team of young, driven athletes. Before he was finished in the sport, he had been credited with five NFL championships and two Super Bowl championships and is considered one of the greatest coaches of all time. 

Lombardi had numerous interesting points on leadership that even new managers today can learn from. He firmly believed that winning is a habit. Good teams don’t win sometimes, they win all the time. Breaking down the factors that make you successful enables you to replicate them and repeat them over and over. He also preached setting your goals higher than you realistically think you are able to achieve. 

Why is this? Because as you strive for the impossible, you will go farther than you would have normally without those goals in place. Lombardi also shared the mindset of many CEOs, and that is that each position in an organization matters, no matter how small. When you ignore the foundation, soon the whole structure will crumble. It’s this wisdom and experience that enabled him to be so successful in his football career.