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ADVERTORIAL: Discover the relationship between elite sport and business leadership



Graeme’s career has been a varied one – he has played international rugby league for Scotland, worked for the London Broncos, and managed the England Rugby League World Cup team. He has also taken up elite sport leadership roles and been a performance advisor at UK Sport.

Graeme believes there are many parallels between business leadership and elite sport, but none more than the need to understand people – they’re your biggest asset after all.

Whether you’re a sports coach, a performance director or company CEO, Graeme says: “You’re dealing with an incredibly human environment that entails people’s passions and dreams.”

Here, Graeme explains how you can harness the power of thinking like an elite sports director.

The world of elite sport

When you’re running a performance department with the aim of winning World Cups and gold medals at the Olympics, the stakes are high. Just like a business leader with specific goals, you need a plan.

Graeme says: “My job was all about setting the strategy, setting the vision. And you’re very conscious that your vision needs to match up with other people’s dreams if you want to get to the top.

“Success starts with a holistic approach to understanding people. It’s also important to set the right goals and establish exactly what you want to achieve.

“I most enjoyed seeing a new athlete come into our performance programme and develop to potentially playing their first international, and move onto world-level success.

“The higher up you get, the margins for improvement are smaller and more important. We’re talking about real attention to detail.

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“Whether it be the person themselves – their skills and abilities – building team trust and camaraderie or using technology to your advantage.”

Graeme’s strategic use of technology within sports leadership led to the creation of the National Curling Academy with advanced performance analysis capabilities. This enabled the team to look at their performance in granular detail.

Graeme’s top leadership tips

1. Strategy and vision

Strategy and vision are pillars of leadership success in any field, and should have people at their heart. It’s not just about organisational success.

Your vision should help you create a culture in which individual ambitions and passions can thrive.

2. Investing in people

Talent isn’t just about finding the best person, it’s about taking a longer-term, strategic approach to discovering and nurturing talent.

Graeme believes in readjusting your mindset to think like an elite sports performance director, so you view the people who work with you “not as a commodity, but as people who you are going through a journey with.”

3. Taking a holistic approach

Taking the time to learn what drives people and how you can help them develop holistically will make them feel seen and heard.

Acknowledging people in this way can help with goal setting and career mapping, and will ultimately lead to happier, more productive employees who are much more likely to stick around.

4. Ask the right questions

In sport, as in business, Graeme believes the most successful leaders are those who dig down into the detail of how they can improve, both individually and as a team.

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After a major sporting event, the analysis begins: ‘How could we have done better? Where were we weak?’

Being a leader, whether in the world of elite sports or business, is fundamentally about constant development and learning – both for yourself and others. Vistage can help you learn the skills to grow your business by becoming a better business leader or CEO.

Find out more by joining Vistage, the world’s biggest executive coaching organisation. Visit the website here.



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