For almost 20 years I was as an executive for a globally iconic sports brand. I led both domestic and global cross-functional teams under extremely fast-paced and incredibly dynamic environmental conditions. One of the most challenging aspects of my jobs had little to do with achieving high-level performance on a consistent basis. Instead, it had more to do with the constant deciphering of what high-level performance looked like in the eyes of the senior executives who had stock packages with bows that were just a bit bigger than mine; the same ones who dictated the more subjective aspects of organizational performance and employee success.

Revenue-growth and profit increase initiatives were obvious, yet the less clear (if not whimsical) declarations of high-level performance incited paranoia and constant uncertainty in the most (outwardly) confident global executives. 

In 2015, I left the intoxicating hysteria of Corporate America to pursue my doctorate degree in management, largely on a mission to uncover the real culprit of organizational crisis that, continues to plague an industry that remains dear to my heart. When I applied scientific research to decades of intuition and intellect, the research findings were nothing short of mind-blowing.

Today, I own and operate a management consulting firm that helps executives and their organizations across all industries avoid toxicity, manage mayhem, and achieve success with a flourishing leadership style. I also co-host a podcast focused on, optimizing human potential, among other topics.

In my time at Case Western Reserve University, I had the pleasure of being guided through my scholastic journey by some of the most intellectual minds in the world. At the end of that passage, our research uncovered 6 definitive behaviors, processes, and emotion-based factors (BPE) most frequently associated with organizational crisis in the sports industry, and the #1 culprit wasn’t even a point of consideration in my initial theory-building process

Here are those 6 common behaviors, processes, and emotion-based factors:

  1. Self-preservation: Engaging in behaviors directly related to coping, surviving, or preserving to maintain one’s position in the organization (e.g., spinning the truth).  The most prominent factor of BPE associated with crisis in our research, self-preservation was discovered to be the most important factor 32% of the time in crisis situations.
  2. Strategy: Engaging in behaviors directly related to both long and short-term vision, mission, and purpose of the organization (e.g., developing initiatives to achieve organizational objectives). The second-most-prominent factor associated with crisis experienced by sports leaders pertained to strategy; the key factor in 27% of all situations.
  3. Codes of conduct / policy / regulations:Engaging in behaviors directly related to policy enforcement, adherence to regulations, or acts perceived as detrimental to the organization (e.g., a student-athlete disregarding university or team regulations). Athlete, coach, staff, and employee conduct related to policy, regulations, morality, and ethics often receive the crux of the attention related to crisis, and though still relevant, conduct / policy / regulations were the primary factors in 22% of all crisis situations.
  4. Executive leadership: Engaging in behaviors directly related to the managing through poor leadership practices of others to achieve business objectives (e.g., leaders utilizing selective engagement and communication practices perceived as detrimental to organizational success). Another critical factor associated factor related to crisis in sport, executive leadership, existed in 15% of the situations experienced by our interviewees.
  5. Industry effect: Engaging in behaviors directly related to common industry characteristics (e.g., 10-week sports seasons at the Div. III level). In 3% of the cases described by sports leaders, Industry effect was a factor associated with crisis.  
  6. Job performance: Engaging in behaviors directly related to aligned job expectations (i.e., working through poor quarterly business results, winning, or losing games). One percent of the time, sports leaders related job performance to crisis.

Coping, surviving, and preserving aren’t characteristics we readily apply to global sports leaders, but this is the harsh reality in which many of us lived and still live in. So, what’s the bottom line when it comes to dealing with crisis in sports organizations? Check unhealthy versions of egos, human fragility, and fractured self-identities at the door in favor of purpose-driven, value-centered organizational practices that encourage flourishing at all levels of the organization.  Your employees deserve it, and more importantly, expect it from you as a leader of people.   

The above article contains summarized elements of the paper that was submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Doctor of Management Program at the Weatherhead School of Management at CWRU entitled, “SPORTS LEADERS, SENSEMAKING, AND SELF–PRESERVATION: UNCOVERING THE REAL CRISIS IN SPORT.” By Daryl L. Jones. Advisors: Richard J. Boland, Jr., Ph.D, and Dale Hartz, D.M.


  • Dr. Dary L. Jones

    Co-Founder and Co-host of The Conscious Vibe

    Dr. Daryl L. Jones owns and operates his own consulting firm, specializing in Organizational Development, DE&I, & Culture. After managing businesses in the automotive and consumer packaged goods industries, Dr. Jones was recruited by Nike, where his executive tenure spanned 20 years, including roles as Director of Diversity & Inclusion, Head of Global Sales for the 2016 Rio Olympics, and VP/GM of Nike’s largest region globally with over $2.3B in annual revenue. Dr. Jones is co-founder and co-host of the popular show, The Conscious Vibe (TCV), along with Charles Mitchell, where the pair interview some of today’s most diverse, prolific, and interesting people to elevate intellect through conscious dialogue. This show has gained popularity for its multifaceted conversations around race, politics, business, and culture to drive forward compelling stories, to capture critical concepts, and to build sustainable intellectual capital. For those wanting to tune into a unique platform with multifarious voices, a genuine focus on personal growth, and a place where intellect is favored over sensationalized narratives that are popular yet not validated, TVC is that place. TVC beseeches candor and respect to move towards an outcome that can avail the greater good. Dr. Jones earned his B.A. in Marketing from Michigan State University, and his MBA from DePaul University. He earned his Doctorate of Management at Case Western Reserve University. While pursuing his doctorate, he was a professor at the University of Oregon and Pacific University. Philanthropically, he is Founder and President of the E-5 Foundation based in Chicago, Illinois, a non-profit entity that was focused on the transformation of Chicago’s underserved youth in critical areas of development.