Throughout my career I have used sports metaphors while delivering key note addresses or facilitating workshops. In these situations, I have kept the comparisons at a high level to avoid getting tangled up in the finer details. Even at this high level of comparison, using sports to illustrate concepts in the business world has proven effective time and time again.
Recent events have brought me into the world of sport and I have discovered two things:
The first discovery is that I knew even less about sport than I thought I did. Not being much of a sports follower, I had not paid it much attention. Thanks to the imagination and sheer determination of my team, we are now enjoying new relationships and new business activities. The lesson in this discovery: be open to where business opportunities may arise. Forging unusual relationships can give you an edge that no one else has and can open new market segments for you.
The second discovery is that my knowledge about business has helped me to understand the world of sport. The irony is that throughout my career, I used sport to illustrate business and now I use business to understand sports, which brings me even greater insights into business. The lesson in this discovery: business is indeed a form of sport, and here is why:
There is more at stake than scoring goals. In sport, the final score determines the winners and the losers. In business, financial performance is the score that determines the profitability and continuity of the enterprise. There is no doubt that the score is the ultimate measure of success, but the score is not all there is to it. In sport, we follow the strategy of the play. We get emotionally invested in the character of a team. In business we do the same. Brand loyalty has little if anything to do with the financial performance of a business. What makes our customers loyal to us is only partly to do with the quality of our products and services. It is more to do with the outside perception of how a business conducts itself. Increasingly, the values of a business are important to the market. People support a brand that stands for something and whose actions are consistent with those values. Brand loyalty is the emotional investment that our customers are willing to make only if we earn it. As a business, we need to be aware of this and make sure that our strategy of play centers around how we earn and keep our customers’ loyalty no matter what happens in the market.
The team is key to success. The world of sport is full of superstars, just as we find in the world of business, none of whom have achieved greatness on their own. Every one of them has been able to accomplish greatness thanks to having coaches, strategists and team members who have all played their part leading up to the moments of glory. The greatest investment we can make in our business is the investment in our team. That realization was a major turning point in my business and thanks to having powerful, reliable and diverse team, we are accomplishing business goals that I would not have dreamt of. It is essential to pick your team members with as much consideration as a professional team selects their players for an upcoming season. Followed by the ongoing investment in leadership and engagement which is a must for the team to function as a united entity, where everyone plays their part to achieve the best results.
Endurance is critical. The investment in team success is not a one-time action. Business leaders need to recognize that it takes significant effort to keep a team focused, engaged and motivated throughout the season. In sport, the season is a fixed period measured in months. In business, the season is the life of your business, measured in years. There will be ups and downs. There will be stumbles, misses and outright injuries that occur in your business. Team changes will happen as some people leave and others come on board. How the business deals with this and at the same time keeps the focus, energy and spirit alive is completely up to the leadership of the business. None of this will happen automatically. This is why in sport there is so much emphasis on the team coach and why the best coaches are so much in demand.
Being known for your genius is what makes you memorable. In any given sport, consider how many teams and how many players there are. At the same time, in any given industry, consider how many businesses there are with similar offerings. The ones who are truly memorable are the ones that stand out because they are known for something exceptional. I am amazed by how people remember the detailed accomplishments of sports teams and individual players. For example, our business partner Roberto Carlos, who played for Real Madrid at the peak of his career is known all over the world for his ability to kick the ball like no other and score goals that have made history. Amongst all the global football players, both current and retired, his name and his brand are synonymous with success. What is it in your business that the market recognizes as your genius? Businesses get lost in trying to be everything to everyone. What is the one thing that you want to be known for?
There are many complexities in the world of business, but one way to simplify it is to view business as a sport. How you win at business is all about what you are known for and how you play the game to deliver the best results to your market and to your supporters.
Brigitte Lawler leverages her extensive experience of + 15 years of success as an executive in global business management and in leading transformational programs. She is a valuable advisor for any organization wanting to revitalize their business strategy. Her broad areas of expertise include leadership, professional development, performance management, business strategy, business transformation and process optimization. With a keen interest in innovation and exponential technology, Brigitte focuses on building businesses and shaping leadership teams that are future fit and ready for the new world economy.
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