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What Managers Can Learn from Tech Entrepreneurs

Whether you’re browsing the pages of Fast Company or FourFourTwo, it’s unlikely that you’ll find many comparisons of Jürgen Klopp to Elon Musk or vice versa. But you might be surprised how much a Premier League manager – or a coach in virtually any sport – can learn from the habits of the technology sector’s most successful entrepreneurs.

Running a hot tech company and leading a multi-billion dollar PL club require different competencies, of course. But the overlap of a Venn diagram featuring the two would show a significant amount of overlap in the approach of leadership that unlocks performance optimization. Here are three ways a coach can win by thinking like a tech entrepreneur:

Innovate and disrupt

For a prime example of this, let’s turn to the other football. In 2008, the Miami Dolphins, coming off a 1-15 season, were facing a key matchup with division rival New England. Head coach Tony Sparano, fully aware that the Patriots had advantages in superior personnel and the wisdom of master tactician Bill Belichick, dug deep into his bag of tricks. Sparano introduced an odd formation rarely used in the modern NFL, pulling his quarterback out from under center and creating confusion for the defense. Sparano’s Wildcat offense became a phenomenon that season, leading the Dolphins to an upset of the Pats, propelling them to an 11-5 season and launching numerous (less successful) copycats. The lesson to be learned: Conventional wisdom usually yields conventional results. To excel – especially when you’re the underdog – you need to bring something new and unexpected to the table. Adding a cutting-edge technology, for example, could propel certain clubs atop the table that otherwise might not be picked among a league’s elite.

Focus, perfect and apply elsewhere

When building a business or a team, it makes sense to find an area in your operations where an immediate and significant impact can be made. Consider Amazon: The company, if you’ll remember, began as an online bookstore. The concept made great sense and was an almost-instant hit. What Jeff Bezos understood, however, was that Amazon wasn’t just a bookstore but an e-commerce company. Soon, the company was selling and delivering clothes, food, digital entertainment, its success driven by a subscription service, free shipping and an incredibly comprehensive selection of goods and services. By focusing on the thing his business did well – online sales and rapid distribution – and then applying it elsewhere, Bezos built the world’s biggest business empire.\

Build excitement and gain buy-in

Every tech startup has to convince venture capitalists to invest and create buzz in the industry to fuel marketing and, ultimately, consumer purchase. But it all starts with rallying a company’s workers, motivating them to work with passion, bring innovative ideas to the fore and serve as vocal, spirited brand ambassadors. Establish a punch-the-clock culture or – worse – a dictatorship, and your startup is dead on arrival. It’s not only about work ethic, though. Startups must identify a product or service that’s marketable but also develop a vision for those offerings dynamically change an industry -- the world in some cases -- all while helping them win a category.

It’s no different in sports.

The days of my-way-or-the-highway coaches are coming to an end, if not already over. Optimizing the performance of your players starts with tapping into the motivations of each individual, building a shared excitement about your program and then directing the group’s focus to a common goal.

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