As business leaders what can we learn from Scottish track stars Laura Muir and Josh Kerr, asks RUSSELL DALGLEISH
We have witnessed something remarkable at the Tokyo Olympics. Scottish athletes secured medals in the men’s and women’s 1500 metres. This is incredible when we consider he last time Scots won Olympic medals on the track was in Seoul in 1988 with Yvonne Murray and Liz McColgan. Most of the competitors in Tokyo weren’t even born then.
When I was approaching my fiftieth birthday, I developed an interest in running and have recently been selected to run the London Marathon, hence I was particularly drawn to this year’s Olympiad. But I watched the events that have unfolded not as an ageing amateur athlete but as an entrepreneur looking to see what I could learn from the approach taken by these athletes that could aid me in my business life.
After reviewing my notes, I believe there are seven lessons to be learned:
1. Maintain a clear Focus on your goal
Succeeding in any sport is about beating the competition. But for world class athletes it’s about peaking at exactly the correct moment when victory can be achieved at the major event. With this clear goal in mind detailed plans can then be put in place to ensure all actions taken are focused on achieving this goal.
We can claim to take a similar approach in the world of commerce where business plans are written, supported by detailed financial forecasts, but do we fully commit to these plans? Do we ensure every person in our team is focused on achieving the agreed goal? I fear that too many times we pay lip service to the business plan instead of treating it as our plan for success.
Pull out your business plan this week and review it over a coffee and ask yourself if you are delivering the plan and, if not, what must you change to get back on track.
2. Dedication in execution
Elite athletes dedicate their life 24 hours a day 7 days a week to the attainment of their goal. They follow training plans to the letter, never missing a training slot, always analysing the data of each session, always looking to improve. Can you imagine how successful our businesses would be if we worked as hard as Laura Muir has to attain her goal?
Earlier this year we welcomed Barry Fudge, high performance coach to Sir Mo Farah and ex-Head of Endurance at British Athletics to speak to our members. He provided a unique insight into how the lessons learned from working at the highest level in sport can be transferred to the business world. You can listen to a Podcast of the interview here.
3. Surround yourself with the best team
Both Laura and Josh when interviewed thanked their teams, they emphasised that they are simply the visible part of a much larger team, with everyone focused on the same result, ie. peak performance at the right time.
As business leaders we also build teams to support us, comprising advisers, coaches and non-executive directors in addition to our executive team. But here’s the question for you? Is everyone on your team dedicating their efforts 100% to the attainment of your goal for your business? If not, is it time to appoint new names to the team?
4. Understand that it is your responsibility to ensure funding is secured
I was really impressed at how many British athletes at the Olympics thanked the National Lottery and their sponsors who provide the funding to allow them to use the best possible facilities on their path to medal success. I recall former Formula One driver Jackie Stewart talking about the same thing when he discussed that it was his responsibility to ensure funding was in place to build him the best car.
In business we must not forget that as entrepreneurs our primary responsibility is to ensure sufficient funds are in place for the business to succeed. This money can come from sales, investment, grants, etc. but at the end of the day it is ultimately our role to ensure this cash is available. If not, our goals are simply dreams.
5. Good mental wellbeing is essential
After securing Bronze in the 1500 metres final Josh Kerr talked about the importance of a mindfulness coach he has worked with, that he remained positive and how he needed to ensure his mental attitude was “right”.
It seems that in the last few years the business community has awoken to the need to ensure our team maintain good mental health. But don’t forget to prioritise your own health as well. I’ve found that meditation has helped me as has building a support team around me whom I can confide in completely. Sometimes I don’t like what they tell me, but I need them to be there.
6. Accept failure as part of the journey
My favourite quote from these Olympics comes from Laura Muir when she stated: “I’ve been fourth, fifth twice, sixth and seventh every year since 2015 and with everything last year being postponed and not knowing what was going on… I got a silver! That last 100 metres I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my life that someone was going to come past me, and I would drop to fourth. I just tried my absolute hardest in that last stretch.”
Can you imagine what the “fear” that she speaks of must have been like? To have failed – in her own mind – so narrowly, on so many occasions to achieve her goal… what bravery she displayed.
This quote resonates so clearly with me as, in the world of business, there are few who have achieved success without first experiencing failure of some form or other.
I sometimes think that business success comes about simply by “lasting the course”, ie. no matter how many setbacks we experience we keep ploughing forward and eventually, if our vision is clear, success will be achieved.
I, for one, will be thinking of Laura Muir next time I consider giving up!
7. Celebrate success
And finally, we have witnessed, in graphic detail on our Olympic TV screens what success looks like in its raw, emotional state, with tears of relief, the most prominent memory of these games.
I must be honest, I find success difficult to deal with. I would rather be striving on to the next challenge. But I was reminded when images were shown of these athletes’ families, friends and supporters celebrating that an acknowledgement of success is important as a way of rewarding those who stand by us as we strive to achieve our goals.
Everyone deserves a “lap of honour” even in an empty stadium.
One final suggestion from me: can I suggest that you print out a picture of Laura Muir and Josh Kerr, place them above your computer screen, and see if they can inspire you to winning your place on the rostrum of business success.
Russell Dalgleish is co-founder and chairman of Scottish Business Network