Here in the United States, we’re just days away from Super Bowl Sunday. The buzz around the biggest game in America’s biggest sport is, as always, about more than football. It’s also about business and leadership. Does the Patriots’s consistent excellence over the last 15 years offer insights on teamwork that transcend football? Does Bill Belichick’s unrivaled record speak to his skills not just as a coach but also as a leader from whom others can learn? Even as high-minded a publication as The Economist gets caught up every so often in the connections between sports and business. A few years back, writing about a team that was dominating a different kind of football, the magazine claimed that FC Barcelona, the renowned soccer club, “has provided a distinctive solution to some of the most contentious problems in management theory.” Wow!
So the question becomes: What can sports in general, and football in particular, teach us about competition and success, talent and teamwork, value and values? My answer, I’m afraid, is “not very much.” Sports, it turns out, are a terrible metaphor for business, and leaders who look to the gridiron or the soccer pitch for ideas about their work will be sorely disappointed.
Here’s what’s wrong with making analogies between sports and business.