Steve Heaney MC joins members of the Association of Sporting Directors to discuss leadership

Ex Special Forces and leadership coach Steve Heaney MC joins members of the Association of Sporting Directors to talk about his unique military experiences focusing on crisis management and leading elite teams.

The following areas were covered within the conversation:

  • Operating in a crisis 
  • Planning and preparing for crisis
  • Leading elite teams 
  • Recruiting and developing the future leader

The conversation began with Steve sharing highlights from his military background with members, including his pivotal role as Sergeant of the Special Forces Pathfinder team. The Pathfinders are made up of the best 40 soldiers across military disciplines. The Pathfinders were associated as the best 0.1% of the military, in which Steve led the unit into many operations across the world. 

Steve examined his experience of crisis management and operating within pressurised situations, whilst providing detailed accounts of how to manage a crisis and the specific leadership challenges associated with his role. This included an overview of the operation into Sierra Leone and dealing with a major crisis to save a village, against 2000 rebels, with 2 days of supplies and a team of 26 men. The operation lasted a total of 16 days, and Steve described how the unit operated whilst protecting the village.

For his leadership and courage under fire and taking control of the battle, Steve was awarded the Military Cross (MC). Steve drew parallels to sport, football and wider organisations, suggesting how the sporting director and other leaders can prepare, actively plan and rehearse for crisis, along with examples, ideas and opinions of key stakeholders working in unison within football, whilst adjusting to and maximising the opportunities during the current crisis of COVID-19.

The conversation focused on leading elite teams effectively in life and death situations, yet Steve translated these into tangible strategies for what sporting directors can do to improve the culture, trust and integrity they have with those they work alongside to operate effectively.

Steve provided leadership examples from the military that can be easily transferred into the football landscape. The conversation offered a highly interactive debate with members who gained an understanding into how Steve recruited and developed future special forces operatives; and how an individual would stay within their rank for at least three years before promotion to the next rank, whilst learning the required skills to step into the next position, as they were only one bullet away from having to step up and to lead.

The ASD aims to support sporting directors in professional football. These conversations allow members to connect, share practice, develop ideas and innovate. The full conversation is available to ASD members. We are grateful to Steve Heaney MC and Stuart Swift for an interesting and engaging discussion.

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