Beyond Physical: Lessons that Business Leaders Can Take from the Playing Field to the Office

Written by – Michael Ede

The links between men’s sports and business success go back many years. In more recent studies, researchers have noted that women benefit just as much (if not more) than their male colleagues from a thorough immersion in life on the field. The environment of cooperative competition demands that specific characteristics grow within each athlete. These skills, instincts, and drives all carry over into the business arena.

Disciplined Flexibility of Flexible Discipline?

Signing up to play a sport, even if it’s a pub league, is a commitment to yourself and your team. The evidence of your commitment is discipline. When you work diligently to hone your skills and bring out the best in your teammates, you ingrain strength and resilience in those around you. And when your team concedes a goal, that discipline is the only thing that will allow you to take one back.

Of course, life on the pitch, court, or in the ring is different from the training ground. It’s unpredictable. You never know what the opposition has in store, and every leader must temper their discipline with flexibility. Consider your favourite athlete – Jordan, Bergkamp, Lomachenko. They may train harder and longer than anyone else, but the moment something unexpected happens, they have the creativity to innovate something new.

Likewise, business leaders need a steady hand. The tenacity and discipline of sport can give entrepreneurs the resilience they need to put in long hours and make tough decisions. Every venture needs hard workday in and day out to succeed, and the discipline to develop a plan and execute it is one of the hallmarks of a good business leader.

But in the market, as on the field, the unexpected arrives. Business is unpredictable and often defies expectations. Great entrepreneurs are not weighed down by their discipline. Like the star athlete, they know when to change plans on the fly to capitalise on a split-second opportunity. This skill may look like finding a way to move an entire business online when a pandemic shuts the world down. Or it could be changing an outdated business model to account for developing technologies. Whatever it is, a business leader needs the discipline and creativity that sports instil in us.

Every Sport Is a Team Sport; Every Business Is a Collaboration

Sports are all about teamwork – even individual sports. In fact, Roger Federer credits much of his success to his training team. In a way, all sports victories are team victories. The camaraderie that develops in training and through the shared experiences of victory and defeat leaves athletes feeling that they are part of something bigger than themselves. They learn to adapt their skills to complement the rest of the team.

The ability to navigate a team dynamic and get the most out of every member is crucial to a business leader. They must build team spirit and effectively manage everyone’s skills to ensure the company meets its goals. Promising entrepreneurs, like athletes, learn to understand and respect their teammates. Even if the CEO or founder is the “superstar,” like Federer, they rely on the talent of others to help them succeed.

Leaders Are Accountable to Teammates in the Office and on the Pitch

Teams count on their athletes, especially the captains and start players. Unprofessional behaviour like missing practice or showing up late for games drags the whole team down. But merely showing up isn’t enough. To succeed in athletics, you must be fully present and mentally focused. As a leader, you must show everyone you are fully invested in their success.

The workplace is subject to the same conditions. The board and your team depend on you to keep things operating smoothly. Therefore, you must show accountability to every stakeholder. Don’t just show up and leave early for a three-martini lunch. Be present, focused, and invested.

Take Nothing for Granted: Success and Failure Are Growth Opportunities

Every sports career has its share of wins and losses. Having to deal with both results strengthens humility and character. So, you triumphed in a game. Great! But what can you improve? What errors did you commit? What do you want to ensure you do again in the next game? Great sports teams never take their success for granted and even dissect their winning performances. This tendency is prevalent among superstars in the NFL.

Humility is a virtue for every business leader. You can help your team achieve its goals by evaluating everything – accomplishments and failures. Even when a project is a success, you search for ways to squeeze out more efficiency and never, ever take your success for granted.

Sports Values Make Great Leaders, Who Make Great Teammates

It is no surprise that Ronaldos and Musks of the work inspire similar admiration (and controversy). Notwithstanding their physical differences, their attitudes, tenacity, and willingness to improve serve them well. Business leaders have much to learn from the mental and emotional lessons of sports. And while these lessons will improve their own performance and earn them accolades, the real magic is how they can instil these values in others and get the best performance out of their teams.