As a gold medal-winning athlete, Sebastian Coe is accustomed to leading from the front and, according to experts, this has never been more evident than during his stewardship of the successful London 2012 Olympic bid. Ross Bentley sizes up the leadership skills of this world beater
They say, in the weeks leading up to the IOC’s decision to award the 2012 Olympics to London, the former middle distance runner demonstrated a range of leadership skills that managers from all walks of life can learn from.
At people and organisation consultancy Hay Group, managing consultant Jonathan Cormack says primary among them, was Coe’s mastery of the business he is working in.
“You cannot achieve top-level results in any field without knowing the environment you are competing in,” he says. “Coe knows the Olympic landscape from his days as an athlete, and has put this knowledge to expert use.”
Coe’s specialist knowledge was one reason why he was brought in to replace Barbara Cassani as the bid leader. While Cassani was a proven leader in her own right, having launched BA’s low-cost airline GO, she was unfamiliar with what it takes to run an Olympics Games.
“This goes to show you need different types of leaders for different types of job,” says Cormack.
Cormack also feels Coe set much-needed clear goals and priorities for the bid. He says: “Coe stated his goal over and again with clarity and determination: London is in this race to win it.
“Also, he quickly identified weaknesses in London’s bid, such as the transport system, and made sure solutions were found.”
This point is picked up by Mike Petrook, public affairs manager at the Chartered Management Institute, who says if leaders are to expect their team to follow, they must give a clear sense of direction.
“If a leader provides a clear vision, it is easier for his team to share that vision and thus build impetus for a campaign or project,” he says.
Cormack has also been impressed by Coe’s tenacity and ambition in ensuring these goals were met and solutions to problems were put in place.
And ironically for Coe, whose background is in athletics – a sport that requires selfish personal dedication and celebrates the individual pursuit of excellence – he achieved it by assembling an effective team.
Business psychologist Marc Atherton noted the calm and under-stated way in which Coe went about leading his team. “Coe’s leadership was virtually invisible,” he says. “He wasn’t obviously the man in charge but took responsibility when it was time to.
“He comes across as an unassuming team player who doesn’t dominate but allows colleagues to feel as if they are valued members of the collective.”
Cormack also notes that Coe’s political background helped him deal with the intense media coverage and enabled him to build a strong brand for London’s 2012 bid.
“A strong brand should have a mixture of rational and emotional elements,” he says. “Coe’s vision was one based on solid factual evidence but inspired the IOC by playing on the legacy the Games will provide for London’s multicultural community.”