Why business is like sport

By Sir Steve Redgrave for Business Life magazine

Main image courtesy of TeamGB

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August 2016

From teamwork to targets, success to ambition, the main elements of sport are the same as business says five-time Olympic gold medallist rower, Sir Steve Redgrave.

The similarities between running a business and competitive sport might not be obvious at first glance. However, when you break both sport and business down to their elements, it becomes clear that the core principles are the same. The teamwork, goal setting, rivalry, management, talent, training, hard work and preparation which go into a sporting career can be easily and successfully transferred into the business world.

Nobody achieves success alone; it is always down to having a brilliant team

Finding your talent

Identifying your talent is crucial — you'll find profits where the skills fit the opportunity. In the sporting world it is much more effective to fit the sport to the athlete than the other way round. Find your skill and then identify where this skill fits within a business.

Putting the perfect team together >

  • Find your talent © 123RF
  • Have a goal in sight © 123RF
  • Capitalise on your strengths © 123RF

The vision thing

For a sports person, the vision is always the same: achieve a personal best, win the gold, beat your rival. For a business person, goals are more fluid and can change daily, making the goals slightly less inspiring. Because of this, whether it's a bonus or an 'employee of the month' certificate, it is important to relate the goals back to the employee.

Something to believe in

In sport, belief is often the difference between winning and losing. There is very little between the competitors lining up at the start line; they all train hard and they're all at the top of their field, the main difference is their attitude towards winning. At any given moment in your career you need unshakeable belief in something.

Opportunity keeps on knocking

Recognising an opportunity when it comes your way, and having the courage to seize it, is the corner stone of enduring success. If you can spot an opportunity and are prepared for when they arise, you will give yourself the best possible chance.

At any given moment in your career you need unshakeable belief in something

Be prepared...For anything

You must always have a plan B. At the 2008 Olympics, the women's rowing team had a detailed plan for the race. When I questioned what would happen if they weren't in fact ahead after 250m, they had no answer. It is of far greater value to be able to explain how you're going to do something than merely to state what you're going to do.

  • Teamwork is crucial © 123RF

Dedication's what you need

Dedication is just as important within the business world as it is for an Olympic athlete. A willingness to work through the monotonous tasks is an attribute that separates dreams from achievements.

The SWOT analysis

The detailed analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats is enormously important. Enduring success relies on finding where your less obvious strengths lie. For me, my greatest asset wasn't my size, it was my ability to intimidate my opponents with my record of success. Find something that your business is good at that others aren't capitalising upon, harness it and use it to your advantage.

Let's work together

Nobody achieves success alone; it is always down to having a brilliant team. However, teamwork isn't just about surrounding yourself with brilliant people, it's about putting the right people in the right positions. Having the skill to build and bond a team is priceless within business.

The 50 percent rule

I have a 50 percent rule. As long as you love what you're doing 50 percent of the time, you will be able to deal with the abusive customer or the expensive supplier. In business and sport, people are much more willing to deal effectively with the downsides of a job if they're enjoying the rest of it. One way to make a bad job better is to do it with people you like and admire. It's about getting the balance right.

The importance of leadership

I would say that successful leaders have two major skills: they are good at delegation and they're good at building a team to delegate to. A leader has to employ and position people that they trust, and then they must relinquish some of the control so that they can focus on the overall vision, leaving their employees the freedom to effectively carry out the job they've been hired to do.