Q3 2019

14 | Q3 2019 The passion, psychology and nature of sport is winning over business leaders who are using lessons from champions to shape their businesses. Alison Brinkworth takes a closer look at how success on the field can translate into the boardroom. What businesses are learning from sport Sport stars have been giving motivational talks for decades, but former Olympians and champions are tailoring their knowledge towards learning and development in businesses more than ever. The discipline and tactics involved with sports are obvious themes but there are other relevant aspects to master, as explained by several champions who now work with companies on developing a stronger mindset. Former Olympic British high jumper Steve Smith founded Liverpool-based leadership and development company Raise the Bar in 2004 after being a restauranteur. He won Bronze at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics and still holds the British high jump record of 2.38m - but was forced to retire early from injury at the age of 26. Steve, now 46, said: “Everything I learned for sports performance is relatable to an SME and whether I am speaking with a small business, a pharmaceutical company or bank, everyone is talking about change... but it is how you adapt to it that’s important. Change is about having the right mindset. “I use the example of the “Fosbury Flop” created by high jumper Dick Fosbury. He came up with a radical new technique of high jumping that reached higher limits. Some elite athletes at the time wouldn’t change their technique because they had invested so much time in their training, they wanted to stick with it; but they weren’t jumping as high as everyone else. “The lesson from that is that if you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always got.” Steve adds: “A small business needs to be really agile and adapt to everything from customers moving to changes in the economy or the climate as it doesn’t have the cushion that large organisations have. That can relate to how you embrace new technology to grow and social media. Successful organisations are ones challenging their sector by doing things differently - companies like Airbnb and Uber.” Along with motivational talks, Raise the Bar also provides leadership and management apprenticeships for professionals looking to develop and progress up the career ladder. While its successful programme Change Catalyst features six workshops a year with presentations from thought-leaders such as change management consultant Damian Hughes, high performance coach James Kerr, and Laila Pawlak, giving lessons from Silicon Valley and corporate innovation. A consistent theme is challenging the norm and giving leaders the tools to do that. There have been 200 professionals on the programme to date and the fifth cohort gets under way in November. Steve recalled: “In sport, your performance is always visible and you examine what went wrong as you are only as good as your last performance; and that applies to business. “Sport psychology is all about controlling what is in your sphere of influence. For an SME, you may not be able to control Brexit, but you can control how motivated the staff are and your products. Too often, businesses concentrate on areas they can’t control and if you don’t feel in control, you are emotionally challenged and that leads to stress, which can lead to poor performance. “It’s about understanding where you are and where you need to get to. I would look at people breaking records in my field and see what they are doing, what’s the team around them like? Have they got people who have a positive influence? It’s about benchmarking and looking at your competitors as well as yourself. If they are going at a faster rate, what are their working patterns like? What’s their work culture?” While Steve has perspective on an individual sport, former professional footballer Rebecca Smith understands high-performance teamwork as part of the World Cup and Olympic New Zealand Women’s Football Team. She also played for VfL Wolfsburg that won the “triple” of the UEFA Champions League, German League and German Cup. Rebecca retired in 2013 due to a knee injury and with degrees in Economics and Spanish plus an MBA, and a Masters in Psychology, she moved into business. Rebecca is now based in London as the Global Executive Director of the Women’s Game at COPA90 – the world’s largest independent football media company. Rebecca explained: “The number one thing is how to understand and manage people and work together to perform at the highest level possible. So many times, when I was working in a business environment off the pitch, like at Volkswagen, I’d think “if only they could work like we do in our football team then we could perform so much better”. “You never get to pick the entire company of people that you work with – you’re always with people with different types of personalities. Having the right people, in the right places, at the right time is critical. “In football, you only have a small margin of error. You take your eye off the ball, it’s a goal, and that can mean game over. The constant

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