10 Things Business Leaders Can Learn from Elite Athletes

May 1st, 2024

Business leaders can draw valuable lessons from elite athletes in several areas, ranging from training regimes to mental preparation, as we discovered from a recent conversation with two professional rugby players.

Parallels between business and sport are often made in board rooms. In a recent conversation, Andrew Fahey, Briars CEO, spoke with Jodie Cunningham and Emily Rudge, professional rugby players for St Helens and the England international team, about what it takes to play at the highest level for club and country.

As it turns out, the preparation, training and adaptation needed to succeed is similar in many ways to running global enterprises, especially when cross-border challenges are taken into consideration. Below, we will share 10 things business leaders can learn from elite athletes following this conversation.

You can watch the full episode below, which is available on YouTube and Spotify:

Here is our top 10 list of things business leaders can learn from elite athletes:

1) Goal Setting and Planning

    Elite athletes are masters at setting specific, measurable, and time-bound goals. Business leaders can learn how to continually improve as they set clear objectives, break them down into achievable milestones, and create a roadmap to success across their global organisation.

    2) Consistent Training and Discipline

    Just as athletes adhere to rigorous training schedules, business leaders can apply similar discipline in their professional routines—consistent skill development, regular team training, and personal growth activities are key.

    3) Performance Metrics

    Athletes use performance metrics to gauge their progress and adjust their training accordingly. Similarly, business leaders can use KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to track business performance and make informed decisions. It’s about making sure the correct KPIs are in place for the right people within different teams across territories.

    4) Mental Toughness

    Elite sports often require a strong mental game, including resilience, focus, and stress management. Business leaders can adopt mental conditioning techniques to handle pressure, stay focused during crises, and maintain their composure in high-stakes situations.

    5) Recovery and Rest

    Athletes understand the importance of recovery and rest to perform at their best. Business leaders should recognise the value of downtime to prevent burnout, maintain long-term productivity, and encourage a healthy work-life balance. This culture can be applied through a whole organisation, where teams are encouraged to socialise together, as well as pursue outside hobbies.

    6) Teamwork and Collaboration

    Sports emphasise the importance of teamwork and the ability to work effectively with others towards a common goal. Business leaders can foster a team-oriented culture, promote collaboration, and leverage diverse strengths within their organisations.

    7) Coaching and Mentorship

    Coaches play a crucial role in developing athletes. In business, leaders can benefit from seeking mentors and also providing mentorship, fostering a culture of learning and feedback within their organisations.

    8) Adaptability and Flexibility

    Athletes often need to adjust their strategies based on their opponents or conditions. Similarly, business leaders must be adaptable, able to pivot strategies quickly, and respond to market changes to stay competitive.

    9) Preparation and Simulation

    Athletes often use simulations and scenario-based training to prepare for competitions. Business leaders can use simulations and scenario planning to anticipate future challenges, prepare for economic shifts, or innovate new products and services.

    10) Learning from Failure

      In sports, failure is often a stepping stone to success. Athletes learn to analyse their failures and use them as opportunities to improve. Business leaders can cultivate a culture where mistakes are seen as valuable learning experiences, encouraging innovation and risk-taking without fear of failure.

      Our podcast episode covered a variety of topics, including sports leadership, but also women in sport and business leadership. These themes will be discussed in upcoming videos and blogs.

      If you have any need to discuss tackling the complexities of global leadership in expansion, contact us here.

      Shaun Cumming

      Shaun is Head of Marketing at Briars, bringing 15 years of content and marketing leadership experience from his time at global financial services firms such as BlackRock, BNY Mellon, Brooks Macdonald and Investec. At Briars, his mission is to tell the story of our company and its people, as well as to shape the brand as we head into a new phase of growth. Shaun is leading the talented marketing team and is a member of our Senior Leadership Team.