5 lessons from sports to build better business:
1. They are goal-oriented
To thrive in sports, this HAS to be the starting point: get very clear about what you want to achieve. It could be winning the Olympics, scoring 100 points in that game, overcoming that record, winning the regionals, or being selected to play in the world cup. The aims might be different, but the clarity on the goal is the same among achievers. If you don’t know what you want to reach, how will you know which is the next step for you to take? If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know which is the best path to pursue? How will you map the gaps between where you are now and where you want to be?
I see so many businesses that are just floating towards nowhere, just trying to sell more, get more clients, lean the operation… but why? Those goals themselves say nothing about what they are trying to achieve. Imagine if you have a team just trying to score more points, or run faster. How will you know that is enough? How will you know that this is what needs to be done? It feels like focusing too much on the pieces when the important thing is to be clear on the puzzle’s final picture, then you will know which pieces you need to collect.
2. They work in teams
I never heard about an athlete that thrived without a team. And by a team, I mean a group of people working together towards the same goal, in synchronized movement and driven by the same motivation. Even athletes in solo sports like surfing, snowboarding, tennis, etc, need a team to succeed. They need the coach, the nutritionist, the personal trainer, the physician.. and many more.
As a consequence of the vague goal of just “to grow” in business, when hiring, managers tend to hire people to play the short game of getting activities done, instead of people to play the long game. The risk of that is to have people in the company prioritizing their activities and their best interests instead of thinking: “How can I help the team to achieve this or that, so the company would get to its final destination?”
A team is not just a group of people. A team is an alignment among people that care about one thing: the team’s growth. And if you ever wondered if your organization has a team or not, keep in mind that whether the answer is yes or no, the responsibility to develop a team will always be from the leadership.
3. They have good leaders
Teams that thrive have something in common: strong leaders. The leader’s role is to create continuum alignment between the team, keeping the high motivation, and moving the group towards the goal. The leader’s duties are to listen actively to the needs of the team, to understand how they feel about their performance, their life, both emotionally and physically, helping them to improve the gaps and enhance their strengths. Many times the leader is not the one who is known as the “star” of the team, it is often the leader’s role to create stars among their team members.
This is such a precious insight because it’s common in business to see people who think that leadership is telling people what to do, to receive attention, and to be served by others. I have seen managers that think they are leaders just because they have people reporting to them. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The role of a leader is to serve. It will always be. The main activity of the leader is to create the right environment and conditions for his or her team to thrive. ALWAYS.
4. They have shared a shared vision and beliefs
In a game or competition, it isn’t all just about scores, prizes, and records. Usually, there is a strong and emotional motivation that drives the team and its fans: to bring a specific title to the country, honor their home city, inspire others to overcome challenges in life, etc. If you are just trying to reach a score, once you do it, it will be meaningless and the energy will just fade away. Numbers are just numbers. The next year will come, and they will be forgotten. But the emotional associations and the impact you have on other people won’t. This will last, this is what makes an athlete or a team memorable: emotion and impact.
The emotional connection and the impact it creates on others attracts people to teams or athletes because by supporting others who have similar beliefs and values, they are reaffirming their own. That is why unique brands are built on the foundation of values and emotion.
For example, All blacks, the rugby team from New Zealand, stands for spiritual connection, honoring roots, and building better people. They show it through their worldly known ritual of The Haka, that they perform before every game starts. Another example, the Brazilian soccer team, who inspired fans all over the world, are very charismatic, fun, and easygoing players. However, for Brazilians, they carry a hidden meaning of a chance to be a star despite where you come from because many of its best players come from poor origins in the Brazilian favelas.
5. They understand the importance of the mind
This is especially true when we talk about sports. A coach or a team leader can’t just tell others to “do this” and “do that” to get the results they want to see. They need to understand what goes on in the mind of each one of them because they know that the greatest resistances are the ones you can’t see.
The biggest challenges are the ones that confront your beliefs. If one believes that they can do something, they are more likely to achieve it, and on the other hand, If one believes that they can’t do something, they are far more unlikely even to try. Getting people in the team to believe that something is possible is already halfway there.
And this is why I get so surprised when I see business leaders ignoring this day by day. They try to fix employees’ behavior and improve their skills, without working on the root of the problem: their mindset structure. Understanding people, and developing compassion is the fastest route to the path of less resistance.
Why do businesses and sports have so much in common? And why can we constantly learn from one and another? Because they are all about bringing people together towards a common goal with shared beliefs. Building union, working hard, making people believe in something bigger than themselves, and building better humans, is the middle path where both universes meet one another.
What is your perspective on this topic? Share your insights in the comments 🙂