by CIO Staff

Practical Management and Leadership Lessons from Sports Stories

Nov 14, 20055 mins
IT Leadership

Some of the most practical management and leadership lessons come to us everyday. We may not regard them as such but they are presenting fundamentals in both personal and organizational development.

Where can you find these lessons? In the sports pages of your daily newspaper or on the screens of your favorite sports shows. Everyday you will find stories about athletes who push themselves to the limits to achieve stardom or just the opposite, athletes with plenty of raw talent but no brains, nor sense of restraint so they end up frittering their gifts away through drink, drugs or sheer laziness.

You will also find stories of coaches who set the right example for their teams by setting standards for athletics and teaching to those standards. And on the professional side you will see stories of owners who build organizations designed to put coaches and players first so that the team wins. And of course you will find stories of owners who care only about polishing their egos at the expense of everyone else. Taken together these stories provide valuable insights into character, motive, energy and commitment.

Elements of Performance

Ultimately sports are about performance. There are three elements to performance at the highest level: drive, determination and discipline. You will find these elements in every successful athlete as well as every successful organization.

While drive, determination and discipline are essential internal motivators, they can be taught to the entire team and ultimately the entire organization. In doing so these elements will help create a culture where people can and do make a positive difference.

  • Drive. How do you define it? Drive is what gets you up in the morning and at your given task. Drive derives from the inner motivation to succeed. It is your internal motor that keeps you going and focused on what you need to do. For athletes, this means training, be it lifting, running or stretching as well as practicing a skill. For employees, drive is our desire to come to work and achieve. Our exercises may be mental, such as reading and studying. The key to drive, however, is universal. It is your desire to succeed. You develop a goal and you strive for it. Athletes want to win; employees want to win by doing their jobs well so their team succeeds. Goals are what make drive click. It’s like turning on the ignition to your car but leaving it in park. You have no place to go and you are wasting gas.
  • Determination. If drive is your motor then determination is the fuel – your will to succeed. Success in sports requires the will to persevere. If you are a hockey player, you don’t step onto the ice without learning to skate or spending hours upon hours on stick handling drills. Your determination is honed by years of practice. Call it “stick to it ness.” While others are relaxing or partying, you are working at your craft. Determination is, or should be, nurtured in school. You choose your path – engineering, science, or the arts – because you have an interest in it. Where it leads you is up to you. Determination is what you make of your talents and how you apply them. Your determination will dictate to some degree how far you go in your chosen field. Your determination will steel your pursuit of your goals. The more you want to achieve the more events and circumstances will stand in your way. For example, you will always find someone more talented than yourself; how you prepare yourself for that competition will depend upon your determination.

  • Discipline. Engaging your drive and fueling your determination comes down to discipline. In other words, how badly do you want to achieve your goals? For an athlete who wants to compete in Olympics, discipline is continuous. It pushes you to endure grueling training and eating only the right foods along with preparing the mind to compete. Discipline is all-consuming. In the workplace, discipline is not simply showing up. It is the rigor that you apply to doing a job and doing it well. It also means not cutting orders for expediency but giving full measure. Discipline is not easy; that’s why it takes discipline.

Pushing the Limits

While it is necessary to demonstrate drive, determination and discipline, personal success depends upon an ability to create new opportunities as well as to adapt to changing conditions. Risk is an element of success as is courage. All athletes demonstrate risk when they put themselves on the line to compete. The risk may come in the form of ego, as in, “Do I have what it takes to compete against the best?” Pro golfers feel this every time they put tee to ground as they enter a tournament. Courage may enter in competition that exacts physical pain, be it football or tour cycling. Injuries are part of the competitive process.

Despite such limitations, keeping drive, determination and discipline in mind will focus you on both the immediate tasks as well as the long-term goals. That is a lesson that all athletes eventually learn: as you train your body, your mind conforms, too. Your mind works two ways. It sets the body in motion, but it also provides you with excuses to slack off. By adhering to the rigor of competition, be it sport or business, you eventually develop a system that allows you to compete at a high level but also achieve things you never thought possible, be it a gold medal or an all time sales record, or brand-new process that no one had ever envisioned.

And that’s exciting as anything you might read in the sports pages.

The author would like to thank Dave Shand, co host of Off the Field, WTKA (Ann Arbor, MI), for his insights into drive, determination and discipline.