Analogies between sports and business abound. Are people who excel at sports better at business?
Sometimes they are. And it's no coincidence. After all sports can develop habits that help business leaders succeed.
Consider these two leaders: Mike Tuchen was a rower on the Brown University crew who, though short, won a state title and George Kurtz is a winning race car driver.
They are also successful startup CEOs. Tuchen leads a fast-growing data integration company, Talend. An engineer with a Harvard MBA, Tuchen took his previous company--Rapid7 which went public on July 17 - from $5 million to $50 million in revenue, and loves team and business building.
Kurtz founded and is CEO of cloud-based endpoint security software as a service provider, CrowdStrike, that just raised $100 million led by Google Capital that tripled its total billings and employees growth--to 210 employees.
And Kurtz was previously a Price Waterhouse auditor who moved into security consulting, started a company that McAfee acquired and rose to become its chief technology officer before launching CrowdStrike in 2011.
Here are five lessons they've learned from sports that help them succeed in business.
1. Set clear goals.
If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there.
So it is crucial in sports and business to set specific goals. Tuchen learned this from his experience with crew. "The coach of my crew team had clear goals and made certain everything we did in training and racing helped move us closer to our goals. Having that shared sense of purpose created a culture of collective ownership: We worked for the team's success, not just for the coach or for ourselves," said Tuchen.
Leaders of sports or business teams ought to set specific, measurable, time-bounded goals that motivate people to reach for their limits.
2. Take the blame for your failures.
People talk about accountability pretty often. That means instead of blaming someone else for your failure, take a hard look at what you did to cause that failure and learn from it.
As Tuchen said, "My rowing coach at Brown was a great role model. I learned an enormous amount from him about accountability and ownership. You own the results that you are building. He always said that you can't point fingers, or lay blame, that you just have to keep a firm hand on the rudder and keep going after the goal that you've targeted."
If you're leading a sports team or a company, you must be a role model for others by taking the blame for your mistakes and rewarding others who do the same.
3. Learn from successes and failures and keep going.
Being intellectually honest is a critical first step in creating a culture that learns. And without learning, a sports team or a company cannot improve.
As Tuchen said, "Our [crew] team's goal and our measures against it-winning or losing a race-provided the framework for a sense of accountability, for discussions about successes and shortcomings, and a roadmap for improvement."
This insight is directly applicable to his business.
"As a result of that experience, I also learned a lot about the importance of hiring people who embrace teamwork and truly care about their co-workers. I learned the value of creating and communicating a clear vision or goal, and building a culture where everyone feels connected to a shared success. Finally, I learned the importance of creating a learning culture where it is safe to make mistakes and to own them, because that's the only way everyone learns something," said Tuchen.
As a leader, you must place a big value on learning from experience and getting better. And that means replacing the urge to punish people for failure with rewarding them for learning practical lessons from it.
4. Prepare exhaustively.
Before you go into an important meeting--such as leading your product development team, pitching investors, or meeting with a new customer--you ought to think clearly about the outcome you want and the details of making that happen.
That's a lesson that Kurtz--who survived "25 hours of grueling racing" at Thunderhill Raceway - has learned well.
"After I sold my company to McAfee, I began to learn about car racing from a board member. I got up to speed quickly and learned that you have to know the mechanics and prepare ahead of time--every detail must be right every time," said Kurtz.
5. Know critical details.
If you're leading an organization, you should delegate most details to other people. But there are some details that you must know and handle yourself.
In the case of racing a car, one of the most crucial details a driver has to handle is speed going into a turn. As Kurtz explained, "If you go into a turn at only 100 miles per hour you'll go flying off the track. If you want to do well, you have to accelerate to 130 MPH into a turn and you'll get to 3G--staying low and tight and exiting the turn at 150 MPH."
For Kurtz, the analogy to business is clear. He spends much of his time understanding the security challenges facing his customers and working with his product developers to build practical solutions to those customer problems.
If they keep applying the lessons they've learned from sports, their business success could turn both of them into billionaires.