Time To Empower Again

Sport used to be about empowerment. Giving young players the skills and putting them in game situations and empowering them to make the best decisions in a game. Sadly this is rare in many sports today as the coaching looks to churn out automatons playing a set style and formation.

If we look at how often messages are run out onto the pitch by water boys, physios, and the like, it is clear that the decision making is rarely trusted to those on the pitch.

The same could be said of senior management in sport, especially CEO’s.

It used to be that CEO’s were the figureheads of companies, but in the modern day this has become questionable. .

Yes, the Chief Executives of companies are still paid the big bucks, and still have the title on their business cards and the company letterhead, but how many of them are seen or heard? How many of them have the power to make decisions and have the courage to stand by those decisions?

It seems strange in a world where there are so many modes of communication that our Chief Executives, especially in the sporting world have become so mute.

Yes, many are quoted in company press releases and their quotes are picked up by those media outlets who simply have become information disseminators rather than checking or questioning the information first. In fact one sporting CEO would not let a Press Release go out without a quote from him in it!

Press Conferences too have become fairly irrelevant as frequently the Media Manager will protect his CEO by limiting the questions from the floor, or simply avoiding those present whom he knows will ask awkward questions.

As one “old-school” journalist said recently the only way to get a meaningful quote is to actually doorstop the person you need to speak to. Door-stopping was when Journalists waited outside of offices or people’s homes to get a quote. Even using this method it is now rare you will get more than a “no comment” or an occasional expletive. In fact one CEO appeared to go into shock when asked a probing question outside of a Press Conference.

So why is it that CEO’s today are so unwilling to face the media. Why is that CEO’s are so unwilling to air their views? Like the modern day players does it come down to empowerment?

As written in the piece titled This Sporting Life back in October 2016 one reason being given was that the Boards of many of these organisations are having far too great a day-to-day influence on the running of the company. The reason you paid the CEO a large salary, was so that he would run the company on your behalf, he came up with the strategic plans and he decided the structure necessary to make the company run efficiently and achieve the goals set out by the board.

The simplest way of explaining the role of a board is to say that it has two fundamental responsibilities; to ensure compliance and to improve performance. They are there to monitor, guide and evaluate. The Board sets and assesses remuneration based on information provided by the CEO. Hence the CEO comes up with how performance will be improved, and they are there to approve or reject any of his suggestions. It is not supposed to be the other way around.

What is worrying in a sporting context is a modern trend for the Chairman of the Board to have an office set aside in his or her sport’s head office. BY all means there should be an area where the board members can sit and work when they visit for a Board meeting, but is an office really necessary? Is that even healthy for the organisation, to have someone from the Board there on a full time basis? No wonder CEO’s feel stifled.

Some business analysts state that Board Members should not even visit a head office unless invited, or they have requested a visit, and then they should limit their involvement to the business at hand and as well as time spent mingling with the staff in the office. After all the Board are not officially employed by the company and so they should be treated like any other outside visitor. Many feel that such familiarity once again simply undermines the CEO.

This is a trend not just in the sporting world. It appears that the modern board members want to be the face of the company without the responsibility? Meaning that the CEO is nothing more than their puppet, who dances to their tune.

What is more worrying is the calibre of people ending up on sporting boards, and their reasons for being there. Many have little or no affinity with the sport. The Department of Sport and Recreation actively encourages staff to become Board members at local sporting organisations, because it will improve that employees opportunities of advancement. The same applies to lawyers and accountants. Of course some are there because they care, and they are totally committed to the cause and put in the relevant hours and more. Sadly for too many it is just about ticking a box, and as far as they are concerned a good meeting is a quick one. Any Board meeting relating to a sports organisation lasting around one hour has been classified as “going through the motions” by a specialist in the role of Boards.

Then we have people on boards who have clear conflicts of interest but appear blind to the fact. One sport recently had an elected politician serving, who was actively pursuing funding for facilities in his constituency. Another Board which does not allow any of its Board members to sponsor or be actively involved with any club, has a board member still sitting in on meetings at his club and actively being involved in player recruitment. There are many other examples of massive conflicts of interest, but no one says a word and more importantly the Chairs and CEO do nothing.

Then we have Boards making bad decisions, like the Australian Rugby Union. They backed an expansion of Super Rugby and when it backfired have made a complete mess of fixing a situation they created due to a lack of due diligence. How many of them will stay on the board when the dust settles? Or should we ask how many will do the honourable thing and step down?

A very high percentage of sports that we have featured on Not The Footy Show complain about the communication from their sport’s governing body. Frequently there is a feeling that the lack of information being filtered down is the result of underhand practises, of deliberately trying to keep members in the dark. Many organisations try to be transparent, and make minutes of board meetings, without sensitive financial information, available on their websites, or to any one who requests to see them. Others do not, and hence suspicious minds kick into gear.

