It’s an action-packed time of the year for sports fans! We’ve got the NHL and NBA seasons in full swing, NASCAR’s STP 500 and baseball’s opening day are both Sunday and golf’s legendary Masters Tournament begins Thursday! But arguably the biggest event of the weekend will be the NCAA’s Final Four, which begins Saturday and concludes Monday night. Although my bracket was busted two weeks ago, I’ve been fixed on the action – and the storylines –for three weeks.
There’s no doubt that sports, whether we are playing or watching, can help us to escape the craziness of the everyday world. As I escaped away for a reprieve along the beaches of Florida during my kids’ Spring Break this past week, I wondered if there were any other ways that we could find value in them. While pondering the question, I remembered what I have heard many times before – that sports are metaphor for life and business. Some folks disagree of course, and that’s okay, but I believe there are some similarities that are worth consideration. Let’s take a moment to explore three qualities that I think are important in both areas.
When I looked to the NCAA basketball tournament, I noticed that those who made it to the Final Four seemed to have developed their own culture, where players have practically operated as one. Team members know each other so well that they can anticipate each other’s actions, making them seem as though they are moving faster than the competition. Because they fully trust in each other, players have developed unique skills that add to the team’s overall capabilities, thus making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. And with such intuition and inter-awareness abound, the most elite basketball teams will quickly adapt to new challenges that face them and advance to the Championships. This is very comparable to how a seasoned team of business professionals can quickly adapt to unexpected developments regarding one of its key stakeholders, each team member relying on each other, moving faster together to beat the fiercest competition.
Much like athletes, great leaders exhibit an abundance of confidence as well, whether they are hitting the boards or working the boardroom. Don’t confuse this with arrogance though. Confidence inspires others; arrogance deflates. UConn’s Geno Auriemma recently (and virally!) observed that if he doesn’t see the right body language – their confidence – in a player, they won’t play. We saw it again and again throughout the tournament. Teams would be trailing with mere minutes left in the game, and the victors were the ones who remained calm, selflessly worked with each other, kept a positive attitude and achieved the goals they had set before themselves. When a project deadline looms in the corporate world, these very same qualities win the day.
3. Risk taking
Great leaders don’t always win, and that brings us to yet another quality that we can extract from the road to the Final Four: risk taking. We must all take risks to win, but with that, we must concede that sometimes we won’t win. The best leaders learn the most from their losses, not their victories. As Henry Ford once said, “failure is only the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” Our failures must serve as lessons. When they do, we increase the chances for success the next time, and in the end, we realize the increased profits we seek…or a national championship, whatever the case may be.
Of course, sports bring out many other qualities that are beneficial in life and business: vision, optimism, resilience, patience, persistence and creativity all make up a short list. There are many more. What are some of the ways you can think of where they intersect?