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Considering Taking Up A Cause? Here are some lessons

When American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos experienced and observed the plight of Black Americans, they knew they had to do something. So, on October 16, 1968, Smith and Carlos, winning gold and bronze in the men’s 200 meters, respectively, each wore black socks without shoes to the medal podium. They proceeded to extend one black-gloved fist over their bowed heads during the national anthem to protest racial injustice in the U.S. “The boos were about as profound as the silence was when we raised our fists and bowed our heads in prayer,” Smith recalled (Zacardi, 2018, para. 36).

Disruption is hard. Some people succeed, able to transform their organizations or institutions in which they operate. Others are not so effective, incapable of unsettling the current situation that exists within their environment. One reason for such “failure” is because people often tend to oppose change that disrupts the status quo. We saw this in 1968. Interested in this story of disruption, we recently set out to better understand this essential yet poorly understood aspect of social change. We gathered and analyzed interviews with 59 members of the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team concerning their reactions (see Agyemang, Berg, & Fuller, 2018).

In general, and as you may imagine, Smith and Carlos’ teammates did not approve of the protest. Based on the interviews, we identified four main reasons why teammates disliked their activism: (1) the sacred spirit of competition should supersede all else; (2) the Olympics should be apolitical; (3) the Olympics should be cherished as an entertainment spectacle; and (4) nationalism and representing the U.S. team is more important than any sociopolitical viewpoint. Building on this and other research, I address the following question: how do change leaders harness and manage the negative perceptions they encounter concerning their disruptive activity? Here are some takeaways and how they may apply to people working for change:

Become an expert in the area which you seek social change.

At the end of the day, change leaders cannot force people to believe in the same social causes they do. This is why people working for social change should focus on the things they can control. One way is to be an expert in the area in which you intend to disrupt and desire social change. Occasionally groups resisting may lack essential information and not understand the social cause. In other cases, those opposing the social change frequently attempt to obscure a change leader’s message. Based on reading and observation, sometimes this is easier to do because change leaders do not fully understand what they’re doing. As a result, they are unable to generate empathy from the broader public because their message is unclear. For instance, Colin Kaepernick said that he had considered taking a stand for a while, but before he did, he wanted to make sure he was well read on the subject matter. Though he has faced criticism for his actions and his beliefs, it is clear he is strong in his convictions and is able to back them up given his understanding of the issues.

Not all causes are seen the same.

In 2016, I spoke with a renowned sports journalist about the current wave of athlete protests. Comparing the likes of LeBron James to Colin Kaepernick, the journalist noted how there is a fundamental difference between calling for an end to gun violence (i.e., James at ESPY Awards) and calling for systemic change to social institutions that have historically wronged racial and ethnic minorities. He contended that the former is much more likely to gain consensus (or at least close to it) from the public than the latter, which is much more divisive. Regarding the latter, opposition may even dispute the social issue even exist. The biggest challenge here is to articulate how and why the change you are calling for will benefit those who are not yet onboard. Human nature is to operate from a “what’s in it for me?” mentality. If change leaders desire commitment from others, they should consider what these groups want and need.

Anticipate resistance.

Related to the point above, I think one of the more obvious takeaways is that change leaders should always anticipate resistance. This occurs for many reasons, including dominant groups are more prone to uphold the status quo and not champion change, because they benefit from societal norms. Contrasting to that, peripheral actors who are often less privileged members of society and are less favored by the status quo are more to desire change. We saw this in 1968 during Smith and Carlos’ time, and we see similar scenes today. For example, Colin Kaepernick’s silent gestures beginning in 2016 has received backlash both for his tactics (i.e., kneeling during the national anthem) and the causes he’s bringing attention to (i.e., police brutality against Black people).

Embrace the challenge.

Sure, people resisting a social cause you believe strongly in can be a frustrating and oftentimes agonizing experience. However, as cliché as it may be, it is important for change leaders to not withdraw from the resistance, but embrace it. One piece of advice I received was to think of resistance as strength training. We use resistance (e.g., dumbbells) to build muscle and endurance so that we can gain strength. The same could be said for the opposition change leaders face when attempting to bring attention to a social cause. So, keenly listen. Attempt to understand why they are resisting. This seems to be a lost art in today’s divided political climate. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to concur with every single criticism; but listening to opposition criticisms can open your eyes to blind spots you may have not considered, and serve to ultimately strengthen your cause when you respond to these blind spots.

