What can rowing (The Boat Race) teach us about business and leadership?

Watching the boat race this year got me thinking about the similarities with rowing a race such as the boat race, coaching a rowing crew and running a business so I thought I’d share some of these with you here.

Even if you’re not a rower or interested in rowing, the annual Boat race between Cambridge University Rowing Club and Oxford University Rowing club is an impressive thing to watch (I’m a bit biased however it must be good if 250,000 people watch the race from the river bank each year and 15 million more watch it on television…)

It’s an annual race steeped in tradition as the men’s race has been running every year since 1856 and the women’s race since 1964.

I’ve never raced in the boat race, however I have raced in the opposite direction over the same course and distance and can honestly say that it’s not an easy thing to do. It takes months of practice and preparation and a crew of 7 other rowers and a cox to help you over the finish line in one piece.

So here are a few things I wanted to share with you based on my own experiences:

You have to row your own race.

It’s easy to get caught up with what the competition is doing and what other people are working on but when you take too much notice then you can get distracted and it can throw you off course.

You need to have the right people in the right seats

When you put together a rowing crew you position each person in the boat depending on their individual strengths and collectively you will end up with the most effective and efficient boat. The same goes with team leadership, if you want your business to succeed and be as effective and efficient as possible you need to sit people in positions based on their strengths and attributes.

Never underestimate the value and time spent on strategy and planning

In addition to having the right people in the right seats you need to set the right strategy for training, race execution and what happens once the race is over. The crew will spend the best part of the year and longer training for the boat race so you want to make sure that all that time is well spent and will help you achieve your goals. Training without a plan and strategy isn’t effective training. The strength of a boat relies on BOTH the individual and collective strengths of everyone involved. If you wait until race day to test the collective strength of the crew you will fall short.

Be prepared for different scenarios

You can never be 100% sure what the weather will do on race day so you have to be prepared for a smooth tide, rough tide and cross winds. The same goes with sales negotiations – you need to be prepared for challenging questions and objections as well as situations you didn’t expect. The better prepared you are, the more confident you will be and the better the outcome.

You can’t win every race

It’s the same for clients, you can’t win them all. Yes it’s hugely disappointing but sometimes the competition is just marginally more effective than you on that day, executed better or just sometimes it wasn’t your day. If you’ve put in everything you can there will be nothing else you could have done to change the situation – you can learn from what’s happened and use this to improve but focussing on what’s happened in the past won’t help you move forwards.

Mindset is just as important as strength

If you go into a race or even training for a race with the wrong mindset, it won’t matter how strong or fast you are in a boat you’ll struggle. Training for a race like the boat race (4.3 miles / 6.8 Km) requires grit, determination and resilience and with rowing you generally have to lose a fair few races before you’re good enough to win. You also need to make sure that everyone in the boat shares the same mindset and works together instead of against each other. It’s the same in business – you’ve got to roll with the lows as well as the highs and treat every failure or loss as an opportunity to learn and move forwards.

Don’t try to fix or improve everything all at once

It’s very easy to get overwhelmed when you’re trying to run a businsss and try and address everything on the ‘to do, to build, to try and to change‘ list but when you approach one thing at once and follow your strategy and plan then you’re much more likely to achieve your goals faster. When you coach a rowing crew there’s always many things you can fix – you’re dealing with 8 rowers each with their own style, technique, size and shape so if you try and address everything at the same time you end up confusing the crew and everyone will start unintentionally working against each other instead of together (I learned this the hard way when I first started coaching!)

I could probably go on and write more around this subject as sports coaching, sports leadership and business are three things I adore.

I can also honestly say that becoming a rowing coach was one of the best things I ever did and helped me become a much better and more effective manager and leader and also set me up for success in business. It also made me really value the true power of working with a good coach and the difference one will make to achieving your goals faster.

As a rower you wouldn’t approach something like the boat race without a coach so why would you try and grow a business alone without one if you had ambitious goals.

As a rowing coach you can’t make the boat go faster or win more races by jumping in the boat and doing it yourself – you have to give your crew the tools and strategies they need to do it themselves and combine it with support, challenge and accountability too.

Although I’m no longer coaching a rowing crew I do use my coaching skills when I work with my clients to grow their authority and influence in their market. I chose to focus on LinkedIn as the tool to help you achieve these goals because it’s such an incredible (and free) tool for business development and as I mention earlier – growing a business can be quite overwhelming and you can find new clients and new business in a variety of places yet when you focus on one thing at a time (ie LinkedIn) you can achieve what you want to achieve much faster (and for free too!)

If you’d like to find out how I could help you grow your business with LinkedIn then please send me a message or leave me a comment below.

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