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
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
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.