Thursday, April 3, 2014

When Does the Sports Metaphor Fail in Business?

“We have to get this project across the line before the final whistle blows or we’ll have to take a punt.  It’s important to punch through as the goal posts keep moving.”

This is the kind of language common to leaders in almost every Western-based workplace. But the manager who believes that using sports metaphors is universally motivating demonstrates lack of insight into cultural sensitivities.

Surely sport as a common denominator and a way of bonding in business has gone the way of the 1950’s typing pool. The modern work place eschews stereotyping and with that the assumption that all races, genders and cultures relate equally to football,  cricket or boxing metaphors.  Covert or unconscious stereotyping creates or reinforces a hierarchy of difference and is at the root of adverse treatment of oppressed groups.

Performance psychology is well known and used in sports and in business.  But the sports arena has no relation to the marketplace.  In the broadest terms, successful leaders of any discipline from arts to education have similar attributes such as perseverance and courage. What are some other metaphors for business performance that might be more universally encouraging?

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