Four ways to get back on the winner’s list

Elite sport exposes you to almost every emotion in the human gamut, from the giddy heights of success to the depths of a loss to a nemesis – and everything in between.

Never, though, have I contemplated hopelessness; as tough as life looks in the wake of failure – whether on the sporting field or in the boardroom – there is always a bigger picture, a new challenge to work towards, a plan to turn things around.

As I complete a Masters in International Business at Sydney University this year, it occurs to me that many of the lessons I’ve learned on the rugby field in more than 60 Tests with the Wallabies and eight seasons in Super Rugby may be just as applicable to business. There, wins and losses might not be chalked up on a scoreboard; but rivals, customers and media keep their own score, as we’ve seen with the close scrutiny applied to some of our banks, super funds and telcos recently.

When the chips are down, it’s how sporting teams or businesses cope with adversity that defines how quickly they may return to the top of the table. Here are four lessons I’ve learned on the sporting field that can equally translate to the boardroom or small business.

Keep the big picture

You’re putting in a tonne of work, and the results aren’t following. At that point, it’s easy to get frustrated and lose sight of the big picture. Where are you going? How are you getting there? What does success even look like?

On the rugby field, we’re judged on wins and losses. In the case of the Wallabies there have been a few of the latter in recent times. One thing I have learned is that if you spend too much time dwelling on the past, it starts to affect your future. Yet I can tell you that there is still a lot of faith in our playing group, the combined leadership in the squad is the best I have seen in eight years, and we couldn’t have more faith in the coaching staff. For us, the big picture is about winning the mental battles, learning from our mistakes and keeping our goals out in front of ourselves. The big picture for us is next years World Cup, and everything we do now until that time is crucial to that success.

Stop, review and improve

Losing an important game or series can be devastating, but it’s only compounded if you don’t learn from that result, and continue to repeat the same mistakes. Throwing yourself into working out what went wrong actually helps you to move on. Was it the game plan? The supply chain unable to handle the load? Too much training? Do staff need further upskilling? An honest and accurate review gives you the best chance to identify issues, implement changes and get the success you deserve.

Sometimes those reviews need to be followed by hard conversations and even harder decisions. In any team there are friendships and relationships, so it’s important for everyone to understand that the outcomes are not personal, but driven by the need to improve the team or the business.

Stay focused on winning

As a young bloke, I used to kick stones for the first half of the week after a poor result. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that’s not the best way to go about it. It’s not fair to the team, and it’s definitely not fair to the people who support you at home.

Stay positive! I’ve sort of got the role with the Wallabies of the ‘happy energy guy’, putting a smile on teammates’ faces and encouraging them to improve. It’s a tough role after a loss, because you don’t want your coaches or the supporters to think you’re not feeling it. But a happy group with a purpose, a tight group that can deflect external pressures, can overcome tough times together. It’s not the falls that define your team. It’s how you bounce back.

Work even harder

Sometimes, throwing yourself into the fundamentals of the game is not only beneficial for your skillset, it’s also good for the soul. In rugby, that might be strength, passing, tracking, watching tapes or working on fitness. In business, it could be future planning, client retention or upskilling staff. Everyone can improve in some way, and working on your weaknesses and identifying opportunities is a great way to respond to a setback. You can also lay to rest a few demons and, if nothing else, you’ll be better for the work you put in.

In rugby, irrespective of whether we win or lose, fans and sponsors rely on us to leave no stone unturned. In running a business, with the livelihoods of employees tied to its fortunes, it’s equally critical.