Great Leaders from the World of Sport

August 21st, 2014

Great Leaders from the World of Sport

Many of the world's most influential leaders have come in countless guises. From John F. Kennedy to Nelson Mandela to Mahatma Gandhi. All were great leaders in their own right, with a charisma and one great belief or passion that compelled them and garnered them millions of fans across the world. A following. A team.

They all had the innate ability to bring out the best in those around them, and no different are the leaders in the world of sport. A world made up of millions of people from numerous communities and backgrounds; an extended family of sorts, all with that same belief, valiantly following their leader.

We all have our favourites in sport, but it takes an extra-special person to be a hero to the sports-stars themselves. Beyond excellence in their chosen discipline, such figures are marked out by their innate ability to get the best out of the athletes around them.

Great leaders in sport bring success through different means: England rugby union captain, Martin Johnson's total dedication on the pitch elicited the same commitment from his players in England's victorious rugby campaign of 2003. Former Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, while not (usually) on the field of play, was better known for using his voice and confrontational demeanour to drive those around him. Conversely, it was Gary Lineker's talent and sense of fair play (he never received a yellow card throughout his entire career) that made the England striker such a popular choice as England football captain in the late 80s and early 90s.

While approaches may vary, great sporting leaders have two things in common: prowess within their field and charisma that somehow convinces those around them that anything is possible. Below are a few of the captains who have not only demonstrated these attributes, but have reached out and inspired beyond sport itself.

Judy Murray

She rose to fame as the fiercest supporter of tennis star sons, Andy and Jamie. Now a familiar sight in the media, the Scottish national coach has gone beyond being 'Andy's Mum' to become a force in UK and world tennis as an ambassador for females in sport. She is now investing her masses of playing and coaching experience into her current role as captain of the British Fed Cup. She has worked tirelessly with the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to improve tennis participation and facilities at grassroot level. Speaking to the BBC, Murray expressed her wish to "encourage more women to get involved in coaching at the highest level, and to personally support their development." Given her fundamental role in helping to secure Britain's first Wimbledon champion since 1977, you can expect the Edinburgh graduate to inspire the rise of many more tennis stars of the future.

David Beckham

The nation fell for 'Becks' thanks to his indifference to long distances when it came to scoring goals. The devastating accuracy of his left foot brought glory to Manchester United in the English Premier League and in European football alike. Beckham captained the English national side 59 times, a career that would cement his reputation as one of the game's most inspirational leaders. His aura only increased when he became the first player to win league titles in four countries: England, Spain, France and the US. He has been a model and fashion icon, and has even had a film named after him: Bend it like Beckham. The prestigious influence of 'brand Beckham' was cemented as he took on the role of ambassador for the hugely succesful 2012 London Olympics. He is a longterm supporter of UNICEF and many other charities including Unite for Children, Unite against Aids.

Francois Pienaar

The stone-faced South African captain brought the Rugby World Cup into his nation's arms in 1995. The victory was all the more monumental for its context; a year on from the grimness of apartheid, the rainbow nation was searching for a celebration befitting of the new visionary term bestowed by upon it by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Wearing a replica of Pienaar's no.6 jersey, and with the white man's Springbok on his heart, Mandela presented the World Cup to the South African captain and a country ravaged by decades of racial segregation became one. Pienaar remembers: "That was incredible, incredible - Mr Mandela said to me 'thank you Francois for what you have done for this country".

With the packed sporting calendar of 2014, the celebration of great leadership has become a daily observance. And while this is only right, every once in a while a great manager or captain will transcend the parameters of their industry to become a leader of a team the whole world feels a part of.

Elite sports is a commanding metaphor for business leadership, and there are some prominent parallels between the two. Competitiveness, reaching goals, grit, strength of character, co-operation, celebrating successes and recuperating after failures are all significant encounters in both spheres.

Insight team

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