Millions of people worldwide participate in sport and even more watch it. As such it provides ample opportunity for business leaders and managers to learn lessons relevant for business.
Lesson 1: Self-Management. In golf, you manage yourself during the game. You plan your game and play your plan. You manage yourself to adapt to the changing conditions, as you play. Nobody tells you what to do – in fact, nobody may do so. You need to take the initiative to decide upon the club you will be using, whether you will be drawing or fading the ball. You do not manage your career as a golfer – you manage yourself. One shot at a time, one day at a time! You need to live and work in the now! The now of today and not the now of tomorrow. The now of literally this moment! In business, you also need to manage yourself. You need to have the self-discipline to meet the requirements. You need to innovate and create. You need to “think outside the box.”
Lesson 2: Fitness is absolute. You must be fit before you can start thinking of doing well in any sport. This point is a general truth. So is having talent. Coaches need to work with the head and the heart of the athlete. Similarly, managers need to grow and develop their competencies. They need to take responsibility for ensuring that they have the competencies required for their job. They need to make sure that they stay “on top of their game.”
Lesson 3: Discipline is crucial. This entails doing what is needed when you do not feel like it! You need to exercise and practice when others are sitting around doing nothing, or having a beer. You need to keep the business up and running, to apply working capital policies when leniency is tempting. We need to have the discipline to persevere when the going gets tough, to put in the hours, and to stick to the recipe.
Lesson 4: Apply the principle of holism. The whole is bigger than the sum of the parts. Team sports – soccer, rugby, football (American), cricket, all need the team members to work together. A team where you have the best 11 or 15 players does not necessarily mean you have the strongest team. Beware of Albrecht’s Law. Karl Albrecht stated that grouping a number of intelligent people together leads to collective stupidity. A team is about a group of people who together do better than the sum of the collective parts.
Lesson 5: Leadership is crucial. All team sports need leadership. John Smith was not necessarily the best hooker – but his captaincy was brilliant. Businesses need leadership as well as a success! The role of the leader is to get everyone to do his or her bit to achieve objectives. The leader is not necessarily the most intelligent in the group. However, he or she needs to be the best leader!
Lesson 6: Coaching and mentoring. Gary Kirsten was the cricket coach of the Indian team. How do you tell the best cricket player in the world, Sachin Tendulkar, to bat? You need to create an environment where they believe in themselves. You need the skills of a psychologist as well as a coach and mentor, to unlock the EQ and SQ of the players. Leaders need to do this within organizations as well, to develop high performing teams.
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Lesson 7: We all have our role to play. In sport, if there are too many cooks, the meal is a flop. There can only be one captain. There can only be one fly half, one scrum half, one fullback, etc. We need to play in our allocated place for the team to win. In the prop is running around on the wing, sooner or later there will be a problem. In business the same is true. We all cannot be the MD or CEO. We cannot all be the marketing director or the finance director. We need to play our role to the best of our abilities in order for our organization to achieve success, irrespective of how insignificant our role might seem. Pick on Pay, Woolworths, Checkers, etc., cannot be successful if the trolley gatherers do not play their role!
Lesson 8: We must be community oriented. Collins and Porras talk about clock building where the focus is on the organization, the team, and the community you find yourself in. Clock builders build the organization. They put the team first! In business, you need to put the company first. You cannot be selfish – you need to be selfless – to put the team first. This is where the principle of Level 5 leadership comes in.
Lesson 9: We need to be precise and exact. In all sports, such as rugby, golf, cricket etc., this is an important principle. When you think of goal kicking, putting, positioning on the fairway, playing a shot on the cricket field or bowling to the batsmen, accuracy is crucial. In business, this principle is equally important. You need to be exact with the data you have obtained, and the interpretation thereof. Your financial calculations must be realistic and exact. Faulty calculations can lead to losses and failure! Inaccurate assumptions about the needs of the customer will lead to massive failures.
Lesson 10: Positioning is crucial. You need to place yourself in the short-term in such a place that will enable success in the long-term. In golf, you need to know where the best place for the next shot is. In business, you need to know what objectives you must meet in the short and medium term to be successful in the long-term.
