Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sports Leadership with Seth Abraham

March 31, 2009 St. Louis, MO

I recently attended a Sports Management class for MBA and undergraduate students in St. Louis on the beautiful campus of Washington University. The class featured adjunct professor, Seth Abraham, former president of HBO Sports and CEO of Madison Square Garden.

Aside from Mr. Abraham being a fabulous orator, he strategically weaved great sports analogies with a sports leadership message. The value in his message helped me in gaining a better understanding of my role as a leader and mentor in the sports business world.


Think for a moment ... who comes to mind if you were to name the most influential people in the world? The class (composed of 18-30 years olds with a predisposition for sports) came up with Pope Benedict XVI, Barack Obama, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, David Beckham; interestingly 3 of the 5 are sports personalities. Your list likely consists of at least one sports icon which speaks volumes of our culture and the role of sports today.

How is the global commerce of sports different from the business world? The difference is that results are measured immediately by way of won-loss record and attendance. Mr. Abraham understates the following by saying, "What was once a pastime has now transformed into a global economy."

My notes from that particular 3 hour class session follow:

Skills in leadership:

(1) Communicate plainly and simply. State your expectations in plain and simple terms.

(2) Be prepared ... from Mr. Abraham's interview with former NBA commissioner Larry O'Brien, predecessor to David Stern. If you want to work for a sports organization research the company and most importantly, know as much about your "future" boss as possible.

(3) Unconventionality & Visioning ... see things that others do not and design a plan that brings the future into the present. A prime example is Branch Rickey who is best known for breaking baseball's color barrier.

(4) Good luck is the residue of good design ... luck can be orchestrated. Remember the Black Sox Scandal? Arnold Rothstein, a huge gambler with deep pockets, made his own luck by bribing players of the team to lose the 1919 World Series. Not a story we want to relay to our kids from the perspective of highlighting an illegal activity, but one that accentuates the point.

(5) Organization ... the better the employee, the less you have to manage. How do you know if you are hiring an ideal person ~ find out what that person does when they are not working to determine what kind of balance they have in their life. Additionally, a leader needs to develop a sense of mission and build solid relationships.

(6) Self-confidence (which can be confused with vision) ... have vigor, show grit, be determined, and follow instincts (critical to good leadership).

(7) Be clever ... hard to measure and define and different from smart or intelligent. Clever has more to do with how one solves problems by using research and experience. Mr. Abraham hints that it is better to be clever than smart especially if you surround yourself with talented people.

In summary, leaders come from all walks of life and there exists no single conventional way of being a leader. You can make decisions and learn certain leadership qualities with the right attitude. Look to inspire and motivate those willing and able to assume greater responsibilities in your sports organizations!

Please, feel free to contact me if you would like to gain a better perspective of this experience!