Authentic Unity creates power in sports and in business

There are a lot of similarities between coaching a sports team and coaching a business team. Both share the same values; you want your team to be a real team, to perform better and to get results. So, how do you get there? As Brian Farley sees it, by first focussing on intent and creating unity, and taking away the negative perceptions of your ‘players’.

Athletes have to deal with failure quite often. This can have a negative impact on the athlete which can cause certain mental barriers. The thought of making a mistake (and therefore losing) can make them afraid to try again. “I am not good enough. I messed it up the last time, so I will probably mess it up this time as well.” This negative perception throws up a barrier that keeps them from trying because their focus is on the consequences of failure. However, failure in my mind is not daring to fail, failure to me is that you allow the fear of failure to keep you from trying. As a coach, it is your goal to help convince them to step out of their comfort zone, to try something new.

This was my primary focus as the Head Coach of the Dutch national baseball team, when we started our journey to become World Champions in 2011.

The power of passion and a collective ambition

No European country had ever won a World Championship in baseball before. So why would the Netherlands be the first one to do it? We had a number of reasons why this wasn’t possible and this was guiding our perception of our chances. These types of negative perceptions lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy that you will fail. My job was to influence our perception towards the positive. “We can do this, by taking control of those things that we control! We will fight for those things that are meaningful to us”.

As an American, I grew up with baseball. This is our national pastime. Americans are all about baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet! We have a lot of passion for the sport which to my mind is the driving force behind all successful teams. Do we share a passion for what we are doing? This is the motor that drives our success. This is what keep us going when things are tough. This is the connection we need to have in order to grow. This is to me the key ingredient to all high performing teams, a shared passion!

When I first arrived in Holland, I wasn’t certain what to expect. I didn’t appreciate how fortunate I was coming from a country that had so much knowledge and experience with the game. Originally, I came to play and was only busy with my own performance. I came to a club in the third division of Dutch baseball, RCH Heemstede. They were not a very talented team and they really lacked a proper education in the game. After two weeks into the season, the coach quit and they asked me to be the Head Coach. It was the first time that I was responsible for anyone else other than myself. Prior to this, it had always been about me and me alone.

Now I was responsible for 15 other guys and that was quite a challenge. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was my first real experience with authentic leadership. What we all shared was a deep passion and enjoyment of the game of baseball! This was the foundation for our future success. So I started to teach them the game, sharing my knowledge, wisdom and experience with the players. I witnessed the rapid growth of the players as individuals but also our growth as a team. I realised that I played a role in that growth and that gave me a tremendous sense of fulfilment that I was making a difference in growing others. I have been doing it ever since!

That was my starting point as Head Coach of the Dutch Team. I needed to tap into the passion of my players to get them to step outside of their comfort zones and grow. Players will only step out of their comfort zone if they can see that the reward for doing so is greater than the current reward they experience for staying in the comfort zone. Stepping out of my comfort zone is based on growth which in turn is driven by my desire to achieve this growth. If there isn’t enough desire to grow in this way then people will disengage as soon as they encounter too much adversity.

Therefore I needed to find a collective ambition that we were all willing to get behind. Something we all desired to achieve. In this case that was winning a medal at the World Championships. This collective ambition provides the fuel for growth. It is the achievement we could all get behind. Once that was established, then it was a matter of reverse engineering the controllable, those processes, tasks and behaviours that would give us the best chance to achieve it.

Last but perhaps most importantly, we need to recognise that each of us is unique and brings different qualities to the table. Those qualities when unified behind a collective ambition make us incredibly strong. This is what I call the unity of diversity.

Through the power of a collective ambition, unifying our different qualities, hard work and a stimulating perception that we could do it, we became World Champions in 2011. We relied on each other’s strengths to help us win not on one or two individual players. That is the real power of a team, when they all can engage their strengths in the right place at the right time.

My life mission is to break down barriers

After my coaching days, I wasn’t done sharing my knowledge and experience. I started to give speeches about it to other industries. I felt that those speeches were inspirational but were limited to having a short-term impact. I wanted to find a way to have a more medium- and long-term impact.

Teams in business need to have this same unity. You have to have a team, where your ‘players’ are not afraid to fail, that take the experience of failure as a positive in order to become better. They need to work together, assisting other team members by utilizing their unique individual strengths to benefit the whole team. It is your job as the head of that team to facilitate that. To redefine the culture to one of growth and find team members that are passionate about that growth.

So, when I got the opportunity to become a certified adviser with Authentiek Leiderschap, I seized it with both hands – that my colleague and friend at Authentiek Leiderschap, Carina Mak had a connection with baseball, made it easier. And the fact that Authentiek Leiderschap is now a proud partner of the Koninklijke Nederlandse Baseball en Softball Bond (KNBSB) in the Road to Tokyo 2020, brings my journey full circle.

I now use my knowledge from my baseball career, both as a player and as a coach, to help companies. I refer to it a great deal of the time. Not only because it is what I know best, but because it makes it more tangible in what I am trying to convey. This, I believe, is due to the fact that most of us can relate to sports. It makes it click much easier.

My mission in life is to take action each day to break down the barriers that are holding people back from achieving their true potential!

When a team shares a passion for a collective ambition and then join forces using their unity of diversity to achieve it, they can become that World Championship team. Because winning is a team effort.

Do you want to explore the sport similarities and possibilities to increase your team performance so that your business team becomes a World Champion team? Contact Brian or Authentiek Leiderschap at info@authentiekleiderschap or call +31 (0)35 621 97 99.