Many athletes and become leaders in business, politics, and so on, but the reverse never happens. The difference tells me that sports teaches skills useful and essential to leadership.
I had the honor of interviewing Marquis Flowers of the New England Patriots for the Leadership and the Environment podcast. His vulnerability and raw emotion revealed what athletes learn through their struggles, what no school, TED talk, book, or magazine can teach.
Only experience borne of competition can.
You know Marquis from the highlight reels of last year's Super Bowl:
Plays like that on a global stage are why people struggle to reach that point.
You may not have known Marquis's struggle to reach the pinnacle of the game.
Our conversation on the podcast reinforced that leadership lessons from sports are some are some of the most valuable I hear.
The Two Meanings of Competition
There are two meanings to competition. Too many people think only of one--beating the other person--and dismiss it derisively.
To their detriment.
Competition has a second meaning: to strive to improve yourself, independent of beating anyone else.
You see this meaning when people describe someone as a competitor when he or she isn't playing a game. A competitor in that sense works to discover his or her potential--what many of us never discover.
Marquis's conversation clearly shows the results of being a competitor. He shares about teamwork, commitment, and handling highs and lows of winning, losing, and struggling through long periods where you're working as hard as you can and see no light at the end of tunnel.
Listening to his conversation, it's hard to imagine he's only 26.
I coach c-suite leaders of publicly traded companies and entrepreneurs who have founded and sold multiple businesses. This young man shows experience and wisdom in personal leadership that matches any of them.
How Hard Have You Worked? What Is Your Potential?
How long could you work at the peak of your ability--working as hard as you can, physically and emotionally exhausting yourself to your limit as often as you can--without hope of recognition or reward?
Don't think of the exhaustion. Exhaustion feels great. Think of starting when you're tired. What motivates you internally when you have no external incentive? What do you have to learn about yourself?
What can you create in your social and physical environment, your beliefs, and your behavior to push yourself harder than most people push themselves at all when your exhausted?
How do you create the internal results of feeling glory, joy, or whatever rewarding when it's dark out and nobody else you know is trying that hard?
Because that's how you get to the Super Bowl.
Is it worth it?
It is if you care. There's only one path to it, and it takes work.
What's Your Super Bowl?
Whether you play football or not, you have a Super Bowl--something you care about that you could devote your life to. Is it your kids' success? Business success? Your marriage? Your sport? Your hobby?
What are you capable of that you don't know yet?
As Marquis puts it, what will get you through when that 30 minute task suddenly takes 3 hours?
Marquis was a Super Bowl star-to-be who struggled for years in the doldrums of a losing team. Are you in doldrums? What can you do to reach your Super Bowl?
If your leadership training or life experience doesn't include serious competition, where winning and losing meant something big to you and drove you to discover more about yourself, results like Marquis's tells me you could benefit from it.