When most of us think of sports we think of winning and glory, but without all the hard work, moments of glory are wishful thinking. In my experience, business is like sports. Success is what many pay attention to but it is the day to day grind of running a business, improving processes, boosting employee performance, adapting to changing markets, being a strong leader, dodging obstacles and creating opportunities that are key components to a business leader's success.
As a former Olympian and high performance athlete I was lucky to have some great coaches over the years that led me and my team to multiple national, panamerican and world championship medals and taught me how to win, how to overcome adversity, how to be a leader on a winning team and other key lessons to succeed in business.
1. Willingness to Compete
An underlying ingredient to an athlete’s success is a willingness to compete. It is competitiveness that pushes athletes and similarly business owners to achieve consistent, long term success. My experience as an athlete and coach has helped me see this clearly as a business professional. Remaining competitive is key to our corporate survival.
2. Set Clear Goals
As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you are going, any road can take you there. As with any high performance athletic development, in business development goals need to be specific, measurable, well communicated and time-bounded so that people are motivated to reach for their limits. Everything is done step by step to move closer to those goals: invest in the process and the results will follow. Goals create a shared sense of purpose and create a culture of shared ownership for athletes or employees.
3. Take the Blame for your Failures
My best coaches always underlined the importance of being accountable and taking ownership – learning from your mistakes – you own the results you are building. Successful athletes and coaches will keep a firm hand on the tiller and keep pursuing the goal they have targeted. So business leaders must be a role model for others by taking the blame for their mistakes and reward others for doing the same.
4. Learn from Successes and Failures and Keep Going
Without learning, a sports team, athlete or company cannot improve. Being intellectually honest is a critical first step in creating a culture that learns and encourages a growth mindset. Winning and losing in sports and business provides a critical feedback loop and a framework for improvement and success. Stay positive and be persistent.
5. Prepare Exhaustively
Whether with employees, client meetings or investor pitches – think clearly about the outcome you want and the details of making that happen. Prior to an event top athletes and their coaches will prepare physically but also prepare mentally with a race or game plan and visualize and replay every detail, then engage in “what IF”scenarios. Know the mechanics and prepare ahead of time.
6. Know the Critical Details
There are some details you must know and handle yourself as a coach, athlete or business leader. Athletes must know how their body and equipment will function and react in critical situations and under different conditions. Critical details to know and handle for business owners include the specific challenges facing their clients and working with their employees to build solutions for them.
7. Be Mentally Tough and be Confident
The ultimate key to sustained excellence for both elite athletes and and business leaders isn't just the ability to run fast or do quantitative analysis in their heads it is also the development of mental toughness. The ability to thrive under extreme pressure may be the most defining characteristic of elite athletes. Able to stay focused, bounce back from setbacks and most crucially maintain belief in themselves in the most challenging circumstances is critical to staying on top.
Sustaining success in such an environment requires these core mindsets. The positive and resilient mindsets of the best athletes and business leaders underpin their drive and ability to reinvent themselves continuously in order to stay ahead of the pack.
Does any of this sound familiar in your world?
Karen Lukanovich, MBA, ACC, Olympian, Leadership and Performance Coach.