9 things that business leaders can learn from professional sport

In celebration of renewing our sponsorship of Bath Rugby Ladies, we sat down with Sarah Burgess from Bath Rugby Ladies to discuss the lessons that business can learn from professional sport.

On the surface, sport and business may seem to sit at opposite ends of the spectrum, but, the two couldn’t be more similar, especially in terms of the attributes of top performers and top performing firms. We have outlined 9 key attributes of professional athletes and discuss how these can be applied to business.

1) Planning, preparation and understanding

Within the sporting world, there is a great deal of emphasis placed on the importance of planning, preparation and understanding between the athlete, coach and team. Planning often comes in the form of long term and short-term training plans that are designed around key events. Once a plan is in place, an athlete must then prepare through following the training plan and trusting in the process. Coincidentally, as much as 90% of an athlete’s time is spent planning and preparing whilst only 10% is spent doing the job (competing), due to the value that is created during that 90%.

For those working outside the training ground, planning, preparation and understanding still play an integral role in the day to day success of an organisation and its people. Fail to plan and you plan to fail.

2) Spend time reviewing wins

Most businesses focus far too much on identifying what has gone wrong and what hasn’t worked. Sport is the complete opposite. The primary objective of an elite athlete and their team is to win, whether that is in a solo running race or a team game, and many team coaches spend a large proportion of their time deciphering a winning formula. Such a formula can only come to fruition through anlaysing losses, but predominantly analysing the wins, working out what worked and why it worked. Good managers of sports and business teams will encourage knowledge sharing within their teams and monopolise on abilities.

3) Motivation

Motivating an athlete and a team is the key to success on the pitch and in the office. Often, an individual’s enthusiasm persists until they reach a spot of adversity, when it is then likely for the ‘athlete’ to feel unmotivated and lack luster as they are not seeing returns on their hard work. For us at Nine Feet Tall, managing remote workers can be especially difficult, as our consultants are often working by themselves without the support of their team. Having well defined goals, a strong vision and support network helps to keep our consultants connected and inspired.

4) Feedback

One of the greatest attributes of elite sports men and women is that they continually assess their performance and ask for feedback from their coaches and team players, always striving for excellence. Good team players are always happy to give constructive feedback, looking at solutions that can work better and trying new things out on the training ground. Feedback is a gift.

5) Recruit the right people

Arguably, one of the most important lessons that businesses can learn from sport is to recruit the right people (emphasis on the ‘right’) and not necessarily the ‘best’ people. For a team to work, there needs to be variety in human capital, underpinned by shared values. You can teach people new skills, but you can’t always teach them how to behave. Once you have a good team player – make sure you keep hold of them. Just because someone is the ‘right’ person, doesn’t mean that they will not require guidance.

6) Being adaptable

The key to success for a rugby team in a major tournament is how well the team can react to change and adapt to the circumstances to overcome any challenge and get the best result. Due to the nature of the markets, and the nature of business, many changes will occur that can challenge an organisation. There are many ways to build internal adaptability and here are a few suggestions:

  • Having a diverse employee base (this is where employing the right people rather than the best people comes in to play!)
  • Having a bank of available resources to cover where your own knowledge is thin
  • Being aware of trends in the market and recognising when a change is on the horizon
  • Ensuring that all systems are efficient and meet the needs of everyone who uses them!

These are only a few suggestions and there are many more out there, but the key is to find the correct combination for each organisation.

7) Being resilient

Change is inevitable. But it is how you deal with the change that can be a make or break decision. For athletes being mentally resilient is as important, if not more, than an athletes physical ability. Being able to deal with adversity, hard training sessions and set backs strengthens an athlete and further pushes them to be the best that they can be.

For those in business, mental resilience is also an important component for success, as pulling through the tough times and remaining positive in the face of adversity can create opportunities that may not have been present without going through the rough patch. Therefore, giving attention to building mental resilience is incredibly important – even acknowledging its importance is a step in the right direction!

8) Developing trust and respect

For a team to succeed, they not only need to trust the plan that has been set by their coach, but also in the team around them. There has to be a mutual respect, as each player has a purpose and they are all there for a reason, and there must be trust among the team as the team can only succeed if they work together towards a common goal.

The same can be said for those in an office – employees need to trust and respect their colleagues and there has to be a mutual respect for decisions made.

9) Empowerment

Leading on from trust and respect, one way to promote such relationships is through empowering people to make decisions. Professional sports men and women are empowered by coaches to take responsibility for their performance development which promotes a sense of belonging.

In a business setting, employee empowerment does not mean absolute authority or absolute power. The extent or degree of empowerment will vary depending on experience and level of expertise. Effective managers should be able to identify the level of responsibility they can give to their employers without allowing them to take on too much or get stressed by their new role. The key to empowering employees is to have open and honest dialogue.

We look forward to supporting Bath Rugby Ladies for another season and learning more from their successes on the field.

Photo: Heffers Design

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