Muhammad Ali’s words – “I hated every minute of training, but I said, “Don’t quit, suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”
Motivational videos showing sportsmen or teams celebrating their success, aimed at goading you to aim for the same, rarely go on to tell you what it takes, or more importantly, what to expect in the journey of getting there.
Training to be good at a sport, especially team sport and the process of developing one’s soft skills or behavioural skills have many parallels. In either case, the assumption is that one wants to grow, be better at what they do and be successful in their chosen profession/sport.
It’s not easy, it takes time but the changes are permanent, with the added bonus of a multiplier effect. Personal experience coupled with many years of experience observing participants in my programs have given birth to the following insights:
It’s not about just knowing, it’s about knowing AND demonstrating
If you watch any sport even with anything more than a passing interest, you will see that failed stroke or that wrong kick and ‘know’ that it could have been done differently. You also know that it is a completely different thing to be out there in the middle and execute a plan to the same degree. So it is with soft skills – we know what good communication or great collaboration is about, but what matters is what we demonstrate.
The important thing is to continuously reflect on the gap and work to narrow the gap.
It’s more than just being good at what you do.
In sport, great natural skills help you get noticed and take you some distance, but if you aim to go further, the intensity of input changes dramatically – the focus shifts to building a strong foundation, building fitness, learning new skills, analysis of team mates & opponents and so on. Similarly, at the workplace, demonstrating knowledge and skills will give you the opportunity but if you do not overlay that with key people skills, you will remain where you are or grow very slowly.
It’s about practice & more practice and the results WILL come
Any world-class athlete puts in the hours, day after day, month after month, in season and off season, to get to the point where it is instinctive. So it is with soft skills - one has to realise that it’s a journey, and only constant and regular practice will yield result. A good team player can deliver results regardless of the domain they are in, or the product they are selling. These are skills for life.
Have you noticed how people who play sport tend to pick up any sport and play it fairly well very soon?
It’s not just play, its Interplay
Especially in team sport, It’s the ability to play WITH others and exploit each other’s abilities that creates success. If you do not respect this fact, eventually you will fall out with the people you are playing with, resulting in a sub optimal results/career. If Messi is a phenomenon in Barca, it is the partnership with his midfielders that allows him to shine. It must take willful action on the part of Messi, his coach and the extended team to create that equation. And the body language on the pitch shows this to be true. On the flip side, the same Messi in the national team of Argentina has won almost no silverware, even with a host of other stars in the side.
People skills are not just about you being good, unfortunately it about other people, and these people keep changing, be it team mates, peers, clients and bosses. One has to acknowledge this fact and consciously build relationships that work.
It’s not one thing, it’s many aspects of the game
Excepting a few legends of the game, most athletes don’t come blessed with equal proficiency in all aspects of the game. Champions focus on the parts where they are lacking and work at improving those aspects. They are not focused on the past, they are focused on what lies ahead, they are focused on the Delta.
It’s the same with our behavioural skills. Some of us are objective and meticulous, but are challenged in crises situations or struggle to be spontaneous. Some of us are popular and soft with people but struggle with difficult team mates, collaborators and so on. Our strengths get us some distance, but to grow from there on, we need to reflect on our improvement areas and willfully work at improving upon them.
You can’t fake it!
This is not truer anywhere more than in competitive sport. One’s frailties or weaknesses are exposed quickly and then it’s difficult to recover, or worse still, one is written off for good before you’ve had a chance to make a comeback.
You win some, you lose some but true respect in sport comes from the sincerity of effort and honesty of intent. It is the same with people skills. A transactional style of working and shallow acts of camaraderie are seen through easily and people will stop relying on you as a team-mate, which can in turn have an adverse impact as one aims to climb up the corporate ladder.