Many years ago, prior to entering into corporate life, I played professional cricket for 3 years as a member of the Mumbai team in the Ranji Trophy. While I never captained any sports team, I was privileged to play alongside cricketing greats and outstanding captains such as Ravi Shastri, Sandeep Patil, Zubin Bharucha, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. Those 3 years as a professional cricketer taught me far more than what I have learned in the classroom or in the board room. Even today, when I am faced with a problem at work, I don’t think about what I learned in business school, but how a captain handled a tough situation on the field.
These lessons have stood me in good stead over the years and in fact, when I took over as CEO about 7-8 years ago, I told my people that I would be running the organisation like a sports team. Here are a few of the leadership lessons that have transferred from the sports field into the board room:
Never let success go to your head and never let failure go to your heart
Sports is a great leveller. One day you might score a century and the very next day, you might get out on the first ball. Corporate life too, is a great leveller. Over the course of your career, you are likely to face highs-and-lows; a tough quarter possibly followed by a period of success. The trick is to never give up, to ride out the storm and to soldier on. And most importantly, to use the learnings from the tough times to optimise your success during the good times.
Always play for the team
A successful sports team is one which has individual talented players that work in sync with each other making the whole far, far greater than its sum components. In a corporate organisation, you don’t have to wait to reach the top in order to be a team player. Take pride in the achievements of your team collectively, as well as in the individual achievements of your team members. Do your job to the best of your abilities and play for the team.
Make an impact from Day One
Sports has tons of examples of youngsters who have turned the fortunes of a game on their debut. Lack of seniority does not mean you cannot make an impact. You do not need to be the CEO or a CXO to make a difference. You can start making an impact right from the time you are a Management Trainee. Start in small ways and progress to bigger ways as you gain more confidence and experience.
No one has scored a century or won a tournament and has come back saying that they wanted to take it easy. Corporate life is relentless and unforgiving. Passion is the switch that turns everything on. An 80% engagement rate in workplace surveys might sound good on paper, but it means that only 8 people in a cricket team want to win a game. You can’t win a match with 80% engagement, that’s why we need to aim for 100% engagement.
Give honest feedback
Sports teaches you candour and how to give honest feedback. Just like you drop a player who is not performing from the team, so also in corporate life, you need to be frank and differentiate between the good performers and the below-par ones.
Stay in the present
Many times, during our career, we start thinking of the future. What will happen in my next appraisal? What will happen to me in 5 years? Will I become CEO of this company?
In cricket, the most important thing is the next ball, whether you are batting or bowling. Similarly, in corporate life, it is important to stay in the present. Take care of the days, and the months and years will take care of themselves. Manage your jobs and your career will take of itself. As in sports, look for the small accomplishments and celebrate them; they will soon snowball into bigger ones.
Trust your gut
On the sports field, you have to trust your gut and make quick decisions – at the end of an over, a session or if you are lucky, at the end of the day. You don’t have the luxury of months or quarters or even years like in corporate life. Gut is nothing but an aggregation of your life experiences. Everyone has it. Trust it, develop it, and roll with it.
Talent vs. Attitude
The Australian tennis star, Nick Kyrgios is a great example of a youngster with immeasurable talent but the wrong attitude. As in sports, attitude is more important than talent in the corporate world. You will come across many talented people who fall by the wayside because of arrogance, laziness, or a devil-may-care attitude. Having a positive attitude sets you on the path to success.
Success does not come easy and not too many people are willing to work hard for it. If you are willing to imbibe some of the lessons shared above into your life and career, then nothing will stop you from achieving what you desire.