When I started thinking about writing my book, I didn't want it to be the typical sporting biography that catalogued games and seasons. I wanted to share my experiences so that anyone in sport or business could take something from it.
Anyone who has met me or heard me speak will know I'm pretty passionate about the topics of culture, wellbeing and high-performance. As I morphed from student to footballer and gradually into being an entrepreneur and businessman I have noticed some common themes that have run throughout my whole career and personal life.
So, here are nine of the most transferable skills from sport to business.
The most transferable skill - hard work
I’m often asked what are the most transferable skills from sport to business. We tend to romanticise about the victories and the winners in sport. But winning is a process not a skill.
The most transferable skill from sport to business is hard work. Consistent hard work applied to any discipline should be a given if you want to succeed. In doing the hard work you’ll begin to understand that challenges and set-backs will be plentiful but are paving the road to success. Commitment to the objective (clear goal-setting) and deliberate practise (hard work) will make the execution easier when the moment comes.
Praise and criticism
Understanding the person and the wider group or team they are part of is crucial to delivering both praise and criticism.
Sometimes we focus too much on what we want to say by way of praise or critique and don’t think hard enough about how it will be received. Ideally, you’d know the personality of people you’re dealing with and then the message can be tailored. It’s hard to diagnose on the fly but it should be considered.
A crisis is an opportunity to innovate
Following on from the theme of hard work, dealing with crisis is another skill that I developed in sport and believe applies to business.
I had an injury setback early in my career that resulted in me being a relatively late debutant for Dublin at 23. Rather than dwell on the ground I was potentially losing to other players looking to represent Dublin, I saw my time away rehabbing as an opportunity to upgrade. While others were training away and all working on the same things, I saw this as my opportunity to develop areas of my game that would make me better all-around.
Culture lives and dies in middle management
Culture is a living thing, it’s not words on a wall or in a document saved on the drive. It’s a world of different things, ever-evolving and is the sum total of your organisation.
Managers represent the culture of the organisation to their teams - their work review, their wellbeing, their behaviour during the day with their colleagues. People will leave an organisation if they can’t deal with their manager.
A great tool for managers to connect with their people is two-way feedback.
The Performance Trinity
High- comes from having balance in your life. Jim Gavin brought this concept into the Dublin team.
He asked everyone to find the three most important things in their life - for me, this was sport, family, business. He told us to be mindful of those three areas above all else. Because if something was wrong with one of them, the others would suffer.
The same applies to people in work. You can’t separate your home life from work life, your health, your finances, your family all have an impact on your ability to perform at your best.
Vulnerability builds trust
Leadership takes courage especially if you’re willing to be authentic and show your whole self and what you’re dealing with on a personal level.
Two-way feedback provides an opportunity to be vulnerable with your peers. People are naturally empathetic and will take more from someone showing vulnerability than from leading with the iron rod or from behind a poker face.
Game plans provide a framework to operate within. Training sharpens skills. Connection builds trust. To get real results you need to explore the possibilities of all these aspects and be creative in their application.
Jim Gavin used to remind us of the army motto that the best-laid plans are thrown out after the first contact with the enemy.
Teamwork is about more than a set of skills, fitness levels or technical knowledge. The more connected you are to those around you the easier the task seems and the harder you try.
In the Dublin team, we did lots of things to bring our people together. Simple things, like sweeping the dressing rooms showed no-one was better than anyone else. We all camped out rough for charity, which took a few lads out of their comfort zones. We met up with teams from previous eras who passed the torch to us if you like and made us feel connected to the legacy of the Dublin team.
All of these exercises helped build a connection with each other and a sense of collective pride.
Replacing the changing room / watercooler moments
Remote work will persist for a lot of organisations so we need to help people feel part of something. Building community used to happen organically when we were together in a one location. We need to shift behaviour towards creating a culture that is not dependent on a location. It’s a real challenge but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
It’s important that any behavioural change designed to improve wellbeing is captured in a program rather than stand-alone events. To achieve wellbeing you need an ongoing program, delivered consistently with regular feedback loops. This applies to championship-winning football teams as much as it does high-performing businesses.
The things that make people successful in sport can be applied to any aspect of life. Regardless of the pursuit, if you apply these ten tips you'll steer yourself onto the right path.
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