“It’s not what happens, it’s what happens next”, “It’s not about the fall, it’s about getting up”, “A lot of people dream of success, few get up and work at it.”
We’ve all heard the motivational quotes that sound great and feel better. But what separates losers from winners? Yes, I know it’s insensitive to call out such a dichotomy as “losers” and “winners”. But I like straight talk – talk that is clear and gets results. The truth is that some athletes have what it takes to excel and some don’t.
Now we can go around in circles about nature vs. nurture and if people are born with mental toughness or if they develop it. I can tell you from first hand experience working with athletes and executives that the skills that elite athletes use to excel can be learned. I can also tell you that the skills that elite athletes use can be leveraged to make you a more effective and successful business person. From the hedge fund manager who makes decisions on investments under pressure, to the CEO who needs to get quarterly results while getting beaten up by the media and board requests, to the first time manager who is in uncharted waters.
There are countless skills that athletes use that can be leveraged in business. I’m going to let you know about three core skills that athletes use to win: Swagger, Focus, and Grit. These core three, if mastered, will elevate your game and separate you from those who haven’t put the time in to excel.
Confidence, but not arrogance, is the foundation for winning. Recently I spoke to over 200 senior leaders at a Fortune 200 business. My charge was to teach them mental toughness and how sport psychology can help executives excel. I presented my case, provided insights, and equipped them with select skills.
I ended my talk with a photo of an approaching bear and discussed different potential reactions to being presented with a crisis. That had impact. What happened next, however, had more impact. Hall of Famer, Ronnie Lott, came up to the front of the room, placed his four Superbowl rings down on a table, and told everyone to pass them around. And then he said, “Well, about that bear, I would just knock it out!”
In seconds, Ronnie Lott had taught them what I had spent an hour teaching them. What he said and how he said it had swagger. And I realized as he spent the next 45 minutes with the group, that’s how he played the game – with confidence and swagger. Over his career he excelled at playing at multiple positions. Many others in his time had similar physical talent, but none had his swagger, focus, and grit. He has translated that swagger into countless other successful business ventures. My favorite part of our time with Ronnie Lott was when asked why he is so confident and comfortable passing out his Superbowl rings to hundreds of strangers, he responded, “I still have one good hit left.”
The best athletes keep their eyes on the prize. They eliminate the noise and perform. How do you do this in business? Find the synergy among what makes money, what you can do well, and what you enjoy. If you can have laser focus on staying true to a few initiatives that fall into this space, you will get results that reap sustainable rewards. The challenge is selectively listening by tuning out unhelpful noise and keeping your focus. Warren Buffet is one of the best examples of a business person who exemplifies focus. He doesn’t get caught up in the noise or the naysayers – he stays his course, keeps his focus, and he wins. His strategy isn’t sexy, but his success is seductive and best of all works.
Do you know what Michael Jordan did after he missed three shots in a row? He played defense and got ready for the next shot. What did Lindsay Vonn do after her injury kept her out of the Olympics? She started her comeback for her next major event. I had the opportunity to advise someone who started a private equity firm, and got thrown out of his own fund. You can imagine how challenging that would be. He picked himself up, learned from his mistakes, and became the head of an even larger fund. What’s my point? People who know failure is feedback, fall forward. They get up fast, learn, and move forward.
If you want to see what this looks like in action, watch Heather Dorniden’s devastating fall and inspirational bounce back in the 2008 Big Ten Track Championships: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70UF82nysIU.
The OnPoint Point: If you want the edge, sharpen your edge – and don’t cut people. Pay attention to the athletes that perform year after year. Walk with swagger, have laser focus, and bounce back. Build those skills and you will have the mental toughness to deal with business roughness. Start now and see your ROT, return on toughness.