This weekend saw a return to full crowds for the first time since the start of the pandemic at Wimbledon 2022. But alongside the sunny weather and strawberries and cream, what leadership tips could spectators acquire from the players before them? Christy Kulasingam explains.
For the past two weeks, Wimbledon took over our screens once again, culminating in this weekend’s men’s final where Novak Djokovic won his fourth consecutive title in SW19. Debates about his opponent Nick Kyrgios’ temperament and Djokovic’s views on vaccinations aside, many of us still seek to emulate such tennis prowess and staying power that got them to the pinnacle of their sport.
As business leaders, we know inspiration can be taken from sport. But there are many practical lessons that can be applied to business. Sports implement highly structured talent attraction and development pathways, multi-disciplinary mentoring and coaching, and progressive experimentation to create a high performance environment that allows its professionals to continually evolve and thrive.
Here are five business lessons you can learn from Wimbledon greats:
Behind these professionals, there are stories of dedication, sacrifice, heartbreak, and resilience. Andy Murray lost to Roger Federer in the 2012 Wimbledon men’s final, but bounced back to take gold against the same opponent in a home Olympics.
What could have been a devastating failure did not hold him back from future success. Murray has proved his grit time and again, most recently by getting back on the top circuit after hip surgery.
We know that we need resilience in business. Nothing will always go our way. But the business world doesn’t tend to have singular events that we prepare for with almost no regard for anything else. These make or break moments are often where we build our resilience.
Build in those touchpoints to work towards, just as tennis stars with Wimbledon. The sprints will keep you focused, show you the areas that need work, and help you celebrate the success along the way. As former world number one Billie Jean King said: “Champions keep playing until they get it right.”
Use mentoring and coaching
We know that coaching is at the centre of elite sport. Similarly, mentors are a key item in the sports toolkit. From early on in their development pathways, talented athletes are given access to an array of mentors from various disciplines – from technical skills to nutrition to sports psychology. Sporting elites gladly defer to the expertise of others to fine-tune their performance.
Similarly, we often see former greats turn their hand to mentoring and coaching to boost the next generations of talent. Paul Annacone mentored Pete Sampras, Tim Henman, and Roger Federer, and Brad Gilbert mentored Andre Agassi.
There can still be stigma attached to business leaders accessing mentoring and executive coaching, however. Leaders accessing the support and knowledge of others so that they can perform better should be celebrated. Not only this, but implementing mentoring at all levels enhances professional development and constant learning.
Safe spaces for brutal honesty
Post-game reviews are central to sports. These often have unvarnished assessments of what went right, what went wrong, and what must be done differently. This should never be disrespectful or lack inclusivity. Sport’s acceptance of honest performance reviews drives improvement.
Businesses can learn from this to create spaces where safe conversations are facilitated for impactful change. There must be an understanding between leaders and employees that these conversations are done with positive intent and with creating a meaningful difference in-mind.
Managing negative and disruptive behaviours, like those looking to one-up others, pushing personal vendettas and agendas, or playing the blame game, will be crucial to success.
Change how you seek talent
Leaders typically seek to fill openings with ‘relevant’ experience and traditional academic backgrounds. The sporting world is decidedly different.
They identify talent based on potential that can be moulded. Acclaimed coach Rick Macci coached champions such as Serena and Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport, recognising their talents from an early age and refining it through training
Sporting elites gladly defer to the expertise of others to fine-tune their performance.
Identifying potential early on and seeking out raw talent to develop through training and mentoring would be game changing for businesses. A promising young talent may not have the traditional experience on their CV’. But this does not stop sports leaders from investing in developing that talent.
Broadening the talent pool and opening it up earlier will most likely unearth future champions of the business. Give them all the support to become a key part of your environment, upskill them, and steward them to thrive.
Work with an individual’s whole self
Although tennis is not a team sport, when you look at elites playing on the court, they are rarely there alone. Cameras regularly pan to coaches, mentors, friends and family watching them in the crowd to show their support. The emotion of the event is evident in their faces. Judy Murray and Richard Williams have always been heavily involved in the careers of their children.
Yet in business we continue to separate the person from their professional life. Remote working and the pandemic have served to remove some of these barriers, but still business is lagging behind in integrating a person’s whole self. Invite family members to onboarding activities and ask people about their experiences. Shape their experiences based on who they are as a person.