Business is a marathon not a sprint. And while the average desk-bound entrepreneur may find the sporting analogy a strange one, the two fields share more than a few similarities.
In professional sports – just as in business – the name of the game is survival of the fittest and a winning mentality is a non-negotiable prerequisite for top performers. The elite of both arenas rely on the same combination of drive, passion and grit to help them get them through the hard times and push on to finish line.
Let’s dive in a little further and look at five lessons from the field of sporting excellence you can take on board to drive your own future business success.
- You are not alone.
Sport, like entrepreneurship, can be a lonely business but every successful athlete relies on a team when the chips are down. Whether it’s the coaches and nutrition experts they call on to fine-tune their training, or the sports psychologists employed to hone their competitive edge, some sort of background support network is always in place.
A successful business career requires the same type of behind the scenes assistance. It’s your responsibility to create a personal network of mentors, partners and advisors to guide you through the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial journey.
- Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
Top athletes are painfully aware of the importance of proper mental and physical preparation. They know that the slightest lapse during training or recovery cycles can have disastrous consequences for future performance. And as we mentioned above, they’re also more than prepared to bring paid professionals on board to help them along the way.
It’s a sensible strategy but one that’s all too often neglected in the business world where personal well-being frequently takes second place to the imperatives of the bottom line. Companies in the startup world are particularly prone to this weakness as they race to find product-market fit with seven-day weeks and all-night coding marathons.
Short-term sacrifices in mental or physical conditioning might help you muscle through a crunch period but as a long-term strategy it’s doomed to failure. That bill will be sitting there waiting to be paid somewhere down the road.
- Weakness is punished.
There is no room for weakness in top level sports. Every competitor is naturally looking to maximise their own position and capitalise on the mistakes of others. The athlete coming around the final bend is fully aware he has a chasing pack hot on his heels, ready to stream by should he stumble. The boxer in the ring knows that a split-second lapse in concentration could be enough to end the bout.
Like it or not, the business world is a similarly cut-throat environment. You’ll see this manifest itself time and again as you progress through the ranks. It could be in the form of low-balling during wage negotiations, weak offers made on revenue splits or just the day-to-day jostling for position seen on every rung of the corporate ladder.
Expose a weakness and you open the door for a competitor to walk through and dominate. Make sure you’re projecting a strong but calm demeanour at all times, regardless of what you’re feeling inside.
- Your problem is you.
Professional athletes are experts in accountability. In the crucible of competition there’s simply nowhere to hide. It’s crystal clear by the end of a competition exactly who was responsible for what. They can point the finger at poor coaching or difficult conditions but the buck ultimately stops with the person in the field.
Business is no different. Make sure you’re stepping up to the mark and taking full ownerships of any mistakes you make.
Ultimately, the biggest obstacles you’ll face over your career are internal rather than external. Your most dangerous opponent is yourself. Learning to acknowledge and master your own inner demons is the first step in being able to reliably excel in your daily business interactions with others.
- Control counts.
Athletes know that their longterm success depends on relentlessly executing across a core set of disciplines. When it comes to the details, they leave nothing to chance. The tiniest of factors can make a huge impact when the difference between success and failure is measured in micro-seconds or millimetres. In this type of environment, control is absolutely key.
Think of the similarities in your own experience – the fine margins that define your ultimate level of achievement – and you’ll soon realise the similarly crucial importance of control in your own sphere of business.