8 Transformational Leadership in the Sport Industry

Danica Johnson

Transformational leadership is one of the most desired leadership styles in the sport industry. Leaders that embrace this approach put the followers’ emotions, motives, and needs before their own.  In sports, change is inevitable. It requires adaptation and survival in the ever-changing sport industry.  Every year, there are coaching, administrative, personnel, and rule changes within sport organizations.  While attending the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, there were a number of these changes, more specifically seven coaching and five administration changes, all within five years.  With more transformational leaders in the sport industry, organizations can increase retention rates and create an environment that is accepting of change.  This occurs through adapting followers to change and creating depth within the organization, which produces more positive organizational outcomes.

As a leader and a follower, it is important to know how to adapt to change.  Change is inevitable in any industry, especially in sports, and many people fear the idea of change because it is a disruption to the normal routine and there is a lack of certainty in leadership. However, adapting to change can increase the success of the organization while also building working relationships with the leader.  Weston (2015) gives advice for dealing with and adapting to change.  Acknowledging the change is the first thing a leader or follower should do.  Instead of resisting the change, accept it and begin to take steps towards adapting to it.  The next piece of advice is to be flexible and embracing of change.  Being open to new challenges and approaching change with an attitude of learning helps leaders and followers better adapt to change.  The last, and most important piece of advice for dealing and adapting to change is communication.  Clear and concise communication between leaders and followers helps all involved adjust to change more efficiently (Weston, 2015).  Using these pieces of advice reduces stress and anxiety in times of change, and makes the transition through the change smoother and more effective.

Another way a transformational leader in sports can create an environment that is accepting of change is by creating depth within the organization.  Maxwell (2015) writes that “every great team has great depth” (para. 1).  He establishes multiple dimensions of depth that a leader should develop within a team or organization.  The first dimension is relationship depth.  This deals with creating meaningful connections among the followers and leaders, as well as developing a level of appreciation for those that are a part of that team or organization.  Diversity depth is the next dimension, and it includes having a variety of skills, experiences, backgrounds, and education within the organization.  Through personal experience, groups and teams that have variety work better together and compliment rather than compete with one another.  The last dimension is servanthood depth.  This dimension of depth refers to the commitment of serving others (Maxwell, para. 6).  Having leaders and followers who put others first are selfless and desire to help to whole team or organization succeed.  Developing these different dimensions of depth within a team or organization can help followers and leaders create a place where change is acceptable and welcomed.

Research shows that transformational leadership in organizations leads to more positive organizational outcomes such as job satisfaction, commitment, and perceived leader effectiveness.  It also finds that transformational leadership led to a higher level of identification, involvement, and attachment to the organization (Peachy & Burton, 2011).  Having more transformational leaders in the sport industry will increase effectiveness of organizations, while at the same time lowering turnover.

Transformational leadership emphasizes intrinsic motivation and follower development (Northouse, 2016).  With this leadership style, the focus shifts from the leader to the followers, and transformational leaders are cognizant of the needs and motives of the followers.  Burton and Peachy (2009) identified four dimensions of transformational leadership, which include charisma, inspiration, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration.  A leader with charisma looks to provide followers with a vision and instill pride, trust, and respect, while the dimension of inspiration includes leaders communicating high expectations, articulating purposes, and focusing on the efforts of the followers (Burton & Peachy, 2009).

From personal experience as an athlete, successful coaches are both charismatic and inspiring.  These coaches motivate players to excel at new heights and push their limits.  Leaders that display intellectual stimulation are intelligent and have highly developed problem-solving abilities, whereas individualized consideration is where leaders make sure to give personalized attention to each of the followers (Burton & Peachy, 2009).  Transformational leaders make it a point to get to know each of the followers beyond the surface. This helps the overall success of the organization.

Leadership is a complex topic and its importance in an organization and team is indisputable.  Every leader has their own unique characteristics and traits, and certain leadership styles are desired more than others, depending on the industry. Transformational leaders in the sport industry care about the needs, motives, and values of the followers and look to develop them into the leaders of tomorrow. This is necessary, especially in an industry where change is unavoidable and spontaneous.  Knowing how to adapt to change and develop depth within a team or organization can make those transitions of change more positive and successful.  Change is a part of everyday life, and it is important to know what to do when faced with change, both as a leader and a follower.



Burton, L. & Peachy, J. (2009). Transactional or transformational? leadership preferences of division III athletic administrators. Journal of Intercollegiate Sport,  2(2), 245-249. https://doi.org/10.1123/jis.2.2.245

Maxwell, J. C. (2015, July 14). Great teams have great depth. Retrieved from http://www.johnmaxwell.com/blog/great-teams-have-great-depth

Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Peachy, J & Burton, L. (2011). Male or female athletic director? Sex Roles, 64(5-6), 416-425. doi:10.1007/s11199-010-9915-y

Weston, B. (2015, February 23). 10 tips for dealing with change positively in your workplace. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/10-tips-dealing-change-positively-your-workplace-ban-weston/


Change: A Leader's Perspective Copyright © 2017 by Danica Johnson. All Rights Reserved.

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