The things every business can learn from the cautionary tale of Anthony Seibold

Just as sport is becoming big business, business can take some key lessons from the sad demise of the Brisbane Broncos coach, writes Michael Blucher

Sep 04, 2020, updated Sep 04, 2020
Anthony Seibold says the abuse he received online as Brisbane Broncos coach was 'just disgusting'. (Photo: ABC)

Anthony Seibold says the abuse he received online as Brisbane Broncos coach was 'just disgusting'. (Photo: ABC)

The demise of Anthony Seibold – the third-biggest news story in Queensland history apparently, after the 2010-11 floods and Alison Baden-Clay’s murder.

Yes, we love our Rugga-ba-leeegue here in the Sunshine State, or the Smart State or the Shut State – whatever we call ourselves these days.

If it’s Broncos related, it clearly matters to a lot of people.

As the club’s season splutters towards an inglorious end, it’s worth reflecting on the turbulence and chaos of 2020 – where did it all go so horribly wrong?

More importantly, what are the lessons, on and off the field, that can be squirrelled away for time ad memoriam? Perhaps even used as a case study in Sports Administration 101. Listen up, kids. Here’s what you don’t do…..

Hindsight of course makes it easy to take pot shots but there were a couple of decisions that presented as folly, well before the club started to unravel at the seams.

At the top of that list, granting Seibold, at the time a well performed one season rookie coach, a five-year contract.

In the cut-throat world of NRL, five weeks can often seem like an eternity – what does that make five years?

If Seibold was successful in the first couple of seasons – which most hoped and many expected – where was he likely to go in season three?

Was he going to test the market? Shop himself around and see if he could get more than the $800K he was earning at the Broncos? Don’t think so.

Two years at the helm plus an option should have been plenty to give both parties the necessary level of comfort. After all, Queensland boy – head coach of the Broncos was probably his nirvana.

Widening the scope a little, there’s the issue of Seibold’s immediate support staff.

In business it’s known as the “exec team”, the trusted lieutenants, the divisional heads, the key advisory staff, who ensure all the opportunities are seized, the major pitfalls avoided, and that the “sum of the parts” add up to a bigger number.

In 2020, nobody can do it all. Senior coaching and leadership roles in professional sport are incredibly demanding, the challenges faced comparable to those faced by captains of major industries.

Did Anthony Seibold have the appropriate level of experience and knowledge in his inner sanctum? The man himself never pointed to it being a problem, at least not publicly, but in the wash-up, plenty of others are doing just that. An A-grader, surrounded by B-graders.

The alternative thought – perhaps Seibold was inundated with high-quality people and didn’t utilise them the right way?

Who knows the truth? Probably only those in the inner sanctum.

That leads us seamlessly to the issue of man management, which of course has precious little to do with the on-field fundamentals of the game – the kick, pass, tackle, drift.

It centres around a leader’s ability to squeeze every skerrick of potential out of each individual, and meld them into a united, potent force.

Ground zero for that – a sense of connection, a level of rapport between mentor and mentee. The oft practiced “my way or the highway” philosophy went out with 30 cent schooners and meat pies before a match.

Coaches need to acknowledge that modern-day athletes respond to different approaches. For some it might be a stretch target, even a dig in the ribs, but for others it’s a reassuring word, or a consoling arm around the shoulder. Treat them equitably, not equally, or worded another way, coach the individual before you coach the team.

There’s no question Seibold is a smart man, but there’s a distinct difference between IQ and EQ, particularly in professional sport where every shortcoming is played out on the public stage.

In the kindest possible way, I’m not sure self-awareness is an Anthony Seibold strong suit.

One final but important point – it’s an inescapable truth that in sport, as in business, as in life, you reap today what has been sewn well before.

There’s no magic wand that can be waved to alter what’s in the pipeline. Until it’s pushed out the other end, the organisation remains the sum total of all the decisions that have been made years before. In the case of the Broncos, decisions regarding recruitment, talent identification, remuneration, list management, and of course, the key cultural platforms.

Each decision manifests as a heavy dab of paint on a canvas that, years down the track, leaves the business with a piece of artwork that’s somewhere between very valuable and totally cringeworthy.

Right now, the Broncos club have the crudest of finger paintings hanging on their clubhouse wall,

But I’ll put it to you, some of the roughest brushstrokes were produced by people who’ve long since packed up their pallet and left the building.

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