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As a swimmer and coach, I’ve been glued to the performances coming out of this year’s Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. I’ve especially enjoyed the stellar performance from Scotland’s swimming team, coached by Alan Lynn, a man I’ve been lucky enough to meet and speak with on several occasions.
Looking at how the record-breaking Team Scotland has exceeded everyone’s expectations, and returned with a triumphant overall haul of 44 medals, including 11 for swimming, to boot, I can’t help but think that there are lessons here to be learnt by Scottish businesses.
As Alan said about the Scottish swimmers, the success comes - in part - from the attitude. The team doesn’t care what everyone else thinks. They care about being the best they can be on the day; and that doesn’t come without training. My mantra, in the pool or the boardroom, has always been “Train as you race, and race as you train.”
The army worded it slightly differently, saying “Train hard, fight easy”, but the point remains that, for a race, the plan has been in place for nearly a four year cycle, honed to an edge, and practiced until it’s more than second nature. The swimmers on the podium are there because they planned for it, they rehearsed it, and they made it happen.
It is exactly the same for businesses. Failing to plan, is the same as planning to fail. Most learn that lesson after a few years in business, but what a lot of SMEs, particularly around the three- to five-year mark, fail to anticipate is that plans need rehearsing, updating, and maintaining. A plan is a living thing that changes with the circumstances of the business, and ownership needs to be taken.
Success in business comes from preparation, built upon a solid foundation of hard work and commitment. Alan said this was the key to the medals earned by our swimmers, and I’ve asserted the same in books and blogs over the years. The most important trait a leader in business can have is commitment.
That said, it goes further. The team had a watch phrase, which was RPE, Relentless Pursuit of Excellence, and I think it is a superb reminder of the qualities that should be at the forefront of the business mind.
Relentlessness speaks for itself. There can be no giving up once a goal is set. The actions needed to achieve the goals of the business are part of the equation, but a good leader will be more than that. They will embody the true and lasting change that underpins success.
Pursuit is sometimes seen as undesirable, because no business wants to say it is chasing innovation, or chasing market share, rather than leading. Everyone likes to think they are at the ‘front of the pack’. But true pursuit means that the one you are chasing is yourself. The epitome of the possible which you know you are capable of.
Pursuit is for those who show up, day after day, dogged in their desire to improve their performance. Those are the winners we see on podiums and at the head of the table.
Excellence should speak for itself. However, it has become a buzzword. Excellence is less a static target to be achieved, more about who you become. For these swimmers, excellence is a way of life, and nothing less will do, and that is what businesspeople should aspire to in their day to day routine.
That’s not to say that we should all aim for perfection. Perfection is an illusion that can and has fooled people. It fooled me for years. A focus on unachievable perfection will lead to frustration and failure more often than success. As I tell those I coach, “Don’t let perfect get in the way of excellent.”
Finally, I’d like to leave you with the approach the late, great Mohammed Ali took to his fights. He had a vision for his career which he called his future history. He knew how his fights would go, and he rehearsed it every day, writing his history in advance.
It is the same tactic our top swimmers live by. It can be the same tactic you grow your business with.