High Speed MicrochosomIf you have observed a referee in any sport, you can relate to the subtle similarities between successful officiating and organizational leadership.

The referee experience is a high speed microcosm of the leadership experience in the workplace.  As an official, the price of entry is similar to that of successful leadership.

Basics of officiating include the following:

  • Thorough knowledge and consistent application of the laws of the game and rules of competition.
  • Being in position to best see the play and make the call.
  • Mastering the art of influencing the behavior of others by demonstrating your understanding that the game is for the players, coaches, and spectators.

As a former player, and as both an official and an administrator of a large corps of officials, I have seen many different styles of officiating work well.  The same is true in the workplace.    However there are core competencies that make up great officials and great leaders in the workplace.

  • Strength in conviction grounded in the goals and expectations of the organization.
  • Your presence and contribution are felt, but are not perceived, as overbearing.
  • You are able to offer direction, guidance, and a balanced perspective.
  • You have the courage to make the right call, even if it is unpopular.
  • You gain the respect of others by your actions.
  • You hold people accountable for their actions and “call out” undesirable behaviors when necessary

Being “In Position To Make The Call”

When the official is not close enough to see the play and therefore make the right call, his/her perceived position of authority can be damaged.

At the same time, the official must “stay out of the passing lanes” and not overly interfere.  You have to be “close to play” but not take the game from the players.   As Peter Drucker said “productivity depends on an acknowledgement that the person doing the job knows the job better than the person overseeing it.”  What is important about Drucker’s observation is that when you show respect for and include the person closest to the job (or to the customer), you not only get their buy in and ownership, but increased productivity as well.  Increased productivity, whether it’s quantity, quality, or engagement, is the engine of growth, customer satisfaction, and profitability.

Thorough Knowledge and Consistent Application of the Laws of the Game

You must be proficient in your skills.  We’ve all been to a sporting event where the official was not consistent in applying in the laws of the game or misinterpreted the rules.   Very quickly, the experience is no longer about the joy of the game for the players, coaches and spectators, and the outcome is compromised.  Knowledge of the skills you require your employees to have is necessary to building rapport as a leader.

Mastering the Art of Influencing Others.

As an official, you have been empowered with both real and perceived authority to manage the efforts of others to a successful outcome.   You are given a “whistle” to control the behavior, enforce the rules and boundaries and, more subtly, preserve the objectives and spirit of the game.  As an organizational leader, your position and authority have very much the same basis.  The result of wielding the ‘whistle’ you are given as your primary means of influence will yield the same results as an official that is overly officious.

Great leaders consider the goals and objectives of the players in concert with those of the organization.  Their efforts take into account the flow of the game and the needs of all stakeholders.  There are times when leaders must stand tall and “make the call,” but the real basis of their authority and credibility is grounded in their leadership behavior, over time.

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About the Author
Emily Hodgeson-Soule
Emily Hodgson-Soule has worked with CMOE since 2009 and is the Director of Program Design and Development. She holds a Master of Professional Communication (MPC) degree with dual emphasis in writing and multimedia. Emily works closely with CMOE’s client organizations to assess their internal training and development needs and provide learning solutions that fulfill the requirements and the strategic goals of each organization.

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