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Reaching the top of your game

Kate Haywood, ex-Olympic Swimmer and campaign ambassador at EP Business in Hospitality (www.epinsights.co.uk)


When it comes to succeeding in the corporate world and in the workplace, much today can been learned from the sporting profession. Sport and business are very similar in many ways, yet ironically the way they both operate on a day-to-day basis can be quite different. In sport and for athletes, there is absolutely a ‘win’ mentality and this is also reflected in many of the key attributes, which help those people to reach the top of their game.  Loyalty, trust, discipline and dealing with failure are all part of the process for athletes striving to be the best they can be. 


Winning, whether in business or in sport is about dedication, commitment and a relentless mentality to never give up; after all no one takes home a gold medal if they don’t have those qualities. Interestingly in business today, people need to possess many of these attributes if they are to reach their full career potential but today many are so focused on ‘winning’ or getting ahead in life that they often attempt the journey to the top in isolation and at any cost. 


Are we too self-minded?


Sports professionals will often think ‘solo’ in mind when it comes to competing and reaching the top of their field, but on the same token, they are under no illusion that there are also a team of other people that help them to get to that point. In sport, probably one of the most important drivers is the emphasis on teams. There is absolutely nothing wrong with individual ambition, in fact it is vital, but in life, there are few things you can do really well alone.


The sad fact is, we are breeding a silo culture, people come out of university today with huge debts and they are trying to work their way up the career ladder as quickly as possible without taking note of the people around them.  If you don’t work together as a team to reach your goals you’ll soon find that there is little support available from that team, no support leads to unhappiness and loneliness, which spirals. We are all trying to climb our own mountains in life but if we don’t share that journey with others, if we are too self-minded, how can we truly reach the top of our game?


In sport we know we can’t do it alone. If you want to reach the Olympics in swimming, you have to be in the top two in the country to even compete. As an athlete you share a vision and your goals with those around you. In the workplace, people don’t tend to understand what everyone else’s goals are, usually because they are so focused on their on individual ambition. In business we need better communication on this level, just as in sport we have a game plan, a vision and a shared goal, the same should apply in the corporate world and it doesn’t mean people can’t have individual drive. 


Reaching your potential involves trust


If you think about the whole personal appraisal process in business, this is often done one to one with the individual (appraisee) and the leader/manager to agree goals and objectives, how often do people share those goals and objectives with the rest of the team so that there is a shared understanding of people’s goals? People seem to work in isolation for a variety of reasons in business, often it can be linked to the ‘threat’ of others, whether that means worries about someone stealing your ideas, or someone getting the role you are after. People tend to shut others out, yet success is about building trust and relationships with the people around you. No good leader ignores their team, you have to demonstrate trust, loyalty and care for your people.


Reaching your potential is really all about having trust and belief in those around you. Getting to know team members away from the office, in new environments and beyond daily life will help you to learn more about them and to build that confidence and trust in them. If you don’t trust, you won’t share and if you don’t share how can you truly succeed in your vision? In sport you trust your coach completely without question, your trust your physiotherapist to help you if you are injured; without trust everything falls apart. 


There’s never a straight line to the top


As a leader, it’s not all about you. You cannot live life at the top in isolation, you have to think about your team, you have to challenge them but in a supportive way. If you go it alone you’re less likely to truly succeed because it’s just you, by yourself. Everyone needs that dynamic of a team, another voice. It can be very lonely at the top in isolation; you only have to look at the mental health statistics to see what direction that kind of life can lead you into.


Using the support of others around you, being open and honest, motivated and determined will help you to share your vision and your goals more readily and in turn, build trust. If you understand that to truly succeed takes resilience you will also understand that life is up and down, there is never a straight line to the top, there are always bumps along the way but those bumps are also learning curves and are part of what makes us human. The truth is, people need people.


Picture courtesy of Pixabay

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