Brian Roe | The art of leadership

DOUBLE TAKE: The appointment of Jeff Kennett as Hawthorn president for a second time follows significant drama at the club in recent days. This familiarity could bring stability. Picture: Darrian Traynor
DOUBLE TAKE: The appointment of Jeff Kennett as Hawthorn president for a second time follows significant drama at the club in recent days. This familiarity could bring stability. Picture: Darrian Traynor

Four AFL clubs are looking for a chief executive officer. The Australian Olympic Committee yesterday advertised for two key positions in culture and communications – the consequence of a messy battle for control of the organisation.

The FFA remains at the mercy of FIFA and its “normalisation” procedures, the ARU is on its knees in the eyes of way too many and Cricket Australia is recovering from the most unrelenting of battles with its elite players.

And Jeff Kennett is back at the helm at Hawthorn.

Whilst sporting organisations have been operating in Australia in a formalised manner for over 170 years, paid professional management of them is a relatively new phenomenon.

Putting aside honorariums of varying sizes, most sports and sporting clubs only began paying folk to run them in the 1980s. Even the management of big events was until then, largely left to volunteers.

But unlike many other companies where the directors earn hefty fees for gathering around a board table as and when required, those overseeing sport either under the traditional model, or the more recent corporate-style structures championed by the Australian Sports Commission, mostly do it as community service and for free.

Without doubt there are also some who put up their hands to test out their training wheels for something bigger down the track, but either way there have been few really successful stories post-Sydney 2000.

Sport administration is far from an exact science. It can be based on the sound exploitation of fine traditions or at the other extreme, by the good fortune of a new fad that happens to take off.

But in a complex and crowded field of play, few things drive success more than good connections and the maintenance or delivery of good internal culture.

Most objective observers would assess that Collingwood Football Club has been a success off the field - at least in terms of its financial operations. Who knows whether its CEOs and senior managers have played a big role in all of that. But one inescapable conclusion is that much of it has been driven by Eddie McGuire’s profile and connections and his ability to access them for the growth of brand Magpie.

James Brayshaw trying to emulate his mate, rode into town on a white charger to prevent the Kangaroos being sent to the Gold Coast promising a good deal more than he eventually delivered.

For there is no standard template for success in sports administration.

Not so long ago, Gillon McLachlan publically mused about the value of a greater interchange of staff between AFL headquarters and the league clubs.

It’s arguable that’s good sense because those inside the tent are not only more likely to know how things tick within the sport, but they are also conditioned to work within the accepted or imposed boundaries.

Outsiders are way more likely to ask too many questions or ruffle a few feathers. But they can also bring fresh ideas and a chance for their organisation to stick its head out above the pack.

There's little doubt that the connections and sheer pulling power of Collingwood president Eddie McGuire has benefited the Magpies. PIcture: AAP Image/Julian Smith

There's little doubt that the connections and sheer pulling power of Collingwood president Eddie McGuire has benefited the Magpies. PIcture: AAP Image/Julian Smith

It’s exactly the same in the broader environment of national sporting organisations which receive funding from the federal government through the ASC. The revolving door of CEOs and high performance staff from one to another is badly in need of a grease and oil change.

The reality is that way too many of the NSOs have become so commercially unsuccessful or lazy that their reliance on Commonwealth funding means they are at the behest of the ASC not just in terms of how they spend their money, but the choice of who sits at the top desk in its head office.

By contrast a good many state sporting organisations right around the country continue to chug along at a steady pace or a good deal faster than they national counterparts.

It’s true many now also have paid staff but it’s even truer that much of the grunt work and the governance continues to be done by volunteers. And with a much more diverse range of backgrounds, those precious connections that can be accessed are often more numerous and valuable.