Years ago, I realized the corporate world had a major leadership problem only the sports world could fix.

To put it as simply as possible, our way of viewing management roles was broken. So many organizations viewed leadership through a reactive lens; in other words, a typical manager’s primary job question might be, “how many fires can I put out today?” This wasn’t just killing sales and profit margins, but it was also killing culture. People don’t want to be managed. They want to be coached. And where better to look for great coaching and inspiration than the sports world?

That was the foundation for Leadership Sales Coaching, FPG’s gold Stevie Award-winning coaching program that has radically changed the game for our clients. What if championship-winning sports coaches Nick Saban, or Pete Carroll, or John Wooden were coaching my employees? And what if we started looking at our employees more like athletes than employees? How would that be different? And so I studied their philosophies, their books, and it became a game-changer for FPG, my career, and for our clients as well.

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The cool thing about this concept of corporate athletes is that it’s catching fire. Look no further than Swedish lifestyle brand Bjorn Borg for the latest proof that our entire concept of leadership is changing before our eyes.

Allow me to introduce you to Henrik Bunge, CEO of Bjorn Borg, which makes stylish athletic wear outside the major-brand mainstream. Bunge famously runs his company like a CrossFit gym, and it’s taken off under his leadership. Since he took over sales are up 27%, operating profits tripled and employee engagement is up. So what gives? Why is Bunge so successful?

It’s because he views his employees through the prism of athletics. In other words, he’s a coach, not a manager.

Look at this quote of Bunge’s from the HBR article.

“Take a football player. He will always know how he performs. But if you go to the marketing department and ask them, they’re usually clueless. We have so much to learn from sports culture.”

The great thing about sports coaches is that they always have hard, measurable goals they give their players. Cover this receiver, make that shot, exploit this weakness. This gives their players certainty, and certainty drives productivity, and that drives results. Managers, on the other hand, give their employees weak, often confusing direction and remove all that life-giving certainty from the equation. A football player knows his role, knows the expectations and performs accordingly. If you don’t have that same sort of baseline in the corporate world from the top-down, the results will be the same as if you pushed a player onto the field who had no clue what he was doing.

I love how Bunge implements this sort of mindset to his team. He believes physical exertion makes us better at our work, which is something I wholeheartedly agree with. That’s why I start my days with a high-intensity workout that I use to train for things like the Spartan Race. Starting my day with a beneficial endorphin rush is the best way to charge into my day. A quick, high-intensity, 30-minute workout to rev up my engine for the day means that the second I walk through my office doors, I’m fired up for my first task of the day.

Bunge now has a mandatory one-hour fitness time for his employees every Friday, and he thinks it’s had a direct impact on his team’s rise in profitability. Here’s his rationale.

In other words, Bunge views success as the result of exercise and work going hand-in-hand. Personally, he told us that the more deadlines he has, the more he works out. And for the company as a whole, he believes that sweating together is not just about staying healthy, or being fit enough to endure intense periods of work. It is also a matter of having fun and fostering strong bonds between team members to help them reach their goals.

It’s hard to argue with the results.

Take a look at this chart from a recent Deloitte study on the changing tides of the corporate world. We’re moving toward a more collaborative, team-oriented space, and that means coaching is taking on a far more “sports-centric” feel than ever before.


The second column is today’s most effective coaching method used by companies like Netflix and Amazon, and think about the sports tie-ins. Transparent goals? Feedback? Check-ins? Continuous learning? All of these are borrowed from the sports world in some form or fashion. Whether we realize it’s happening or not, all of the world’s most successful companies are pivoting to this coaching model and away from the outdated and far less profitable management model.

Just like Henrik Bunge is doing with Bjorn Borg.

As leaders, what if we all viewed ourselves as coaches and not managers? As employees, what if we viewed ourselves as corporate athletes constantly striving to be better than we were yesterday?

Look, no one wants to be managed. Everyone wants to be coached. Right now, think of a great coach you had in your life that saw more in you than you saw in yourself, someone who pulled the greatness from within you. Now ask yourself, “What if we can learn the secrets, the processes, the strategies, the patterns, the techniques, on how to do that for people every day?” Do you think that would drive profit through your people?

As more and more companies are finding out, the answer is a resounding yes.

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