Learning Leadership Lessons

When I left the world of football there were a few things that I took into the workplace and a key one was leadership. Despite being a proud Welshman with a Welsh dragon tattoo, I was captain of the England Blind Football Team for four years so I had a good stint in the role. I represented my country 127 times across two Paralympic Games, three World Cups and seven European Championships.

In 2017 the England Blind Football set-up was centralised permanently in Hereford. I had three children and we were settled in Exeter so I couldn’t uproot my family. We knew the Hereford move was in the post, but our Performance Director made a hasty decision and it happened a year sooner than expected.

I left the squad quite abruptly and went into an entry level position role in sales, working for Air Marketing. I later progressed through the company to leading a team as an Account Director. Air Marketing is an outsourced business development agency specialising in B2B telemarketing and lead generation.

One of my regrets is that I didn’t plan a better exit strategy from football. In sport you’re always concerned with the next tournament or the next big thing. You’re not planning for your life: you’re planning how to win matches and tournaments.

Being a team leader was really similar to what I’d had to learn to do through captaining the team. It was working out how to get the very best out of all the people around you, considering how different they all are. Because even with football, people come at it with a hundred reasons as to why they want to do it, and the same is true in sales.

I was managing people from 18 years old to 70 years old. It was about trying to get the very best out of all those people: finding out what motivated them, how they might like to be spoken to, how they wanted to receive feedback, what they wanted to achieve.

In the early part of my football career, I didn’t appreciate how to do that important stuff, to get the best out of people, but I did towards the end. You learn those kind of captaincy skills, in the same way you learn your football skills and knowledge as you mature and develop as a player.

And that’s definitely what I took into my first job in sales. I was a team leader in a sales company and I wanted to help build a culture that everyone bought into. So I let the team take the lead on that, and build our own culture. I sat them down and said: look guys, this is our team, what do you want it to look like? What do you want our main values to be? How do you want this to work, day after day?

We made the rules together, they said what they expected of me, I said what I expected of them – we ended up being a really, really high performing team while having lots of fun. I think it’s about giving ownership and getting the leadership within the team – and letting go. Leave your ego at the door.

I’ve now moved to a start-up, Corrigan SEO Platform, where I’m working on my own as the first member of the sales team at the moment and it’s almost forced me to utilise a very different set of skills. It’s back to that athlete mentality of: I’m competing against myself, I’m doing the nuts and bolts; nobody is watching me and I’m being trusted to complete every tiny detail of what I’m required to do today.  In a team environment you’re all accountable to each other; when you’re on your own a completely different focus is required. As a footballer I had to learn to change my focus and motivation depending on whether I was with the squad in Hereford, or training on my treadmill at home in Exeter and it was the same when I changed jobs.

Life is very different now to my sporting career but I’m relishing the next challenge to help Corrigan grow as a business.

Find me on Twitter and LinkedIn.