Faisal Butt reflects on lessons every entrepreneur and business leader can learn from the world’s best athletes.
Legendary American football Coach Vince Lombardi once said: “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.” Although Lombardi was referring to his profession, the mantra is much more than a mere measure of athletic ability. Will, resilience, intransigence, competitiveness, fearlessness–these are the raw materials that great entrepreneurs are made of. But very few possess them in quite the right mix. Those that do are the disrupters and boundary-breakers (and inevitably, the wealth creators) of our society.
Some are born with these traits, for others, they can be inspired and nurtured until they become embedded in their character. There is no better place to look for inspiration than in the sporting world, where these raw materials are discovered, developed and cultivated in abundance.
In my blog this week, I muse over the wisdom we can extract from some of the greatest athletes of our time and the business lessons that can be learned from them. Here is an initial list, to be continued in a sequel in my blog later this autumn:
Usain Bolt: Keep Cool
The charismatic Jamaican sprinter, world-record holder and eight-time world-champion does not know the meaning of coming second best.
His captivating and easy-going personality is akin to that of a man without a care. With the world watching, the “lightening” Bolt performs at a consistently high level, rarely succumbing to the pressure of the tag: "fastest man of all-time". Interest in his career is kept at a peak, all thanks to Bolt’s personable nature and outstanding natural ability. His likeability has allowed him to generate most of his $24m personal fortune from sponsorship deals and world-record breaking attempts.
One of the secrets of his success is his ability to remain relaxed and in control, even during the most challenging of tests. He never yields to panic and stays calm even whilst recognising the enormity of each race he competes in. He stands in cauldrons of pressure, waiting patiently for his race to start. His opponents often wear burdened expressions as he smiles and winks at the cameras; he remains relaxed, even with great expectations and anticipation towering over him. Bolt’s “calculated calm” is a case study in itself which should be examined and emulated by entrepreneurs and managers looking to outperform their peers.
Floyd Mayweather: Know Your Worth
He may not be the most likeable character but Mayweather sprinkles gems of wisdom amongst his barrages of braggadocio and self-praise. The negative aspects of his personality are somewhat forgivable given his strong mental attitude and natural ability. In other words: love him or hate him, the undefeated boxer backs up every word.
Similarly to Bolt, Mayweather is also a master at arresting the public’s attention. He fills Las Vegas arenas to capacity for each fight, breaking box-office records and beating younger opponents, becoming the highest earning boxer of all-time in the process.
He has mastered the art of playing the villain, appearing obnoxious and arrogant when the cameras are present but his skills and strength of character suggest a hard-working, disciplined and determined character.
While Bolt plays the effortlessly-talented hero, Mayweather plays the villain to equal effect, demanding huge amounts of money for each fight. However, the amount of money he asks for is relative to the revenue he creates (his last fight made $150m in the box-office).
Mayweather conveys ample entrepreneurial savvy. He knows his worth and refuses to fight for anything less, always demanding a higher fee then his opposing fighter. His logic? People have paid to see him, not his opponent.
Andy Murray: Never Give Up
Following narrow defeats and unexpected losses, Andy Murray’s ability to perform at Wimbledon was in doubt. Many blamed the media for loading the expectations of an entire nation on the tennis-star. Some labeled "a bottler", unable to perform at the highly-respected competition. Finally on his eighth attempt, he beat Novac Djokavic in the final, becoming the first British player to win the competition in 77 years.
Eventually, after remaining motivated and hungry for success (and refusing to rest on his laurels after victory at London 2012), Murray took home the cup, having suffered years of defeat in tennis’s most coveted competition. Murray’s unexpected victory is a perfect manifestation of persistence, fearlessness, and resilience - the same raw materials that entrepreneurs must harness to win in the business arena.
Mo Farah: Go Hard Or Go Home
Mo Farah knows all about going the distance. The Somalian-born, British-athlete captivated the hearts of the public with his stunning victory at the London Olympics, followed by a world-record breaking performance at the European championship this year.
Farah has also displayed flair off the track. In 2011, he founded The Mo Farah Foundation, using the publicity that comes with Olympic gold to promote his charity. In 2012, his foundation built 50 wells in Somalia and provided 473 farmers with modern-tools and livestock, all while training daily and smashing the European-record over 1,500m.
Farah lives by the mantra “go hard or go home” putting maximum effort into every task he undertakes.
In the rapidly changing and uber-competitive business world, speed, intensity, and agility can also be mission critical. Launching your product or service before the competition, entering markets before your rivals do, building a team that is more motivated than your opponents can keep you ahead of the pack. "Go hard or go home" aptly defines the intensity with which ground-breaking entrepreneurs also need to operate.
Chasing Perfection, Catching Excellence
Planning for the future and setting both short and long term goals is the athlete’s and the entrepreneur’s key to success. Great accomplishments never just happen. They are meticulously planned before a finger is even lifted. Once the blueprint is in place, it must be changed, improved and refined as you travel closer and closer to your final goal, whether on the track or in the boardroom. Planning, preparation and reflective thinking are the foundations great athletes build their career upon. Whilst driving home from training, Vince Lombardi used to get so lost in such thoughts he often drove into the wrong driveway by accident. Such was the extent to which his plans, preparations and strategies captivated his mind.
We need to treat business as a sportsman treats his craft. Not everyone will have the athlete's raw materials in precisely the right mix, but we can all try to become as successful as our body and minds will allow.
As Lombardi said: “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”