Become a Fan of Work

The New Zealand All Blacks perform the Haka prior to the International Test match between the All Blacks and Samoa. Photo by Hannah Peters/Pool/www.photosport

What business leaders can learn about passion from sports.

When the Men in Blue are on the cricket field, there is only one place I want to be: in the stands. If I cannot be in the stands cheering on the India national cricket team, I am going to find a way to follow the match wherever I am.

Though cricket is not as popular where I now live and work in the United States as it is in my home country of India, sports fans in my adoptive home country can relate. Sports—from cricket across much of Asia, the Pacific region and the United Kingdom; to football and baseball in the United States; to futbol in virtually every part of the world—have a unique ability to grab our attention and inspire our passions.

It is hard to resist sports’ magnetic energy, even for people who are not avid fans. Every two years, millions of people from around the world, including many who are not normally sports fans, tune into the Olympics to cheer on their countrymen because the passion of competition—and the thrill of victory—is universal.

Supporters of the India cricket team during the 2015 Cricket World Cup. Photo courtesy of Tourism Victoria

Leaders outside the world of sports can learn from it as they look for ways to strengthen their companies, organizations or other projects that rely on teams of employees or volunteers. There is more that businesses can gain from examining the passion that sports inspire—lessons that business leaders can apply directly in their operations to strengthen their organizations from the inside.

There is perhaps no team more renowned across the world for its passion than the All Blacks, the national rugby union team of New Zealand, which AIG has had the opportunity to sponsor since 2012. Before every match, the All Blacks perform the Haka, a traditional challenge that expresses “passion, vigor and identity.” While the All Blacks say the challenge is “a custom of high social importance in the welcoming and entertainment of visitors,” to watch the performance is to understand it is also a unifying and motivating experience for the team—and its fans—and a confronting one for their opponents.

The Haka tradition alone cannot account for the All Blacks’ position as the most successful sports team in the world. California State University professor Dr. Wade Gilbert identified some of the effective coaching and leadership techniques employed by All Blacks leaders, including alignment on the core values of the team.

“Behavior is governed by high expectations, collective accountability and self-responsibility, not rules or coach-imposed disciplinary consequences,” Gilbert wrote. “A focus on developing rugby skills alone is insufficient. Coaches understand that their most fundamental duty is to promote the positive personal growth of their players using rugby as their medium.”

“I look for the best people for the job and enable them with what they need to be successful, which motivates them to be passionate about what they do.”

A similar philosophy has informed my management style at AIG and in numerous previous roles. Rather than trying to manage performance, I look for the best people for the job and enable them with what they need to be successful, which motivates them to be passionate about what they do. I know from experience that if I get the people and the passion right, performance is the outcome.

The passion inherent to sports makes it an attractive business tool.  In the same way teams like the All Blacks foster and exhibit passion and skill in their athletes, business leaders across industries can look for ways to cultivate employees’ passion for their work. The potential for passion is there, we just have to harness it.

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