Applying The Mental Attributes Of A Champion Athlete To The World Of Business
Motivation, focus, and critical thinking. They may seem obvious factors in athletic competition, yet the same characteristics are equally applicable to success in business. Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt of Jamaica should know; he has spent his fair share of time riding a learning curve toward understanding these principles and incorporating them into his training regimen, the results of which speak for themselves. Turning weaknesses into strengths, setbacks into advantages, and attention toward motivation are three basic tenets of success in developing the skills required to become a world champion—in any field.
Play To One’s Strengths
If Usain Bolt’s special gift for speed hadn’t been spotted early, he might have been satisfied with being a reasonably good cricket player. When coaches advised Bolt to concentrate on a 400-meter race, he had enough self-confidence to realise his strength lay instead in the 100-metre dash. The Olympics proved him right. Bolt was cognisant enough of his own abilities to accept and ignore feedback as necessary. Self-confidence is a must, and if you are not the CEO of your organisation—or your own life— then you need a team to support you.
In business, a heavy emphasis on gap analysis encourages executives to focus on improving their weakpoints. It is almost always the wrong advice. If you are a great writer but a terrible speaker, focus on writing even better and get someone else to do the speaking. Oftentimes, the things we are bad at are the things that we don’t really want to do. A recipe for success is to do fewer of the things we don’t like and concentrate on those at which we excel. I remember a salesman who was spectacular at signing up new clients, but terrible at following up. His boss finally fired him—a grave mistake! Finding a special talent for sales is rare, but finding someone to handle mundane details once the sale is made is comparatively easy; the boss should have kept him on the job and hired someone else to handle the subsequent administrative work.
Turn Setbacks Into Advantages
After going professional, Bolt experienced a series of injuries and setbacks that might have discouraged anyone else. Without these setbacks, though, he might never have achieved the focus, discipline, and pacing required to become a champion. Highly successful people do not reach the top because their paths there are easy; we all face obstacles in our lives, and they, too, face obstacles and setbacks like everyone else. Their gift is finding a positive aspect to an apparently negative situation and using the circumstances as motivation not to be denied their goals. The late Steve Jobs liked to say that, had he not dropped out of college, the Macintosh would not have been as great a machine; he would go on to credit his later success at Apple to having been fired by the very same company 14 years before his second stint as CEO.
Similarly, highly successful people are not immune to weakness. We are all human and we are all weak in one way or another. What distinguishes successful people from others is their ability to find ways to use their weaknesses to their advantage and to find strengths in themselves that others may not recognise.
Bolt had trouble early in his career because he was too good for his own good; he was so much faster than everyone else that he neglected training, ate the wrong foods, and lacked concentration. His natural abilities were enough for success at the local level, but becoming a world champion required more. The key was motivation.
Motivation is equally important in business, and often as difficult to maintain. Some executives feel passionate about the job, or they feel a responsibility to the people they know in the company. Others want to hold on to the influence that comes with the position. What is the incentive for an executive at a company like Microsoft, who has already earned millions, to maintain top form? Executives who already have everything they want can continue to give maximum effort in finding new challenges in striving for improvement. Athletes and executives share the attribute of an intensely competitive spirit; for them, the accumulation of wealth is often merely a byproduct of their motivation to win.
Article by Professor John Weeks images : Oliver O’Hanlon / IMD