Eight Business Lessons

8 Business Lessons Learned From The Playing Field

I love what Robin Green Harris has to say about sports and organized play and how it is definitely connected to your success in the business world.  I hope you enjoy this article!

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Sports columnists regularly focus on the reasons why a team or individual won or lost a game, match or championship. They delve into athletic performances, coaching strategies, mental miscues and various other aspects of the competition. Rarely do these sports columnists examine what these athletes have learned through the games, through the victories and, perhaps more importantly, through the defeats.

 As many successful business leaders know, competing in sports provides life lessons that transfer into the boardroom and the executive office. Athletics (organized or informal backyard games) teaches leadership skills that are critical to success in the business world, including competing to win, overcoming adversity, taking risks, playing with passion (not emotion) and working with a team. It is no coincidence that a February 2002 study of 401 senior executive business women revealed that 82% had played organized team sports while growing up. The women that participated in sports reported that their athletics background helped them advance in their careers in numerous ways. That is consistent with the results of a 1997 study by the Women’s Sports Foundation that reported that 80% of female executives in Fortune 500 companies identified themselves as “competitive” and “tomboys” when they were young.

Does that mean only former (or current) athletes can be successful executives or leaders? Of course not. We should, however, examine why so many successful female professionals and business leaders have athletics in their backgrounds. Did they learn something from athletics that assisted them in their career advancement? What are those lessons? Can those who did not or do not play sports apply those lessons and principles?

The answer to that latter question is most definitely yes. Participation in organized athletics also offers lessons that can be applied to the business world by women who are not or were not athletes themselves. In short, we can use these lessons to supplement our individual talents, knowledge and skills and to advance further in our careers.

Of course, these lessons and tips do not apply only to women. Men can certainly use them as well. At the risk of engaging in gender stereotyping, however, men usually do not need to learn or hear about these “rules of the games” because they tend to grow-up with them and use them naturally. For example, ask male and female golfers why they enjoy the game. Women will likely respond that they like the game itself, the camaraderie and the excuse to be outside in good weather. Men may list those reasons, but they will likely also add that they play for the good-natured betting that occurs over various putts and other aspects of the game throughout the afternoon. Men tend to focus on identifying a winner (and a loser), while women tend to focus on the relationships.

Neither approach is wrong. But, successful leaders and executives have learned that the following lessons acquired through athletics competition foster achievement and advancement.

1. Clarify your goals and develop a playbook – Like athletes who set clear goals and then achieve them, and coaches who create and follow a playbook, successful leaders and executives develop personal and business strategic plans with clear and specific goals. These goals should lead your development and challenge you, but they should also be realistic and attainable.

2. Play to win – Like athletes who desire victory and play to win, successful leaders and executives rise to a challenge and fight for their company’s or organization’s interests. They know respect and advancement follow successful results. Avoid the all-too-common common female concern that if you “beat” a friend or colleague, you will not be liked. Gracious and honest winners earn the respect of their peers.

3. Take risks – Athletes regularly take risks, whether it is sliding head first into home, diving hard for a loose ball or testing limits in other aspects of the competition. These risks may not always work as planned, but when they do, the rewards are exhilarating. Successful executives and leaders also know that the greatest victories can result from calculated risks. Do your homework and prepare, take calculated risks, and do not be afraid to fail.

4. Bounce Back – Athletes know that they must bounce back from the inevitable defeats and setbacks. Successful leaders and executives recognize that, particularly when you take risks, some failures will occur but they are not fatal. Recovering after a disappointment, particularly one that is public or in front of your peers, is one of the most critical lessons that athletics provides for the business world. And it is one that, all too often, women who have not participated in sports, have not had a chance to practice. Do not be afraid to learn from your defeats. The old adage – “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try (and try and try) again” – truly applies.

 5. Don’t take it personally – Athletes accept that their opponents are trying to win and understand that a foul, volleyball spike or last minute sprint to the finish is not intended (usually) to be a personal attack – it is simply part of the competition. Accept that questions and challenges in the business world are part of the overall “game” of striving for success – they are not intended as personal attacks.

 6. Show passion, not emotion – Playing with passion is the hallmark of many outstanding athletes and teams. Similarly, successful business leaders and executives display passion and conviction in their business plans and goals. Passion can energize those on your team. Take care, though, not to act emotionally.

 7. Practice, practice, practice – Many athletes are born with natural talents but they still practice to hone and develop their skills and to gain confidence and prepare for specific competitions. Similarly, successful leaders and executives carefully prepare and plan prior to major projects, speeches, presentations and other business events. Become a confident expert in your field through detailed and comprehensive preparation and practice.

 8. Enjoy the game – Perhaps the most important lesson of all is that you should enjoy the game. Enjoy what you do in your career, appreciate your colleagues and you will be happy, even if you do not win every “game.

Get out there and play something this summer.  Let me know what you are playing and what is your favorite sport or sporting memory.

Linda Edgecombe, CSP
Motivational Speaker
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Linda Edgecombe
Canadian Speaker Hall of Fame