07 Sep 2017

By: Sport Industry Group

David Grevemberg, CEO of the Commonwealth Games Federation, speaks to Sport Industry Group about his leadership journey, the challenges of managing a team across time-zones, and his role as a Sport Industry NextGen Coach…

How would you summarise your day-to-day role, as you build up to Gold Coast 2018?

Since I took on the role as chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation about two and a half years ago, I’ve worked with multiple hosts in different time zones, so I have a fairly agile and flexible schedule of work to be honest, in addition to our standard hours.

We have a lot of late nights and early mornings that require conference calls and video conferences. That is the nature of the work, it is well beyond the usual business hours and there is a tremendous amount of travel also involved with this position. We are a volunteer organisation, so we have to be sensitive to work around the availability of our volunteers.

What’s the key to sustaining that sort of workload – for both you and your team?

I would say day to day, it is about knowing what you are doing that day, every morning, and trying to work out what the key objectives for the day is. I like to have as many of my meetings as early in the morning as possible so that I have time to work at my desk either in the afternoon or evening.

I do also make a point of taking a bit of time for lunch, which is important, and a little bit of time to work out during the day as well. It is absolutely critical to get that balance right to care about my physical side as well as my mental and work focus side.

In terms of the team, when you’re leading a team that has the demands we have at this moment in time, it is essential – even more so than normal - to communicate and provide some degree of flexibility of their working hours, so they can still focus on maintaining that balance I mentioned before. With out of hours working, it can quickly take its toll and become cumulative. We just really need to continue the communication as a team, understand each others’ limits and keep highlighting the importance of rest and focus, but at the same time ensuring that people are managing their time effectively as well.

How are preparations going?

Preparations are going very, very well. We have a very committed city and the government is starting to up its focus as well, and of course we have a great organising committee at Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation (GOLDOC) getting all the operational pieces together. We are continuing to work with GOLDOC to see how we maximize this opportunity to continue the positive trajectory that we have started. I am very confident that we will have a fantastic Games next April.

For you personally, your leadership story took you from a competing athlete to the top of the administration. How easy was it to transfer those key attributes, or were you effectively learning a new discipline again?

You know I think when you are an athlete, particularly when you are participating in an individual sport, you do have a tendency to be very self-absorbed and self-oriented and I think the hardest transition for me initially was learning to take note of my peripheral vision, and looking beyond my own needs and priorities. 22 or 23 years of sport administration later, it’s now all about looking at the needs and the perspectives of others. That is where I really focused on strengthening myself in those earlier years, to see how much I could contribute to the balance and the situation around me.

I think that one of the things that have evolved from this is that switch between the self focus to a much broader team focus. The more responsibility I have taken on, the more risk I have taken on, so the more conscious I need to be of the impact that our decisions have on others and the brand that we have created.

Some lessons are certainly transferable though. Practice still makes perfect, regardless of what you do. You need to know how and when to stick your neck out. You need to know when to move. You need to know how to adapt, evolve and learn new skills. You need to be very honest with yourself and your limitations. You need to surround yourself with a good team, good coaches and good mentors.

All of those aspects, I was able to really find parallels, which gave me a reference point from my athlete days to really use my administrative growth.

During your 20+ years of administration experience, would you say leadership in general has changed in that time, are people working with different leadership styles now?

Absolutely. For a long time leaders were very driven on a single focus. Leadership was very decisive.

The ‘any decision is better than no decision’ theory?

Exactly. But I think it has evolved a lot in the last couple of decades. People are judged on their consistency now. The value of their decisions and the acceptance of accountability is something that is really important. People are judged, not so much by what they achieve short term but how they deal with tough decisions and tough issues, as well as the longer term implications.

There is so much change. We are better in sport now. There’s still certainly room to improve, but we are better connected than ever before and there is a much more fluidity in decision-making. As a result, you have to maintain a degree of consistency in your approach. That’s why value based approaches create cultures of support. Nurture, innovation and understanding the ambitions of individuals and groups is really where leadership is now going. It’s not all about the bottom line or what you achieve, but rather how you achieve it. I think leadership has had to recognise that as well.

Earlier this year, in your role as a Sport Industry NexGen Coach, you spent time with the 2017 group of Leaders. What was your impression of the group?  

I was absolutely blown away by the ambition, the consciousness of each other’s industries, and the connectivity of these individuals. That ambition, that huge ambition, to not only be recognised but to recognise others for their good work was really exciting to me. I was very impressed with the attitude of the group of individuals that were gathered around there. They shared some very common traits, yet they were all very distinct in their own sector and roles. There was a common value of leadership, responsibility, consciousness and impact on others, but each one of them had taken those values and owned it in different ways. That was very encouraging.

I would have loved to have been involved in something like this when I was their age. Just to have access to one another, as well as access to people that have been there, done that and have had their own journeys is a real value of this programme.

Sport Industry NextGen in partnership with Barclays closes for entries for 2018 on 15th September, what would you say to anyone considering entering?

I think if you are looking to expand your network with like-minded leaders across the spectrum of the industry - all within an environment that’s safe but challenging, and will help to take your game to the next level – then you need to apply for Sport Industry NextGen.  


Find out more about Sport Industry NextGen in partnership with Barclays here