There are parallels between fantasy football (in my case, American football) and leadership. How can a social game that people play for recreation align with a quality that has real-life personal and professional impacts? Just as management accountants must lead the way for a company to be successful, leadership is required to take your fantasy football team from a hodgepodge of players to champions. The finance function requires professionals to conduct an immense amount of due diligence and analysis as well as to make savvy decisions. Leading a fantasy football team has those same requirements. In both cases, our expectation is that dedication and hard work will result in success.
I can vividly remember my first fantasy draft day, when general managers (GMs) across the globe take turns selecting National Football League (NFL) players based on their projected performance for the upcoming season to create a roster that will hopefully take them to the promised land—a championship with benefits that might include a financial windfall and bragging rights over competitors. I was focused on having fun with my friends and finding another way to enjoy football. But that first year also taught me leadership lessons. My friend who finished last in that initial season due to his inexperience learned valuable lessons—do your research and strategic-planning homework in advance, and realize that the players’ value is in their productivity, not their reputation or charisma.
One of the biggest misconceptions about fantasy football is that it allows you to escape your reality by living vicariously through your roster of NFL players on game days. In fact, fantasy football teaches you that hard work, dedication, and nurturing are necessities when leading a team. Fantasy GMs typically have a roster between 16 and 20 players, including nine or 10 starting positions. Every week, it’s your job to understand your team’s strengths and weaknesses, and how to position your players to maximize their capabilities based on their role and matchups vs. their respective opponents.
After every weekly matchup, GMs make a mad dash to the waiver wire to bid on a pool of potentially undervalued free-agent players waiting to be claimed and land a spot on a roster. As a leader, you need to recognize talent that hasn’t yet fully blossomed and identify inklings of potential that can sprout into a solid contributor or maybe even a future superstar. Unyielding selflessness, attention to detail, mentorship, and leading by example are needed to become a better leader and grow your business by cultivating the professional development of your personnel roster.
As a GM, CFO, or finance manager, it’s important to engage in honest self-reflection as performance results play out. In fantasy football, that process begins on Thursday evening when the first point is scored, continues throughout Sunday, and lasts until Monday night when the last game ends. Many fantasy owners constantly second-guess the start-or-sit decision made for each player on the roster; successful GMs scrutinize their decision-making process and make changes as necessary.
Self-reflection on your leadership decisions, whether in fantasy football or the workplace, allows you to gain the benefits of performing a gap analysis—comparing actual results with desired performance. Where are you currently? And where do you want to go? You must take ownership of your own faults, as well as those of your players or team members, and work to correct them.
Fantasy football owners encounter a lot of adversity during a season. Underperforming players, ill-advised trades, and injuries are only a few of the things that could go wrong. Being strategic about your planning and actions is important. Do you draft a great quarterback like Patrick Mahomes in the first round, or can you find more value in a high-upside quarterback in the later rounds of the draft?
This applies to finance leadership as well: If leaders don’t have a strong grasp of their organization’s strategy and structure or fail to communicate them effectively, then that shortcoming can translate into employee pushback, decreased morale, and declines in productivity. Leadership is driven by how you communicate but also your attitude and actions.
LEADERSHIP AND LEARNING
Fantasy football requires continuous research and due diligence. Listening to podcasts, reading articles, and watching shows are the price you must pay in order to make good decisions and position yourself to hoist your trophy and win the cash prize at the end of the year, as well as obnoxious bragging rights until next season’s draft rolls around.
Much like fantasy football, effective leadership requires constantly learning. A few years ago, a mentor asked me a question that changed the direction of my career: “What’s your whetstone? What are you doing to continuously sharpen your skills and put yourself in a better position?”
This mind-set must be instilled in your team as well. Leaders must foster an environment that pushes their employees to do better than they did yesterday. Getting better doesn’t have to be huge accomplishments within a short period of time. In fact, securing small wins over time allows you to make a large impact.
If you aspire to serve in a leadership position, then there are many things that you can do to add value. Most importantly, invest in yourself. You can do this through training videos, classes, and books.
Make it your goal to build a great rapport with your colleagues. What do they value personally and professionally? What are their strengths? How can you help them to overcome their weaknesses?
Understanding how business units outside of finance work is also key. The best leaders don’t just know their side of the business; they also understand how other business units operate and how all teams work together to achieve their organization’s objectives.
Lastly, lead by example. One of the fastest ways to get buy-in from everyone within the company is rolling up your sleeves and working even harder than you expect them to. Being a leader isn’t only about your ability to manage people; it’s about being selfless enough to want to see those around you reach, and possibly exceed, the position that you hold yourself.
IMA LEADERSHIP ACADEMY
The IMA® Leadership Academy (IMALA) supports the development and enhancement of our members’ leadership education and skills to aid in career advancement. From presentation of or participation in leadership courses offered in person or virtually to our community of experienced leaders through our mentoring program to IMA’s leadership recognition program where members can measure their development and earn digital badges, the IMA Leadership Academy can help you meet your leadership goals. For more information, please visit the Leadership Academy website.