Leadership Lessons from Football Legend David Parkin

It’s AFL finals time and I’ve been reminded of a session at the Family Business Australia State conference I attended a few months ago where AFL football legend David Parkin was the keynote speaker. He’s gotten himself in trouble many times, but there’s no doubting that he’s been apart of and lead some high performing teams. He knows a thing or two about leadership.

Parkin shared 2 fundamental things that he believes make a great leader:

1. Passion for getting the job done

If you’re not 100% committed people can sense it. Being a great leader is all about the attitude you bring. You need to first understand your own motives, do this through conversations with a friend or mentor and asking yourself questions like Why are you here? where are you going? How are you going to get there? You need to understand what’s important in your life before you can inspire and educate others. Start by being you and work on your strengths.

Parkin also spoke about a mindset of continuous improvement and mentioned a quote by another successful player and coach, Alastair Clarkson “There is always a better way to do tomorrow what you do extremely well today.” The message being don’t be complacent, you can always do better and be open to making changes for the better, even when you’re at the top of your game.

2. Care and understanding for people

Parkin is of the view that the care and understanding for employees or team members needs to extend beyond the role they’ve been employed to do. Great leaders understand what the individual team member wants and where they want to be. The leader is responsible for helping work out how they can do it within the framework of the organisation. The goals are mutually beneficial.

Scientific research supports this view, employees whose purpose and goals are aligned with the organisation are more engaged and motivated (Jodi L Berg). Parkin also referred to research in sport, stating that players performed better when they have other activities in their lives and they’re not 100% focussed on playing.

Underpinning these two leadership ingredients of passion and care for others, is the culture great leaders foster. Creating a culture built on trust and good relationships allows people to be more open and honest in their feedback for the betterment of the individual and the team.

Understanding what team members are looking for in a leader creates a great leader. They have a good sense of awareness. According to Parkin, team members look to leaders to:

  • engage with them beyond what you pay me to do now
  • teach me the skills to do my job well
  • coach me and give me feedback
  • support me, roll up your sleeves and help out in times of pressure.

Let’s see if the leaders of the AFL teams stand up during the pressure of finals time.

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