I often get asked by new tech or sports management graduates who are looking for a tech leadership role in sports or even a tech leadership role in general, what technical skills they need and what technical certifications are important in the industry. They are always surprised when I give the answer that what I felt made me successful in a sports tech leadership role is not how much technical knowledge I had (although it is needed), but how I worked on developing my business and soft skills. I started 20 years ago as a Junior Helpdesk coordinator and network engineer at MLSE and got the same advice from my first boss and Mentor Sasha Puric which has served me well throughout my career. There are countless skills to develop, but the following 5 were the ones that I focused on that helped me the most.
1. Understand the business
Technology is no longer about the programmer or engineer sitting in the corner pushing buttons or the helpdesk person fishing your email. Technology is now a commodity and can be outsourced at a much cheaper cost than keeping it in-house. The true value of a technology team is understanding how the latest technology generates value and grows the business as a whole. Learn how to be a revenue generator and not a cost centre.
2. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room
Technology is way too broad based in this day and age for one person to be an expert at everything. I have always made sure that everyone I hired on my team was smarter than me in their chosen area because I wanted my developers, engineers, devops team etc to come to me with solutions instead of looking to me to fix a problem. I’m always available as a fresh set of eyes and to give an understanding to them of how their task or project fits in with the overall strategy, but I want them to be able to take enough ownership to be solution driven,
3. Empower your team
If you have hired the right people, you are now in the position to empower them as the experts and let them own their tasks and projects. Team members who are empowered to have ownership of their work will always make decisions thoughtfully, responsibly, and with more care. They will also be more driven, motivated, and have more initiative, seeking creative and innovative ways to improve and develop what they are doing, rather than going through the motions and fulfilling the minimum. It’s ok to make mistakes and your team should not be afraid to fail as long as they are learning from the failure. Risks do lead to greater reward but also lead to occasional failure. Just make sure they are measured risks and not foolish ones.
4. Understanding what a winning Strategy is
As a leader, your team will look to you to put the pieces together and help them understand where the team is going and how what they are doing individually moves the needle and grows the organization. You need to put together a winning strategy that both your team and senior leadership buys into that uses technology to grow the organization. This again goes back to the first point of understanding your business and how technology drives and creates value.
5. Be decisive
A leader needs to be able to make smart decisions based on facts and experience, not straight gut instinct. If you followed the first 4 points you understand your business, have a smart and engaged team and have built a winning strategy to create a solid foundation for smart decisions. You will never bat a 1000, but you will make the right decision for the right reasons more often than not.
These are 5 of the most important traits that have helped me be successful in my career so far. There are countless other traits that I didn’t list here and would love to hear from you. What traits do you feel make a successful sports tech leader?