Operating in an Elite Environment: Lessons from the Rugby Field to the Boardroom

May 22nd, 2024

Andrew Fahey, Briars’ CEO, speaks to two professional rugby players about what it takes to operate in an elite sporting environment, and how that translates to the board room.

Operating in an elite environment demands not only exceptional skills but also a mindset attuned to excellence. This was a central theme in a recent episode of the Beyond Borders podcast, hosted by Andrew Fahey, CEO of the Briars Group.

Fahey interviewed two elite professional rugby players, Jodie Cunningham and Emily Rudge of St Helens RFC, and asked about themes that resonate beyond the sports field and into the business realm.

You can watch the full interview below, or listen on Spotify:

Here, we explore how the principles of operating in an elite environment apply to business leaders striving for success on a global stage.


Elite environments are characterised by high stakes, relentless competition, and the continuous pursuit of excellence. In the world of professional rugby, athletes like Jodie Cunningham and Emily Rudge navigate these pressures daily, refining their skills, strategies, and mental toughness to stay at the top of their game.

Andrew Fahey’s conversation with these athletes reveals key takeaways that business leaders can leverage to excel in their own high-stakes environments.

Tips for Being Prepared to Operate in an Elite Environment

1. Cultivate a Winning Mindset

Both Cunningham and Rudge emphasised the importance of mental fortitude. In elite sports, a positive and resilient mindset can mean the difference between winning and losing. For business leaders, this translates to maintaining optimism and resilience in the face of challenges. Developing a growth mindset, where failures are seen as learning opportunities, can help leaders navigate setbacks and maintain a trajectory toward success.

2. Prioritise Continuous Improvement

Elite athletes are constantly refining their skills and strategies. Similarly, business leaders should commit to lifelong learning and continuous improvement. This involves staying updated with industry trends, seeking feedback, and embracing new technologies and methodologies. Cultivating a culture of continuous improvement within an organisation can drive innovation and keep the company competitive.

3. Foster a Strong Support Network

Cunningham and Rudge highlighted the significance of teamwork and a strong support system. In business, leaders should build and nurture a robust network of mentors, peers, and advisors. A collaborative environment where team members support each other can enhance productivity and foster a sense of belonging. Additionally, leaders should not hesitate to seek external expertise when needed, recognising that collaboration often leads to better outcomes.

4. Embrace Strategic Planning

In sports, meticulous planning and strategy are crucial for success. Business leaders must also prioritise strategic planning, setting clear goals and devising actionable plans to achieve them. This includes conducting thorough market research, anticipating potential challenges, and being flexible enough to adapt strategies as circumstances change. Strategic planning provides a roadmap that guides the organisation toward its long-term objectives.

5. Focus on Physical and Mental Well-being

Both athletes stressed the importance of physical fitness and mental well-being. Business leaders, often under immense stress, should prioritise their health to sustain high performance. This includes regular exercise, adequate rest, and mindfulness practices such as meditation. A healthy body and mind are foundational to making sound decisions and leading effectively.

The importance of resilience

Operating in an elite environment, whether in sports or business, requires a blend of skill, strategy, and mental resilience. The insights shared by Jodie Cunningham and Emily Rudge during their conversation with Andrew Fahey on the Beyond Borders podcast offer valuable lessons for business leaders. By cultivating a winning mindset, prioritising continuous improvement, fostering strong support networks, embracing strategic planning, and focusing on well-being, leaders can navigate the complexities of their elite environments and steer their organisations toward success.

In a world where the margins between success and failure are razor-thin, adopting these principles can help business leaders not only survive but thrive, turning challenges into opportunities and consistently achieving excellence.

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.