If you’ve ever spent time listening to professional athletes or coaches talk about leadership and team dynamics, you may have noticed some parallels to the business world. At first thought this may seem to be a stretch, but the reality is that the similarities can be striking. A sports team and a company or office share a lot of similar challenges in gathering groups of different people with different skills to work toward common goals. Thus, it’s possible at times to learn from a team, team captain, or coach just as we might learn from an experienced CEO.
The following are among the top lessons to watch for and learn from the world of sports.
Trust In A Team
One of the best sports books to come out in the last year was The Soul Of Basketball, by Ian Thomsen. It’s a book about the NBA in a time of transition, and how tensions and rivalries between a few key figures more or less saved (or in some sense enlightened) the league. Early in that book a section is devoted to the great Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who famously tried to haul teams to championships by himself, but had one of his worst shooting performances of all time in a decisive game in a championship series. The argument is made (including by Bryant himself) that this was one of his best games however, because he was forced to trust his teammates – who carried him to a championship.
Most any successful business manager or CEO will argue in favor of developing trust with a team. That doesn’t mean it happens naturally or easily, but it does almost always mean better results, if and when it happens. The Kobe Bryant example is a relatively extreme one, but sports illustrate this concept on a daily basis.
The Value Of Practical Communication
Another excellent recent sports book is The Captain Class, by Sam Walker. Unlike The Soul Of Basketball this book is specifically about leadership, and in fact endeavors to highlight and explain the greatest team leaders in the history of sports. In his effort to do this, Walker illuminates several qualities proven to produce uncanny leaders – some of which have actually been studied and more or less proven for their benefits in the business world. One such quality was the ability of a leader to communicate practically – not giving rousing, dramatic speeches, but instead making pointed, specific communications with specific members of a team.
This is something that frankly a lot of business leaders would do well to emulate. All too often a leader in an office or company setting is inaccessible, speaking to employees only through occasional group communications. Practical communication is more difficult, but more effective as well.
Adaptation To Repeated Challenges
Lots of repeated competitions in sports are relatively similar from year to year. Despite player movements, team management, etc., the process of competition remains unchanged. An overview of the English FA Cup in football – an event that does change a lot from one year to the next – might have put it best, suggesting that domestic competitions have the potential to be predictable affairs. This is true not just in English football but in sports leagues around the world. And yet, despite the similarity between seasons, there are always fresh outcomes, as coaches and players find ways to learn, adjust, and adapt on the fly.
When you think about it, this applies very neatly to the world of business, where things can in many cases be repetitive to the point of monotony. How then can a company look to be more successful from one quarter to the next when the surrounding environment – the landscape of competition, if you will – doesn’t change? Sports offer a lesson in perseverance and creativity in this regard. The smallest adjustments can lead to new successes.
This is a far more straightforward point, but one that bears mentioning anyway. The fact of the matter is that there may not be any professionals on Earth who emphasize day-to-day preparation like athletes. You need only read a book about your favorite sport, stay up on sports journalism, or seek out player interviews to get the feeling that professional athletes are focused on their craft almost all of the time. They engineer sleep schedules to recharge their bodies, hire nutritionists to regulate their diets, seek out various therapies such as massage or cooling chambers, and of course put in extensive athletic and sport-specific training. Or at least, the successful ones do.
This level of preparation isn’t always possible depending on the business at hand and an individual’s needs and demands. However, the general model of constant, strategic preparation sets a fine example for anyone looking to stand out from a crowd or succeed in any given field. There’s no reason for anyone in business, from a new intern to a CEO, not to strive for this kind of effort.
The Importance Of Resilience
This is actually a point that was specifically mentioned recently by a terrific former athlete. Steve Nash, a long-time point guard and two-time MVP of the NBA, gave an interview with Bill Simmons of The Ringer, and discussed the concept of resilience as something he looks for in young athletes. Nash calls it the biggest indicator of success, and actually talks about attempting to instill it in young athletes, though there’s some question as to just how possible this is. Regardless, the argument is interesting, and certainly suggests a quality that can lead to success far beyond the realm of sport.
Again, there can be legitimate debate over whether resilience is purely an inherent quality or whether it can be taught and learned. If there’s even a little bit of the latter that’s true however, it’s worth exploring in business environment. Teaching employees to be more resilient means moving past failures and rough spots more effectively, and ultimately a more confident and competent workforce.
Author: Ethan Myers