Why every business leader should adopt the mindset of a sportsman

November 15, 2018 4:32 pm

Imagine the tips of your toes on the edge of the starting line, your knee slowly lunging towards it, your eyes running across the two chalk white lines ahead of you and your ears engulfed in the sounds of cheering crowds.

Two people dressed in sports armour are on your right, and two more are on your left.

Everything that you want is at the end of the finish line, ready for the first person to grab it.

Everybody wants to hold that prize in their hands.

What’s going through your mind when the bell sounds to run?

Now imagine your right hand curling around a door handle, your right wrist pulling down to the floor, your right leg lightly pushing to the ground as your left leg lifts up to step through the door that’s starting to open.

Inside the room is a long table, with six people sitting around it. What’s going through your mind when you step into the room, like the athlete, your gun shot, whistle or foghorn is the sound of the voice of the principal — please start when you’re ready”?

The scenarios may be different, but they require the same thing to succeed — a strong, positive mindset.

It’s here that I link the two — explaining why an abundance of wise business leaders watch highly successful sports people talk about the motivation, dedication and perseverance required to pass the finish line first.

In those moments, mindset is everything.

They don’t allow time for doubt, anxiety or hesitation. The crowd is singing, their coach is cheering and all they can do is run as fast as they can — with years of strength, conditioning and resilience under their belt.

It’s a thought process that every business leader should go through if they want to surpass the competition and get hold of the contract hidden away in the brief case.

Exceeding under pressure

Let’s look at the first correlation between the two — there’s a lot of pressure involved in both sports and business. In sports, athletes have sponsors, fans and their team not only rooting for them, but expecting them to succeed. The equivalent for business leaders are their employees, investors and customers.

They’re often seemingly backed into a corner, where the only place is to sink or swim.

Sportsmen are taught to reframe that pressure. Perceiving the pressure as negative allows space for self-doubt, which inevitably opens up a wave of hesitation that can hold you back.

When you train your mind to see that pressure as a positive thing, you start seeing that pressure as a good thing. Pressure, after all, releases adrenaline that increases heart rate and breathing rate — enabling you to react faster.

Facing fierce competition

When you get to a certain point in your career, you’re met with some fierce competition — and they’re not afraid to stand in front of you and intimidate you into believing that they’re in the lead.

But they’re not.

You could take the lead.

It comes back to what I said before about pressure: you have to channel it into something positive.

When you can see your business’s revenue climb towards a competitor’s, the pressure will start to build. There’s a range of tactics that they could use to directly target your business and lay down a bundle of obstacles to slow you down.

In the digital world, this would come in the form of negative keyword campaigns.

You have to be ready to fight back. Knowing that you can channel pressure into running faster and becoming more focused, enabling you to respond by shifting the target they’ve put on your back to one you can both aim for.

Bouncing back from failure

It’s a cliche to say that everyone experiences failure.

But in both sports and business, a failure can be perceived as a major setback.

If an elite athlete has a streak of poor performance, they can lose the sponsorship that’s helped them to get to where they are. In the world of business, failure could result in redundancies and potential bankruptcy.

In both situations, the quality needed to overcome failure is resilience. You need to be completely and utterly resilient.

Sports psychologists write about this quality in correlation with “mental toughness”, urging sportsmen to remain confident and focus on the present.

“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”, as the saying goes.

The key here is to let go of your mistakes, which is easier said than done when your failure has strong financial repercussions. However, training your brain to push through negative thoughts and feelings associated with your mistake enable you to learn from it — and, in turn, help you to avoid the same failure again.

Striving for more

What I’ve been talking about here is related to an upcoming entrepreneurial saying of having a “growth mindset” versus a “fixed one”.

The growth mindset, in its entity, was identified by Dr Dweck, who looked at mindset in education, with a particular focus on personality, motivation and development.

She found that people with a growth mindset believed that their intelligence could develop — and, most of the time, it did. Those with a fixed mindset believed that their intelligence had reached as far as it could stretch — and, most of the time, it was.

This same theory has been applied to sports psychology and business leadership. You have to believe that you have the potential to develop, and the psychological approach to enable that to happen.

If the first thought you had when the bell sounded to cross the starting line of a race was “the guy on the right has longer legs and more power than I”, or “my quads aren’t strong enough to surpass the final stretch”, you’ll probably find that someone else will take the prize.

And, similarly, if you fear that your experience is simply not enough to get a hold of the contract in the briefcase, it’s likely that you won’t get to see what’s inside.

But with the right mindset, resilience and determination, your mind can lead you to surpass the finish line and on to continued success.

Mark Cushway is the CEO of the Inspired Group of companies and is passionate about employee welfare, engagement and motivation. Connect with Mark on Twitter and LinkedIn. This blog post is also available as a podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud.