The Corporate Athlete

At the beginning of this year I invited my awesome readers to ask me questions about leadership.

I had such a great response and so have decided to make it a regular feature.

Today I’m answering Phill’s question – congratulations Phill, a copy of Heart to Start by Derek Handley is coming your way!


“Hi Suzi, I have come from a (professional) sporting background and have now moved into a corporate occupation which involves a portion of coaching to help team members achieve their targets and goals.

What would the top three things be that you suggest I focus on to get the best out of my new team and help them achieve?”


I love this question, because to me, leadership in business can borrow a lot from the sporting world.  Coaching a team of people in the workforce is a lot like coaching a sports team.

Here are my 3 top tips to get the most from your corporate ‘team’:

1. Start with the end in mind.

This is similar to visualisation in sports. Almost every successful athlete is a highly attuned visualizer. And effective coaches know how to train people to start with the end in mind.

As Muhammad Ali once said, “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them: A desire, a dream, a vision.”

Ask your team to describe to you what success looks like. Through their own eyes, the team’s and even yours as their manager.

Make sure you’re on the same page regarding what you will all be seeing when success, whatever that may be, is occurring.

In sport, every team player needs to know their vision is a unified one. It’s the same in a working environment.

It’s better to ask your team members to describe their own vision of success first, rather than you just ‘telling them’ what they need to do in order to achieve.

Starting with a clear picture of success is an important first step in getting the best out of your new team.

You can then move into a conversation around why this is important, what the potential obstacles might be and what tangible steps you both need to take in order to achieve this picture of success.

2. Learn to love the question. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know this is something I get on my high horse about.

Think about how many questions are asked at good training sessions – by your coach, trainers, managers and team mates. Athletes can’t improve their own performance, or achieve as a team, without asking questions. Similarly, the best coaches ask a lot of questions.

Asking great questions is one of the most powerful tools for unleashing potential in your team.

Why? It helps people to think for themselves. It engages them in the topic at hand. It empowers individuals to create their own processes and solutions.

Click here to see my top 6 coaching questions for leading and inspiring people.

3. Become skilled at giving (and receiving) feedback.

Imagine a top-level sports game without a team debrief afterwards. It just doesn’t happen, right? There’s always an opportunity to talk about the game, what you did well, what did and did not work, and what you need to improve on.

Similarly in a corporate environment, if we want to improve our performance we have to be able to give and receive feedback well – and often.

Work hard at refining this skill by pushing beyond your sphere of comfort and you will reap the rewards. Whether we are delivering or are on the receiving end, feedback (whether it’s positive or developmental) can, at times, make us feel uncomfortable, but do it anyway.

If you need to learn how, click here to read my top tips on giving feedback.

Make it a daily occurrence, not a once yearly exercise at the annual performance appraisal. No one appreciates the dump truck approach.

This is the purpose of ‘time-out’ in a sports game – so the coach can give, receive, exchange ideas and tweak the game plan while the game is in play.

Don’t wait until the end of the season to put your two cents worth in – your players won’t thank you for it. You could be too late. Communication is one of the fundamental keys of success – use it to your advantage.

If you’re an athlete who can empathise with Phill, having transitioned from sports to a corporate career, I’d love to hear your comments/tips – and I’m sure Phill would as well.

If you have a leadership question you’d like to ask me, please leave yours in the comments section below.

And if this post resonates with you, please share it.

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  1. mk on April 16, 2014 at 4:58 am

    Hi Suzi , I have a question.

    What’s your view on introversion and leadership ?

    In some books extraversion is described as necessary quality of leadership . Being an introvert it really discourages me . Then there is Susan Cian’s book “Quiet : the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking ” . In which she has given examples of some great leaders who were introverts .

    If introverts can be great leaders too then Is it right to give too much emphasis on extroversion qualities for leadership or literature on introverted leaders should be shared in those books ?

    • The Leader's Digest on April 18, 2014 at 10:41 pm

      Thanks very much for your question. I feel very strongly that good leadership does not depend on being an introvert or an extrovert. It’s a really interesting area of leadership and your comments have reignited my passion for this topic, so I’ll do some more research and do your comment justice by posting a blog on it. In the meantime, you can read a bit more here.

      • mk on April 19, 2014 at 6:47 pm

        Thank you so much for taking out time to answer my questions . The link you shared is also related to the topic . I will surely wait for other blog post on this topic . The time you spend on research and the information shared on your blog both are highly appreciated .

  2. paradigms of leadership on April 1, 2014 at 9:56 am

    Hi Suzi,

    Excellent thought provoking blog – the sporting analogy resonates with most groups!

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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