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Lessons In Leadership: One On One With Mark Lev

I spoke to Mark Lev, managing director of Fenway Sports Management, about his best advice

Adam: What is something about you that would surprise people?

Mark: My aspirations as a young kid, and most of the way through college, were to be a doctor. I studied pre-med in college, and then ultimately decided that wasn’t my calling. I was an athlete through college and thought, “why not do something in a field that I have a real passion for and make a career out of that?” I got an early opportunity to work for a Vermont minor league baseball team – doing everything from chalking base paths to rolling out the tarp – and slowly worked my way up. This was where I fell in love with the business side of sports.

Adam: How did you get here? ​What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Mark:I grew up in Swampscott, MA, on Boston’s North Shore, and received a BA from the University of Vermont. With my interest in sports business piqued following my work with a Vermont minor league team, I lined up an informational interview with the Boston Celtics. As luck would have it, one of the hired interns dropped out the day of my interview and I landed the job. I progressed in my sports marketing career with the Celtics, where I spent 14 years developing a wide range of marketing initiatives and overseeing corporate sponsorship sales. As vice president of marketing and corporate communications for the Celtics, I was fortunate to have a role in the creation and implementation of several special projects, including the launch of the Celtics’ affinity credit card program, the launch of the Red Auerbach Youth Foundation and the Larry Bird retirement ceremony, which generated more than $1M for Boston-area charities. Having worked with some of the most prestigious entities in sports, I’ve been very lucky in my career, so looking back I can’t pinpoint any major failures or setbacks.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader?

Mark: An effective leader must recognize and celebrate wins – even the small ones – with those whom you manage. Be empathetic, be accountable and respect other people’s time. Effective communication is vital. Invest the time to create a culture that nurtures talent and train future leaders – it will pay dividends.

Adam: Who are the greatest leaders you have been around and what did you learn from them?

Mark: I’ve had the opportunity to work with and for a number of great leaders throughout my career. At the beginning of my career, I was privileged to work for Red Auerbach from the Celtics – widely recognized as one of the greatest leaders in the history of sports. Simply being around him on a daily basis was a tremendous learning experience. What really stood out is the respect Red garnered from everyone with whom he came in contact. One thing I did observe from him and appreciated is that he never beat around the bush. He was very direct and candid, and you always knew where you stood with him. People respected him for this and it was great if you were on the right side of that. It could be hard if you weren’t but more often than not, those interactions served as learning experiences.

Adam: How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Mark: I’ve found that real life experience and emulating best practices is the best way to learn. You can take management training classes and things of that nature, but I try and learn by following other corporate leaders. My role presents myriad opportunities to interact with top corporate leaders, and these interactions and opportunities to observe how they comport themselves have been transformative and have enabled me to pick up new skills. Even if you’re not in position to directly interact with top corporate leaders, everyone does have the opportunity to observe their approaches from afar. That really is the best and most effective way to do it.

Adam: What is the best advice you have on building, managing and leading teams?

Mark: I think it comes back to creating a road map, clearly defining goals and expectations, ensuring that everyone understands their role, holding everyone accountable for their responsibilities, and, ultimately, ensuring everybody is pointed in the same direction. As the leader, you have to establish that direction and ensure that everybody is on the same page. Once you have a clear course set, you must then lead by example.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they impacted your development as a leader?

Mark: Going back to my days as an athlete, I was on a soccer team in high school and in college and then played for a while after that. You learn quickly when playing a team sport that you’re part of something bigger than yourself, that everyone has a role to play and that the difference between success and failure is most often defined by how well each member of the team performs their job as opposed to individual accomplishments. This concept is very transferrable to leading in the workplace. While you may hold the title of a leader, it’s important to recognize that it’s not all about you. Your most important job as a leader is to create an environment that fosters teamwork while balancing that with a culture that enables and rewards individual growth and advancement.

Once I realized I no longer wanted to be a doctor, I looked back at what I was most passionate about. Growing up, I aspired to be a professional soccer player, but once I accepted that wasn’t going to happen, I thought, “what’s the next best thing? If I can’t be a professional athlete, why don’t I work in the industry?” That has clearly shaped me as a person and as a professional. From the outset of my career to today, I consistently draw on and apply those experiences in the workplace and in my current role as the leader of this company.

Adam: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your outlook on your job and your perspective?

Mark: It’s important as a leader to remember that work is part of people’s lives and their life is not necessarily part of their work. I think it’s vital to respect that.

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