Many parallels can be drawn between entrepreneurs and sports stars: staying ahead of the game, keeping focused, training hard, putting your career above everything else, the ability to work as a team. And, like training for the Olympics or the Six Nations, running a business is life-consuming.
Scores of Britain’s top athletes train every day, while according to Bank of Scotland Business, the average entrepreneur clocks up 50 hours a week.
Post-retirement, many sportspeople become business coaches because they have learnt skills that are seamlessly transferrable to the corporate world. We caught up with our medal-winning rowing team fresh from Beijing, and Rugby World Cup winner Will Greenwood for tips on how to make your business beat the rest.
Show your commitment
To be a strong leader, you have to set the right example. Like top athletes, for most entrepreneurs this will come naturally. Elise Laverick, who won a bronze for Great Britain in the women’s rowing doubles in Beijing, sums this up nicely. Referring to her gruelling seven-day-a-week, three-times-a-day training schedule, she says: “I love rowing. If I’ve got a competition coming up, I don’t see it as a sacrifice not to go out drinking till all hours of the morning. I’m working towards something that will give me greater rewards than any of the things that I’m missing out on.”
Making sacrifices is a notion rugby star Will Greenwood is only too familiar with. For him the biggest sacrifi ce was the threat of injuries. “They’re the hardest thing because they deny you of what you love doing,” he says. “But at no stage did I ever think I didn’t want to get back in training and do it all again.”
By showing a strong work ethic, but making sure your working environment is enjoyable, you will see the commitment reflected back from your staff – as long as they have targets to work towards too. “The reason for training every day is the thought of missing out on a gold medal by 0.2 of a second,” says Laverick. “It makes the small differences that will bring the results at the end.”
The more effort you put in, the more likely you are to succeed, adds gold medal winner Mark Hunter. “You’re working hard now to make it easier later on,” he says. “It’s making sure you’re prepared for the hard racing to come.”
If your business is going through a bad time, it might be hard to stay motivated. Just like in rowing – when you’re getting up at the crack of dawn on a freezing cold morning in January to attend training sessions, the summer racing season and the Olympics will seem a long way off.
Taking small, smart steps
In sport and business, one way to keep yourself (and your staff) motivated and to maintain your performance is to work towards short-term targets on the way to your end goal. “If you look at it as a really big picture it can be quite daunting,” says Matt Langridge, who won silver as part of the men’s eight rowing squad, “but if you break it down, then it becomes a lot simpler.”
In other words, know what you ultimately want to achieve and work towards that in small, smart steps. “With us, because it’s so performance-based, you have to perform at all the little individual things along the way,” adds Langridge. “If I decide to go to London 2012, the immediate big thing I’d think about performing for is the World Championships next year. But there are smaller goals along the way, such as national trials, and our weekly individual half-hour tests.”
Once you’ve got a group of motivated individuals, it’s then about moulding them into a team. This can’t be forced, says the men’s eight cox Acer Nethercott, who believes their team spirit is generated by how long they spend training together.
“We know each other’s quirks and foibles and there are lots of running gags,” he explains. “The familiarity that the sheer number of hours we’re together creates helps keep the attitude positive.”
In other words, if you’ve got an individually motivated group of people and collectively you have a relaxed, enjoyable environment, the team spirit will come naturally. “And when it works, there’s not a sense that I’m creating it, I’m just refl ecting back to the guys the enthusiasm that we’ve built up over the training,” adds Nethercott. Or, as Langridge puts it: “What unites you is the common goal to win.”
Everyone has their own job to do and it’s the leader’s job to make sure they are doing them properly to ensure the team is working well. “You’ve got to trust the guy on your left and on your right to do his job,” says England rugby star Greenwood. “As soon as you lose that element of trust you begin to cover for him, and you make wrong decisions.”
According to Greenwood, there is no harm in having weaknesses, so long as the rest of the team understands them and turns them into complimentary skill-sets. Not everyone on the team needs to be the perfect player, but they all have a different role to fulfil and it’s the same in business.
“From the chief executive down to the guy in the back office, they all have their role and if one link in that chain isn’t functioning properly it will all come tumbling down,” he says.
One of the most important aspects of a successful team is finding the right people in the first place. “You’ve got to have energisers throughout the team, you can’t have energy-sappers,” says Greenwood. “You’ve got to have everyone focused. That requires tremendous leadership from the top to give everyone a vision of where they need to go and a realistic goal, as well as ambition, fun and excitement. If the guy or girl at the top can provide that and you get the right people involved, you can go anywhere.”
Trust in leadership
Not only do both a business and a sports team need strong leadership, but also total faith in their leaders from every member. According to Langridge, good leadership from their cox and two coaches was the biggest factor in their Olympic success. “They said very clearly: ‘This is what we want to do, this is how we feel the boat needs to be rowed.’” he says. “And what then made it work is the fact that we have a lot of confidence in them, so we’ve bought into what they’ve said.”
There will always be individuals who disagree, but for the team dynamic to work, they must be able to trust their leader’s judgment. “Everyone has their own opinion, but if we all went with them it would never work,” adds Langridge. “The fact that we’ve had the confidence in our coaches to put our opinions aside and go with what they’ve said has been the determining factor for us, and it has allowed us to perform to our best.”
The GB rowing team supported Siemens Stroke for Stroke Week, October 27 – November 2 2008. Find out more and sign up at www.siemens.co.uk/strokeforstroke