When it comes to the matter of Communication it is extremely concerning how the modern day CEO choses to communicate. If not giving quotes in a press release, or taking part in a controlled press conference many opt for fatuous video clips where they claim they are keeping everyone informed. A two minute clip is hardly keeping people informed! These are no more than an ego trip and unashamed vehicles for self promotion. Then we have a large number of CEO’s who refuse to do one-on-one interviews unless it is with a media partner; which means there will be pre-determined questions and pre-determined answers. Is this ‘fake news?’

If you get to the position of Chief Executive in today’s world, and are being paid a six figure sum or more, surely you should be able to answer questions without having to see them before they are asked? Even a ten-year old could pass a test if they knew what the questions were before they had to answer them!

Sadly many CEO’s do not wish to talk to the people. They arrive at a venue and whisk themselves straight into the VIP area and avoid the average fan for fear they will cop criticism or a question they were not prepared for. When Nick Tana owned Perth Glory, he employed a CEO, but on match days he as the owner would mingle with the fans and talk to them to gather market intelligence on which he could make decisions. Both of his CEO’s Roger Lefort and Jeff Dennis were also very visible and accessible; although Jeff was certainly the more shy of the two. It is interesting to note that the club was far more successful at that time in its history, was it because of that approachability?

The biggest trouble with this uncommunicative behaviour from CEO’s is that their behaviour is then mirrored by their staff. Many will not talk on the phone, and simply resort to emails. When a conversation and a follow up email confirming what was discussed is always a far quicker and effective solution. We see information sent by Twitter or Facebook, both of course have their place, but if you follow a vast range of people on Twitter that message can be lost. On Facebook unless there is interaction it does not even come up on your timeline.

So when did the landscape change? When and why did Boards start to interfere more? Was it to justify their travelling to major events with all expenses paid by the sports they represent? Is the reason we have mute CEO’s because Boards now only appoint people who will not stand up to them, people they can continue to manipulate? Or does the role now attract people who are there for the money and quite happy to sit in silence?

It has been a strange evolution. From a fans perspective it is a worrying one, as no longer is there robust discussion, no longer can one trust the information being given, as far too often it is no more than spin. Words spun together to deflect or avoid criticism. Words simply to keep the ill-informed masses happy.

Word is that in one sporting organisation none of the management are currently allowed to make a decision without running it past the board first. This is ridiculous on so many levels. Why have a CEO eating up a six figure salary if you are not going to empower him to make decisions. Why have department managers if they too are not entrusted to make the right decisions. A stance like this by a Board says that they have no faith in any of the staff in decision-making roles. Therefore if that is true they should bite the bullet and move them out. Or those who were employed in such roles with decision-making responsibilities should question the value of their position, fight such a decision, or move on. They are doing no good by staying and accepting such an operational structure, and neither are they advancing their career prospects.

Can you imagine a coach not being allowed to make a substitution in a game without running it past the Board?

Just like a CEO a coach is soon found out if the words he gives his players lack substance. The staff will follow a strong leader who knows what he or she is talking about, just as players will run through a brick wall for a coach that backs them and who knows what he is talking about. It is hard to garner support if you say nothing, and if when you do speak you say nothing of value.

Coaches face the media regularly. They are never given the questions in advance. Yet the man who sits above them, or sometimes alongside them within a club structure, does not have to meet the same standards and is frequently paid more. How can that be fair?

Former Rugby League player, coach, and administrator Paul Broughton said in his autobiography “One More Walk Around The Block” that in his experience, teams, – and one would assume sports in general – only succeed when the CEO and the coach are on the same page, and share the same values.

Surely the same would be true of an organisation. The Chairman of the Board is the CEO, and the CEO the coach. So if coaches are heard from on a regular basis, why are we not hearing from our sporting CEO’s more often?

There are plenty of key issues in sport at the moment, globally, and in Australia, but it is very disappointing how few CEO’s have popped their head over the parapet to discuss these issues and keep fans, players and coaches appraised of their position or the situation. Instead they hide behind a Press Release or Twitter.

That is why the heat has been turned up. The CEO with a good Spin Doctor will roll out a cliche such as “that is why they get paid the big bucks,” or “they are not there to be popular.” Yet the truth is with better communication skills and more open lines of communication the heat would be taken out of the majority of situations. People want to see strong leadership, and they want to hear from those leaders.

Any sport that bucks this trend, and removes board members with conflicts of interest and involvements that are inappropriate at Board level, and appoints a communicative CEO who is allowed to do his job, is putting their sport in a great position. As that sport will have the ability to progress while many of its competitors languish in powerless silence.

It is time to empower people administering sport as well as those playing it. It will stop stagnation and bring back a vitality that currently is missing in so many.

Time To Empower Again

One thought on “Time To Empower Again

  • July 25, 2017 at 9:44 pm

    Great piece! It is about empowering people, and that has been taken away from players and administrators. Certainly many CEO’s are not seen or heard these days. We hear more from the Boards than the CEO.

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