The quality of federation leadership is the key to success or failure

Both the Sports Confederation of Denmark (DIF) and Team Denmark are very dependent on the quality of the political and administrative leadership of the individual federations. Regardless of whether it is about medals for Denmark, talent development, recruitment of children, dropouts among youth, development of new activities or good facilities, a close and well-functioning collaboration between the two organizations and the individual federation is paramount to the success or failure of the parties.

Wide range among DIF’s federations

The culture, tasks, content and resources of DIF’s 62 individual federations are very different – from Modern Pentathlon Denmark with less than 100 members, DKK 60,000 in annual turnover and extremely modest coverage in the local media to the Danish Football Association (DBU) with 360,000 members, 300 million DKK in annual turnover and gigantic media exposure. However, in my opinion and experience, the quality of the individual federations’ leadership is far from proportional to the federation’s membership, financial resources, media coverage or other factors. For several decades, I have been both surprised and amazed at how (smaller) federations have achieved sporting success at international level or created lots of sports joy and enthusiasm among children, youth or the elderly, while (larger) federations have been characterized by personal power struggles and waste of obvious development potentials. In my opinion, the quality of an individual federation’s leadership can be assessed based on the following four factors.

Continuity – minimum 4 and maximum 10 years for board members

Firstly, there must be continuity in the federation’s political and administrative leadership. Far too many of DIF’s federations are characterized in these years by far too frequent replacements of chairmen, board members and/or directors. The board is of course democratically elected at the federation’s annual meetings and there is no list of facts for the optimal duration of terms of office, either for chairmen/women, board members or directors. Replacement of board members should take place continuously and it should be avoided that all board members leave the federation’s political leadership at the same time. Frequent changes of the top administrative management – director, general secretary, sports manager, development manager or communication manager – should also be avoided, as the result of this is a significant loss of knowledge and experience for the federation. A term of office for board members and administrative managers should be at least 4 years and at most 10 years.

Long-term strategy with ownership on the board

Secondly, the federation must work based on a long-term strategy, which is continuously discussed and adopted at the federation’s annual meeting. The strategy, with a time perspective of 3-5 years, must contain both a vision, concrete objectives and descriptions of the resources that must make the strategy’s implementation realistic. The federation’s members and employees can advantageously be involved in the preparation of the strategy through hearings, proposals and committee work, but the “ownership” of the strategy should always be the board. Most federations’ strategies are often far too comprehensive and imprecise, which means that it becomes very difficult for both the board and the administration to focus on the most important key points. This also means that the federation’s political leadership (the board) must entrust case management, personnel management and daily operational tasks to the federation’s administrative management (director or executive board).

Diversity must reflect membership composition

Thirdly, the board must reflect the individual federation’s diversity in relation to the members’ gender, age, geography and attitudes. There are far too many federations where one gender is significantly underrepresented or where the average age of board members is far higher than the composition of the members. People over the age of 55-60 often have a great deal of knowledge about a specific sport – and naturally many years of experience – but boards also tend to “solidify” if all the board members are over this age. Likewise, the federation’s leadership also has a great responsibility for nominating candidates for the board, so that different views and positions become visible and represented in the federation’s leadership.

Essential cooperation between the federation’s two “key persons”

Fourthly – but by no means the least important – the cooperation between the federation’s chairperson and CEO must be trustworthy and trusting. The two “key persons” should complement each other through a coordinated distribution of roles and responsibilities, i.a. in relation to internal and external communication. Unfortunately, there are far too many examples in Danish sports of bad – and sometimes embarrassing – constellations between the federation’s political chairmen/woman and the CEO of administration. There are many skilled chairmen/women and directors in DIF’s confederation, but the number of confederations with both a skilled chairperson/woman and a skilled CEO’s is relatively few. In my opinion, this is the primary reason why many of DIF’s individual federations have not had the development that the individual sport deserves.