Interesting conundrum, no? Both have achieved preeminence in their chosen field; each has developed a habit of excellence in performance. How to determine who might make the better CEO, all other things being equal, such as business acumen and the like?
Well, what does a point guard have to do well? Dribble, pass, and shoot are the basics, but every basketball player has to do those well; indeed, that requirement of uniform competency in the basics is fundamental to basketball, where it is not for football or baseball. Offensive guards do not have to throw a spiral, and pitchers do not have to hit for average. Specialization is more acute in these two of the American team sports trifecta than it is in basketball, where the better teams today have seven footers who can both defend the basket with their size and strength, and shoot the three-point shots taken from 25 feet or more from the basket.
A point guard has to run the team on the floor, has to call a set play and get the ball to the right player to effect a score, or improvise a fast break when the opportunity presents itself. The point guard has to see the whole court, know which player is best positioned to score, who’s hot and who’s not. He is the coach on the floor, has to cajole temperamental stars into higher performance, scold those who are not playing with fire, and distribute the game’s core resource – the basketball – fairly amongst all players so that each can contribute commensurate with their skillset.
Sound like any CEO role you’re familiar with?
Consider the championship golfer. She must play the game with single-minded devotion to excellence in personal performance and have uniformly superior capability in every aspect of this golf ‘business:’ driving the ball as far as possible off the tee into the optimal spot in the fairway, swinging irons from longer distances or wedges from shorter ones and spotting the ball in the optimal landing zone on the putting green, and then putting the ball into the hole in two or fewer strokes every time. And since things frequently don’t proceed according to plan, she must demonstrate excellence in the art of recovery at least several times a round, hitting the green from the sand of a fairway bunker when the tee shot goes awry, pitching to inside ten feet from the hole when approach shots miss the green, sinking 30-foot putts when the ball coming in fails to carry as anticipated. Finally, she must recruit, select, and organize a swing coach, a physical trainer, a sports psychologist and an equipment provider to properly support her game, and an on-course caddy to carry her bag, assist in real-time with club selection, course management strategy and moral support during the course of play.
Sound like any CEO role you’re familiar with?
The two sports roles could not be more different and yet I’m sure there’ve been Yes’s to both questions.
How do we account for the difference? Are both backgrounds equally good training grounds for CEOs?
Well, let’s think about the differences amongst businesses. If your business is in a rapidly evolving marketplace where seamless interplay between product development, marketing, sales, and operations is required for success, your odds of success are greater with a point guard mindset CEO.
On the other hand, if your company’s top job oversees a strategic enterprise composed of research and development, centralized production / supply chain, and two or more product / marketing / sales business units, and a scratch golfer is at the helm, you should take comfort that the training applied on the golf course is aligned with the approach required in the corner office.
There is a fundamental truth here, and, naturally, an old adage for it: ‘there are horses for courses.’ CEO jobs are different one from the next, and you want to be sure skills, experiences and personal characteristics of the incumbent match the job at hand.
What you want to watch out for especially is the extreme mismatch. When a championship wrestler with no feel for the interdependency of team play tries to run an internet startup through direct 1:1 engagement with each functional leader, things can simply fail to start up, and it will turn disastrous pretty quickly. When an All-Star soccer center halfback whose instrumentality derives from his intimate involvement in the interactions of his team tries to run a strategic enterprise with weekly all-team operations reviews, things can slow down and fail to progress. Unlike the startup failure, this one reveals itself more slowly, often when it is too late for course correction.
In such cases, playing to one’s strength must be replaced with a different game plan,if the company is to thrive.
Ultimately, for the CEO it’s about achieving the company’s goals, whether it’s growth, profitability or market share. The same is true for the golfer skilled in developing individual talent and gathering the right resources, and for the point guard whose team thrives on group dynamics – winning is the driving factor. In the end, it’s taking the right approach for the game being played that will determine success for the CEO.
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