Stephanie Ricci contributed to this story.
From “knocked out of the park” to “being in the red zone,” sports talk has always found its way into business. In addition to casually using metaphors during meetings, some former players have leveraged their backgrounds to launch their own social enterprises, while other business leaders have switched to coaching leadership styles to keep up with the General’s preferred work culture. Mr.
For award-winning lacrosse legend Tim Murdoch, sports and business have been a parallel experience for more than 20 years.
A native of Princeton, NJ, Murdoch earned a liberal arts degree in history from the Ivy League Princeton University, where he played lacrosse at the highest level of US intercollegiate athletics during the 1980s. He then earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, where he was elected co-captain and player-coach of the school’s men’s lacrosse club.
Since moving to Montreal, Murdoch has been a long-time resident of the Canadian city, where he volunteered for 17 seasons as the head coach of the McGill University men’s lacrosse team between 2003 and 2019. While he played a key role growing his game in the city, the award-winning athlete also ran a national consulting firm, advising CEOs and executives of several companies.
“I have consistently drawn on my coaching experience and applied what I have learned in the field to advise CEOs, while looking to successful leaders to think about how I can perform as a team leader,” said Murdoch.
His unconventional career has proven a great lesson – even the most established leaders can benefit from an attitude of continuous self-improvement.
The former athlete’s biggest role model was his father, Bill Murdoch, who was also an athlete and soft-spoken business leader who believed in valuing everyone who makes up an organization.
However, growing up under the guidance of typical Generation X coaches, he had a different experience during his 10 years of competitive sports.
“The way I trained was initially modeled around the way I trained,” Murdoch recalls. “There was a lot of yelling and screaming and a dictatorial approach to getting things done. I think we all accepted that, but it doesn’t work long-term.”
He concluded that his methods required reevaluation in 2010, as he had just recruited a strong group of student-athletes that he felt were not underperforming.
“We fell short and were going to lose games by a couple of goals,” he said. “I became quite frustrated with the team and eventually realized that I was the problem. I wasn’t training well. I haven’t had a positive impact on the players as a leader.”
With the help of his wife Pascale Lemaire, a McGill-trained psychologist, Murdoch said he reached what he described as “an epiphany” that would forever change him as a leader.
Lead with positivity, not fear
“I have embraced many aspects of positive psychology, namely focusing on players’ strengths rather than dwelling on their weaknesses,” Murdoch said. “I had to be a role model, to be calmer and more positive. I needed to inspire people to succeed and not lead from fear.”
A coach who yells may believe they are giving a vocal boost, firing up and motivating the players. However, this is most likely to do quite the opposite, where athletes find it demeaning and discouraging.
“When you lead with this military style, confidence goes down,” he said. “Your team fears you and you lose their trust.”
Murdoch traded the aggressiveness for a much more attentive ear and tact. Soon, the team won nearly every game for the next decade, including national championships in 2012 and 2015.
“I don’t want to attribute it entirely to him, but I think a big factor was that I became a more positive and inspirational leader than someone who used old-school fear-and-scream management techniques.”
The same is true in a corporate environment. Regardless of their organizational function, leaders should refrain from negative communications, especially in public. Consider giving constructive criticism privately instead of berating an employee in front of others – Sometimes, it’s not what you say, but how you say it.
It’s time to embrace change
The job market is hot. Demand for labor is outstripping supply. Respect for hierarchy and attitudes towards work have changed. Younger generations are looking for a stronger sense of connection with their bosses and within their organizations.
In fact, psychological safety has gained renewed importance since the Covid-19 pandemic, and it has been proven time and time again that fostering inclusive work cultures is key to innovation and retaining new employees.
Murdoch’s leadership style transition reminds us that it pays to be open to change.
“The idea that all elite athletes share in terms of continuous improvement should be embraced by the leaders of companies and organizations,” Murdoch said. “Everything is changing around you, don’t just go with the flow and continue what you’ve done historically.”
“Traditionally, the CEO is in charge. I like to put the leader in the middle and have more of a wheel where all the key staff surround the leader in a circle because it reflects more of how people should lead.”
Leave a Reply