What Business Leaders can Learn From The Sporting Elite

How do sports stars excel?

What is it that makes them winners and can we really take their approach to high performance and adapt it to business?

The short answer is yes.

For over 20 years I have been bringing a lot of the performance and wellness principles I use with my world champions and Olympic athletes to help them “Go In The Zone”, directly across to companies from SME’s to teams in companies like Microsoft.

I thought I would share seven of those principles in this article. I would be interested to hear which ones you really think are relevant and let me know if there are other techniques and skills you have learned from sport and implemented into your own work. Please feel free to comment below.

#1 – Set clear goals, objectives, strategies and tactics

The starting point to achieving success in any endeavour is to be very clear about:

  1. What you want to achieve (Goal),
  2. The specific and measureable milestone you will set to reach your goal (Objective)
  3. How you are going to achieve your goal (Strategy)
  4. The specific action steps you will take to deliver on the strategy (Tactics)

I have spoken to many business leaders who get confused about the difference between goals and strategies and many describe what they believe are their goals, which are in fact a set of tactics.  Many leaders can be very aware of the goals they have set for the company but don’t regularly share these goals with the rest of the team.

Write down and share your goals, objectives, strategy and tactics regularly.

#2 – Assess and monitor your performance

When you have decided where it is you want to get to and how you are going to get there you then need to know where you are right now. All top-level athletes measure their current fitness levels. As they progress through their training they will keep a close eye on any improvements through regular testing.

As a business leader you need to be able to do the same. You must decide what metrics are important for your business and the best way to measure them. Monitor your progress along the way to assess that you are going in the right direction.

#3 – Create a high performance team

Many companies have groups of people who work together but they are not really a  team. A group is a collection of uniquely skilled people who coordinate their individual efforts. A team however, is a cohesive collection of people working together to achieve common goals and objectives.

Great teams have a trust that bond the individuals together with a strong sense of purpose. They encourage each other to develop habits designed to balance workload and recovery. Having helped so many business leaders develop great high performance teams I know what can be accomplished when leaders recognise the difference between a group of individuals working together and a group of individuals feeling that they are part of something greater – a Team.

#4 – Train to improve the four C’s

All great sports stars work on developing the 4 C’s of mental fitness – commitment, confidence, concentration and control.

Winning in business is a complex equation; there are many components you have to master and combine in order to achieve your best chance of success. In marketing, practitioners talk about the importance of the 4 P’s: Product, Promotion, Price and Place. Finance people talk about P+Ls. Cash flow, balance sheets and forecasts.

All our professions have their own metrics. But in our heart of hearts, we know that understanding these metrics or frameworks will not give you the full picture. In boxing, it is important that fighters work on the five S’s: strength, speed, suppleness, stamina and skill but a fighter who goes into the boxing ring with a clear sense of commitment, confidence, concentration and can control their emotions has a much better chance of prevailing.

Winners in business are just like the top sports performers in the world. When you are going in to sell yourself, your ideas or your product you must have a clear sense of commitment, confidence, concentration and an ability to control your emotions. The good news is the 4 C’s can be trained!

#5 – Manage Your Energy

It is well recognised that managing energy and not time, is the key to maximising results. You could try to manage your time by putting tasks into your diary to be completed within a certain time frame, but if you have low levels of energy those tasks become much harder to achieve.

Top sports stars manage their energy levels each day. They understand the importance of heavy workload followed by a period of recovery. If you have a heavy workload in your business and you are not taking time to recover then your energy and overall performance will drop.

When I work with teams in businesses to enhance their energy levels we focus on four components (Physical, Emotional, Mental, Spiritual). We look at the correct nutrition and training plan to refuel the body as well as working on mindfulness techniques to relax and enhance the mind. It is important that you learn how to manage energy for peak performance and health.

#6 – Build Mental Toughness

Right now, somewhere in the world there are people who are pushing themselves to extremes. Whether they are halfway up Everest, running across a desert or trekking to the South Pole, they are pushing the limits of human endurance and testing their bodies to breaking point.

Having both crewed and competed in the Race Across America and organised one of the toughest endurance events in the world, the Race Around Ireland, I am lucky enough to have witnessed first-hand what the human body and mind is capable of.

There is no doubt that people who compete in these ultra-endurance races are mentally tough, but mental toughness is not just about being able to finish these types of extreme events. We witness mental toughness when anyone can keep going even though they are enduring difficult circumstances in work or life.

By working on developing mental toughness in the workplace you will find that you are in a better mindset to embrace uncertainty (change), take risks, move on quickly after mistakes and recognise that failure is a vital part of greater success.

#7 Develop the right mindset

The right mindset can make all the difference to achievement. Decades of work and research by psychologist Carol Dweck has shown that there are two types of mindset – fixed and growth.

In her book “Mindset” Dweck demonstrates how those with a fixed mindset believe that success and achievement is directly related to talent or intelligence. She found students, athletes and business leaders who believed this, limited the amount of success they could attain.

However, those who displayed characteristics of having a growth mindset where they believe that success can be achieved through hard work and effort out performed natural ability through their love of learning and overcoming challenges.

Business leaders who introduce a culture of growth mindset can see remarkable things happen within their organisation.

In summary

There is no doubt that if business leaders adopt the same principles for success that top sports people implement they can make a big difference to their own work and wellness as well as that of their employees.

If you have any other suggestions to this list please feel free to put them in the comments box or if I can answer any questions you may have about the content please don’t hesitate to send me a message.