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Unleashing one’s true potential – Lessons from the world of sports

Organizations often struggle to engage, energize and enable its employees – for them to deliver excellence in line with his/ her true potential.

This translates into untapped productivity reserves at an individual level. On Programs and Projects, this collectively has an adverse impact on all the three aspects of cost, schedule and quality. When aggregated at an organization level, this translates into loss of revenues and/ or increased costs. In a study of 41 global companies by Management Consultancy firm, Towers Watson, it was revealed that companies scoring high on sustainable employee engagement outperformed their sectors in terms of earnings growth by an average of 18%.

Notwithstanding the measures that an organization takes in this regard, what are the proactive steps that an individual can take to perform at his/ her true potential? This article attempts to answer this question, by compiling learnings from the lives of three sports personalities who constantly pushed boundaries to redefine their own benchmarks. At the core is an amalgamation of insights from books authored by these champions: a) ‘Age is just a number: Achieve your dreams at any stage in your life’ by Dara Torres (co-authored by Elizabeth Weil), b) ‘Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All Night Runner’ by Dean Karnazes, and c) ‘Play to Win: My life on and off court’ by Saina Nehwal.

Though the champions belonged to different sports (swimming, endurance running and badminton respectively), in the books that they authored, there are multiple common threads linking the success factors that made them excel in what they did. These common success factors, arrived at from a detailed study of the above-mentioned books and making extensive notes, are what led to a list of 12 rules an individual can follow in order to perform at his/ her true potential.

  1. Seek to work on what you feel most passionate about. It must lead to your intrinsic sense of achievement and fulfilment
  2. Dream BIG. Be obsessed about reaching your goals
  3. Take required action at the speed of light
  4. Make no compromises in choosing the best team and support system
  5. Believe in your ability to achieve the goals. Compensate gaps in ability with intense focused hard work, and even otherwise. Ice it with dollops of determination and commitment. Leave no stone unturned in being prepared
  6. Keep your emotional house in order. Let it not come in the way of your performance
  7. Have an open mind & flexibility to accommodate learnings/ improvisations/ changes along the way
  8. Make sacrifices where required, in a positive manner
  9. Surround yourself with positive thoughts and energy, always
  10. Never, ever, give up. Dogged persistence should be your motto
  11. Have a burning will to win. Visualize yourself winning. A loss should give you sleepless nights till there is redemption of sorts
  12. Take personal accountability to deliver results

In order to affirm its usability in the corporate world, the 12 rules were mapped with the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven R. Covey. The 7 Habits Framework was chosen based on its relevance, applicability and effectiveness vouched by senior leaders in the corporate world. 

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While a majority of the rules can be adhered to by the individual on his/her own accord, a few of the rules require enablement by the organization. In the case of Programs/ Projects, onus lies with the Program/ Project Manager to ensure this enablement – by aligning the resources in line with his/ her aspirations and interest areas. This will go a long way to ensure optimum productivity levels, in line with the team’s true potential.

As regards the individual, once the 12 rules/ 7 habits are ingrained in one’s character (a composite of habits), doing one’s best to achieve excellence becomes second nature. This is when the boundaries between domains of applicability (be it sports or business) begin to blur. However, what will continue to differentiate Olympic medal winning champions’ vis-à-vis others is the intensity and completeness with which these rules are followed. The pitfall of this intensity could possibly be a premature burnout; hence one must be cautious to balance it out with periodic short breaks and/or healthy work-life balance in the corporate world.

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