Lesson 11: Play the cards you have, not the ones you would have wanted. In sport, we need to accept the weather, the course, the referee, etc. We need to make peace with the circumstances we have and play the game given these circumstances. We would love to have a dry field with no wind if we have a strong running team. The same goes for business. We would all want a product that everyone is desirous of buying. We would all want highly profitable industries. We would all want no competitors. We would all want highly competent and qualified employees. However, we are not necessarily going to get all of this. Deal with what you have when you have to play now. However, develop your strategies to have what you would need in future. Failure to do so will lead to a strategy-capabilities mismatch at some point of time in the future.
Lesson 12: Synchronize and maneuver. In sport, we need to set the competition up for failure. We need to be able to see what is going to happen and how the game will unfold. We need to be tactically intelligent, as well as strategically relevant. In business, this is equally relevant. Checkers saw the need to grow and develop markets outside of South Africa and set itself up to do just that. They have done so quite successfully be moving in a meaningful way into Africa when their competitors either did not see the need or did not have the competencies to do so. Today Checkers derives a significant part of its revenue from Africa, at a time when Walmart is moving into South Africa, thereby putting the revenue potential of all the players in South Africa under severe pressure.
Lesson 13: Change the strategy if it does not work. In sport, we need to change the game plan if the existing plan is not working. We often see that a team is struggling until half-time, and then comes back with a vengeance. The difference? The coach telling them at half-time what to change to deal with an unexpected response from the opposing team. In business, we need to do the same. There is an old North American Indian saying, “the best strategy when you realize your horse is dead, is to get off and find a new horse.” You cannot stick to a strategy if it clearly is not working. I am not saying that we change our strategies at the drop of a hat, But we need to have the insight to understand when we need to persevere and when we need to change!
Lesson 14: Learn from your mistakes. Teams today have an analyst that identifies and analyses mistakes. The purpose is to learn from your mistakes. In business, the same. The principle or philosophy of the learning organization builds upon the principle of learning from your mistakes. Your people need to have the freedom to act and make mistakes, as long as you and they learn from them. Making mistakes is not a crime – not learning from them is.
Lesson 15: Know your enemy. In sport, you need to understand who you are playing against, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what their likely game plan is. You need to understand and have good knowledge of the opposing side’s players, and how they are likely to react to any of your moves. The same goes for their coach. How will they react when they are under pressure from your team? In business, the same principle applies. Competitive analysis is an important part of the business. Knowing your competitor and what you can expect from them is crucial for success. Knowing their leaders and their value system is equally important.
Lesson 16: You need to have a fixed base to work from. In rugby, having a good “tight five” is crucial. If your team is unstable and under pressure in the scrum, they will struggle to get the ball, and you cannot play without possession. Your organizational structure in the world of business is about how you organize your processes and how you man the structure. You need to ensure that you have the best people in the crucial positions in your organizations. They will enable the rest of the organization to achieve their ideal levels. If you were to get this tenet wrong, you will struggle from the word go, and will probably fail. That is why Jim Collins’ mantra is so important: “First who, then what!”
Lesson 17: You need to focus on the essentials. In golf, you need to shut out the crowd, the wind, everything, and then focus on the ball and the shot you need to play. In rugby, when you are kicking for goal, you need to shut out the crowd, which most likely is booing and doing their best to upset you, and focus on kicking the ball, taking into consideration the wind, the angle, etc. In business, you need to decide on what you want to do, and then do that. You need to decide what customer group you want to serve, and then serve them. You need to decide what business you want to be in and be in that business. You need to understand your positioning in the market, and then strive towards that positioning. You cannot be everything for everyone! That is a recipe for disaster!
I learned another lesson, but not from the sport. A blind Zen Buddhist monk visited his friend in a nearby village. Before they knew it, it was dark. His friend gave him a lamp for his return journey. The blind monk said: ” A lamp is not necessary. You do know I am blind and do not need the lamp!” His friend replied, “the lamp is not for you, but for the other travelers so that they might see you in the dark.” The blind monk then started walking home. Unknown to him, his lamp went out. Before long, someone walked into him. As he lay on the ground, he said irritably “Can’t you watch where you are walking? I have a lamp and still, you bumped into me!” The other traveler told him “your lamp is out!”
What’s the lesson? You cannot get enlightenment through the light of others. You need to develop your own light. Take the above lessons and make them yours. Add to them. Delete those that seem irrelevant and impractical to you, or just plain wrong. You need to develop your own worldview lest the lamp has gone out and you do not know it before it is too late.