The Sport of Leadership

Athletes cry tears of joy celebrating victory — hard work pays off! (Credit: Design Directed)

When I look at professional athletes I see a group of people who have a desire to be the best and not just “very good”, to win but understand winning isn’t everything. I see people who dedicate their mind, body and soul wholeheartedly to their sport of choice, they’re open to coaching and feedback because they understand it’s the only way to improve never allowing their egos to blind them. I see people who posses the ability to compartmentalize their emotions — celebrate victory when deserved, lament failure when entitled, however never long enough that it becomes a distraction. They have the ability to put aside everything else going on and focus solely on the tasks in front of them.

I see dreamers. People with clear cut and defined aspirations and the ability to influence and inspire.

Athletes are competitive but disciplined, they have exemplary coordination, they train rigorously, they push themselves well out of their comfort zones, they understand the importance of recovery and reflection but only to dwell on the past for future improvement.

If they fall and fail, they pick themselves up, brush themselves off and go at it again. Some times they do this solo, most times they’ll do this with the support of a team. A team who needs them on their feet.

Examples of athletes who struck out, then came back for the home run:

  • Stan Smith — Winner Wimbledon, US Open and 8 Davis Cups was rejected from being a ball boy for being too clumsy and uncoordinated
  • Babe Ruth — Holds the third highest home run record in baseball, he also held the record for the highest number of strikeouts. (“Every stricken brings me closer to the next home run”)
  • Michael Jordan — considered to be the greatest basketball player ever to play the game, he was cut from his high school team for lacking the skills to play.

“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” — Michael Jordan

Leadership is a sport, it’s a game and just like any other sport there are going to be winners and there are going to be losers. It’s up to you to decide which you want to be.

You’re not playing for a gold medal or for accolade, you’re prize is the impact you have on others — the influence and change you can bring about.

Just like athletes, to be the best leader you need to hone your skills, to practice, to experience defeat to push yourself and to be open minded. Practice makes perfect.

Leaders are change agents, they influence others — when a leader misses the hurdle, knocks the bar off, strikes out, misses the shot, unfortunately there’s going to be human collateral, this is why it’s so important to dedicate yourself to forever enhancing your skills and abilities, your compassion and candour.

“This isn’t easy stuff and it isn’t always fair. You can get knocked down, and it hurts and it leaves scars. But if you’re a leader, the people you’ve counted on will help you up. And if you’re a leader, the people who count on you need you on your feet.” — Stanley McChrystal

So how are leaders any different to professional athletes, everything they do you can apply to your own leadership development.

So go get out there and take home the Gold.

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