Social position matters.

A person’s social position is based on various social groups they belong to (e.g., profession, gender, race, culture, relationships) and provides them consent to perform certain actions and enter certain spaces. One of the more interesting observations from the study is that Smith and Carlos’ protest may have been viewed differently if they had the support of their teammates and people in positions of power. Based on this, it would behoove change leaders to seek ties with people with access to resources and “clout” they need to make change. For instance, recently, professional athletes have established relationships and met with Congressional leaders about issues related to race and policing, among others. These relationships could provide your change effort more legitimacy.

Final remarks

When we consider what is necessary for social change to take place, it regularly demands some type of disruptive act. Change leaders can play an integral role in this process. The challenge is this is often complex, and will often entail resistance to both the change and the tactics a change leader will use. Yet, I’m reminded of what John Carlos recently told me: If anyone ever calls you a troublemaker, rest assured you’re in damn good company. Don’t let them [opposition] intimidate you and scare you away from doing what you feel is right.”

Click here for full research article in Journal of Sport Management Vol. 32, Issue 6.

 

 

Author note: another version of this blog appears at: https://kwameagyemang.com/considering-taking-up-a-cause/

Agyemang, K. J. A., Berg, B. K., & Fuller, R. D. (2018). Disrupting the disruptor: Perceptions as institutional maintenance work at the 1968 Olympic Games. Journal of Sport Management, 32(6), 567-580.

Zacardi, N. (2018, October 3). Tommie Smith, John Carlos remember Olympic protest on 50th anniversary. NBC Sports. Retrieved from https://olympics.nbcsports.com/2018/10/03/tommie-smith-john-carlos-black-power-salute/

Leading With Vision and Values: An Interview With Richard Peddie, Former President & CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment

By Frederik Ehlen, Dr. Jess Dixon, and Dr. Todd Loughead (University of Windsor)

Richard Peddie is the former president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), the parent company of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, and Toronto Football Club. We had the privilege of chatting with Peddie, where he shared some valuable leadership and career lessons that he learned along his journey.

“I managed to get my ticket punched in every area of professional sports, except for running a team itself.”

Peddie’s journey started with an honors bachelor of commerce degree at the University of Windsor and a dream of leading a professional basketball team. In our interview, he listed branding, market research, sales, general management, and financial management as attributes that he had developed during his time as a student and throughout the early part of his career in the consumer packaged goods industry. Joining SkyDome (now Rogers Centre) in 1989 was his first step into the sport and entertainment realm. Peddie credits his experience in selling hospitality suites and sponsorships, as well as running food and beverage operations to his time with SkyDome. Next, Peddie joined Labatt Communications, which later became NetStar Communications, as President and COO. While there, he oversaw the operations of TSN, among other specialty Canadian cable television channels, and the launch of TSN.ca—one of the first online sports media websites in Canada. Adding television and digital media expertise helped make his case to be hired as President of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors in 1996.

Throughout the interview, Peddie drew clear examples of how his experience in these various roles helped him as president and CEO of MLSE – his learnings from SkyDome when overseeing the construction of Air Canada Centre (now Scotiabank Arena) and Maple Leaf Square, as well as his digital media knowledge from NetStar Communications when launching Leafs TV and NBA Raptors TV and acquiring GolTV. Although his pathway cannot be seen as a blueprint to success, indeed there are many different avenues to achieving a senior leadership position within professional sports, it reinforces the importance of developing a broad set of skills and experience.

 “So, do I believe vision and values work? Absolutely, but only if you are committed to them, only if you make your decisions based on them, only if you constantly reinforce them.”

Peddie, who retired from MLSE in 2012, has always been invested in leadership and leadership education. When we met with Peddie, he shared insights and personal experiences with his approach of choice – leading by vision and values. Having spent the early part of his career in the consumer packaged goods industry, he offered a prime example of his company’s commitment to vision and values. Specifically, he followed the advice of a young brand manager, who was living the company’s values, to discard a low-grade batch of creamed corn rather than distribute it to the retailers – leaving shelf space unused for nine months. This commitment to the company’s value that ‘quality is essential’ paid off for the company in the long term. Peddie also told us how he defined and implemented his vision and values approach to leadership with MLSE, and how he ensured staff buy-in.

Asked about his leadership style and approach to running an organization, Peddie acknowledged meritocracy as a principle that he practiced throughout his career. He explained how Jack and Suzy Welch’s (2005) Winning inspired him to focus on the growth of the top-performing 20% of employees, while parting with the bottom 10%. He drew the natural comparison to sports where players get cut and unsuccessful coaches are fired.

Closing the interview, Peddie emphasized that leadership is a lifelong journey that never ends. He believes that “the moment you stay still as a leader, you are going to fall by the wayside.” For him, the only way to become a great leader is to keep learning and developing.

To read the entire interview, check out to the April 2018 edition of Sport Management Education Journal

Explaining Sponsorships Using Analogy

By Jesse King, Ph.D. (Weber State University) and Robert Madrigal, Ph.D. (California State University, Chico)

Most sponsorship alignments do not make sense. For example, what does FedEx have to do with the NFL? This sponsorship is incongruent because the brand and property (e.g., events, teams, leagues, etc.) have little in common. In such cases, the brand must explain to consumers how it is related to the property. In a recent article in Journal of Sport Management, we find that using analogies is one tactic for explaining an incongruent sponsorship to consumers.

Understanding an analogy is like solving a puzzle. By highlighting shared associations, analogies provide a creative way for sport managers to explain how the brand is similar to the property. For example, FedEx makes use of an analogy by awarding the “Air and Ground Players of the Year” to the NFL’s top quarterback and running back.  The analogy allows fans to connect the actions of running backs and quarterbacks to ground and air delivery of a package, respectively. The package and football each plays the same relational role in this analogy. Just as a football may be passed through the air by a quarterback or carried by a running back on the ground, a FedEx package can be sent by air via a plane or ground delivered using a truck. Good analogies are useful because they promote a deeper understanding of the sponsor-event alignment. In this way, a sponsorship that once did not make sense to a consumer can explained in a way that links core equities of the property with those of the brand.

Creativity is required for fans to understand analogies and for sport managers to build them.  The goal for sport managers in creating analogies is to help the customer understand common functions in the sponsoring brand and sport property. To build analogies, managers should:

1) Identify Brand Action Words: Identify actions performed by the brand. This can be accomplished by identifying actions in terms of verbs used to describe a core function (e.g., Gillette razor blades shave hair off the body). Keep in mind that there are often many ways to describe the same action. For example, a close shave is achieved through close contact between the razor and few missed hairs.

2) Identify Property Action Words: Consider actions performed by the property that might align with those of the brand. Avoid shared surface traits such as common appearance (e.g., both property and brand’s logos are red) or immaterial detail (e.g., both players and employees wear uniforms). Instead, focus on common patterns of relationships that exist for the brand and for the property.

3) Avoid the Abstract: When creating analogical explanations, avoid abstract descriptors such as “excellence” or “integrity.” If no relevant actions within the property can be identified, the sponsor should work with the property to create something (e.g., award, event) that will serve a similar role to the actions that the brand wants to emphasize (e.g., the turnaround play of the game).

Analogies that explain deeper relationships are likely to be more effective than those that only explain surface similarities. For example, Gillette could explain a partnership with competitive swimming, a sport in which competitors “shave” the hair off their entire body prior to a major competition, by emphasizing shallow similarities associated with shaving hair and shaving seconds from a race time. However, a better fit might be achieved by explaining deeper patterns of shared relations. For instance, Gillette recently explained their partnership with Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby by emphasizing the relational importance of establishing close contact between a razor and skin as a way of making sure to not miss any hair follicles on one’s face with the importance of a baseball batter making contact with the ball in order to miss fewer pitches.

King Blog Photo 1

Key Takeaways:

In this research we found analogy improves sponsorship fit, relative to other types of explanation. They help because analogies are perceived as creative. Also, short explanations of analogies seem to be equally effective as more detailed explanations.

For sport managers this means that short messages such as “The FedEx Air and Ground Players of the Year Awards” may be as effective as full press release in explaining a brand-property alignment.  Analogies are capable of concisely conveying a great deal of information. Because space and time are often severely limited in a sponsorship message, the use of analogy offers an efficient and creative method for concisely explaining how an incongruent brand is similar to a sports property.