Business Lessons Straight From the Locker Room

Resent or respect, admire or admonish, there’s little doubt we can learn plenty by observing the behavior and scrutinizing the achievements of our sporting heroes.

After spending the better part of the past seven years, chronicling the lives of our top athletes, I’ve cobbled a “Top 5” of the less obvious parallels between elite sport and our more mundane (?!) world of business.

Lesson No 1: Boundaries. We all need them.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re the King of the Castle or just a dirty rascal, we all require checks and balances in our lives to make sure we stay within the “field of play” – the field of fair play. There are countless examples in sport of high profile athletes, not being held accountable for their wayward behavior, simply because of their celebrity sports status.

The notion is best summed up by Sally Carey, long suffering wife of AFL uber star Wayne: “We’re all to blame. Nobody ever told him no”. It’s the same in business. Find somebody you trust who’s brave enough to tell you what you don’t necessarily want to hear, to challenge your thinking, even provide you with an alternative.

Lesson No 2: You’re only as good as the company you keep.

Closely related, You’re only as good as the company you keep. A lot of young and impressionable athletes, hell bent on “fitting in”, are drawn towards disruptive influences who can impede their progress, even damage their career long term.

Identifying the right sort of guidance can be challenging, particularly when you’re young and naïve, or without solid foundations. But it’s crucial. Seek out suitable mentors who can help steer you around the potholes. Good people gravitate towards one another. As the old saying goes, you want to know what somebody is like, have a look at their friends. For mine, business is exactly the same.

Lesson No 3: Balance is paramount.

Professional sport is the global gold medallist in extracting the last skerrick of effort and excellence out of the human mind and body. The one and two percenters. More meetings, more video sessions, another hour in the gym or the isotonic chamber, whatever that it.

But you know what?

In a lot of instances, their coaches and “minders” would be better off sending them home, and having them channel their energies into something completely foreign – some study, some work, a community initiative. Anything. Yes, they need to be prepared, immaculately prepared, but they also need perspective.

And perspective comes from exposure to the wider world. Exactly who are they without their sport?

Lesson No 4: Branding

Our sportsmen and women are susceptible to the same immutable laws of laws of marketing as any product or service. Athletes can benefit by understanding what makes them special or unique, but at the same time, keeping an eye on the “target audience”. What are the attributes likely to appeal to them?

Also, remember nothing in a brand sense happens quickly. Strong brands are built over time. When expectations are consistently met, a certain “pedigree” is established. Sometimes athletes are unduly criticized, other times, they are exalted without true cause, but over the course of their career they finish up with the reputation they roughly deserve. Just like in the business world.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly.

Lesson No 5: The fun factor

Just ask Darren Lehmann about this one. The Australian Cricket team was essentially a basket case when he took over the reins in mid 2013.

The “working” environment was riddled with selfishness and distrust. Suspicion abounded. The first thing Lehmann did was introduce a sense of fun. Card nights, trivia nights, jokes of the day. Michael Clarke was forced to put his credit card on the bar. Skipper’s shout, like it or not. Very quickly, the players were reminded why they were playing the game in the first place. Because it was fun. Not all working environments, of course, are potentially as attractive or appealing as playing sport for your country. That’s just means we have to work a little harder in finding enjoyment in what we do.

As Lehmann has demonstrated, if you do, there’s every chance you’ll start posting a few wins.

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