People & Leadership

Winning attitude: 7 sporting lessons to give your business a competitive edge

Players and coaches from the rugby world share a series of lessons from the pitch that you can apply to help your business win big.

Benjamin Kayser

After trading tries, England and Scotland are neck and neck.

Scotland’s Duhan van der Merwe receives the ball in his own half. Gazelle-like, he dances past tackle after tackle as he charges toward the tryline.

Slicing through England’s defence, he covers half the pitch to score.

Twickenham erupts.

It’s a try for the ages.

It puts Scotland ahead, but there’s still so much of the game to go. As the clock runs down and the game enters the final few minutes, England are ahead by a solitary point.

A final attack from Scotland begins to take form, the players finding their flow, victory palpably close.

Suddenly, Van der Merwe finds space on the wing and bursts across the try line.

Head coach Gregor Townsend’s Scotland have clinched it. A fleet-footed backline was seemingly the perfect antidote to a dominant physical England.

The whistle blows. It’s all over.

England 23 – Scotland 29.

This breathtaking match from the 2023 Guinness Six Nations embodies a winning attitude that transcends the rugby pitch.

Top athletes don’t just exhibit skill and athleticism. They demonstrate resilience, strategic thinking, and a relentless pursuit of excellence.

These qualities are as vital in business as they are in sports. A winning attitude, characterised by determination, adaptability, and teamwork, can elevate a company from going through the motions to an exceptional level of performance and success.

In this article, we explore how the principles that players and coaches implement on the pitch can be applied to the world of work, with insights from some of the biggest names in rugby.

By adopting these lessons, you can develop a mindset geared towards achieving your goals and fostering a culture of success within your organisation.

Here’s what we cover:

Lesson 1: Consistency leads to confidence

 “It’s simply putting what we have practised in the training week on to the pitch. If you can get that, then your impact and performance follows.”

Alun Wyn Jones, former Wales captain

In business, as on the sports field, it’s the day-to-day consistency that builds and sustains confidence.

When teams and individuals dedicate themselves to consistent efforts in their roles, they create a rhythm of reliability and excellence.

It’s about doing the small things right every day.

This could mean consistently meeting deadlines, maintaining high standards in customer service, or regularly innovating processes.

It’s about creating a culture where excellence in ordinary tasks is not just expected but celebrated.

This level of consistency fosters a strong sense of trust and dependability. People come to rely on businesses or colleagues that regularly meet their needs and exceed expectations.

Within your team, this reliability builds a strong foundation of mutual trust and respect. As confidence grows, so does the ability to take on bigger challenges and pursue more ambitious goals.

Consistency in performance allows for better measurement and improvement. When tasks are performed consistently, it becomes easier to identify areas of strength and areas needing improvement.

This continuous process of reflection and refinement not only enhances skills and services but also boosts the confidence of those involved.

They know that their consistent efforts lead to tangible improvements and recognised achievements.

Lesson 2: Pick yourself up after defeat and go again

“Nobody wins all the time because that means you are challenging yourself at the right level. It means that you are pushing yourself for greatness.”

Benjamin Kayser, former France hooker

In the business world, setbacks and failures are not just inevitable, they’re essential.

It’s often said that you learn more from your mistakes than your successes, and this is particularly true in a business context.

Each setback provides an insight into what doesn’t work, offering a clearer path to what might.

This learning process is integral to innovation and growth. When a strategy fails, it forces a team to analyse and rethink their approach, leading to improved tactics and better decision-making.

When you see failures as learning opportunities, you cultivate a culture of resilience.

A business that views setbacks not as roadblocks but as stepping stones encourages its team to take calculated risks.

This risk-taking is fundamental to breaking new ground and achieving significant progress. It fosters an environment where employees are not paralysed by the fear of failure but are motivated to experiment and explore.

It can be difficult to view defeats in this way, especially when surrounded by media influences that seem to show our peers experiencing success after success.

Just remember that this is unlikely a true reflection of their experiences – and like you, they’re experiencing their own challenges.

Italy Six Nations
Preparation and consistency will help you build the tools to succeed

Lesson 3: A disciplined approach is important to ensure progress

“I think there’s a lot of pain in improvement. You have to go through maybe some physical difficulties or you have to take some criticism which kind of hurts you a little bit, but you take it in the right way. That’s your first step to improving as a player and as a team.”

Shaun Edwards, defence coach for France

Discipline is often the driving force behind success. It’s about consistently adhering to a set of principles or standards, regardless of how challenging they might be.

This could mean staying committed to long-term goals despite short-term setbacks, maintaining a rigorous quality control process, or adhering to practices even when it might be easier not to.

A disciplined approach to business entails enduring the ‘pain’ of change and growth.

Change, even when beneficial, can be uncomfortable. It might require learning new skills, restructuring teams, or overhauling established processes.

However, it’s through enduring these difficulties and staying the course that true progress is made.

Staying disciplined, focused, and resilient will help you take these challenges in your stride.

Lesson 4: Your team is the foundation of your success

“Cohesion is absolutely important to what we do, and without it, you’re not going to get the performances.”

Ben Youngs, former England scrum half

In business, you need to build teams where members are aligned in their goals, understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and work collaboratively towards common objectives.

High performance isn’t achieved just through individual excellence but via the efforts of a cohesive team.

Creating an environment where communication, trust, and mutual respect are prioritised is essential.

Such teams are more adaptable, innovative, and effective in overcoming challenges, leading to sustainable success in any business endeavour.

An empowered team is a successful team.

From a mental health perspective, this can’t be overstated. How much better does it feel to come into work surrounded by people you know you can rely upon and who you want to support and empower?

This sense of belonging and mutual support not only enhances productivity but also contributes significantly to the emotional and psychological wellbeing of each team member.

Lesson 5: Data and insights can help to master your preparations

“Data helps you be clearer with what works, what doesn’t work, and what could work in the future. It has definitely helped me as a coach and our coaching staff.”

Gregor Townsend, head coach for Scotland

This underscores the value of using data and insights for strategic preparation and decision-making.

Data provides an objective foundation to confirm intuitions, refine strategies, and enhance clarity in execution.

By leveraging data effectively, you can gain an edge, and ensure your teams are well-informed, aligned, and ready to deliver peak performance in respective roles.

This approach leads to more calculated, confident, and successful business outcomes.

By using data, you can reach smart decisions quickly.

That will help you say goodbye to taking work problems home with you, where you’re kept up at night with different scenarios playing out in the back of your mind.

You can more comfortably lean on the data. If the data indicates something is a good decision, why wouldn’t you go for it?

England vs Scotland Six Nations
When you embody the qualities you wish to see in your team, you inspire trust and confidence

Lesson 6: Don’t just be a good leader. Become a great leader

“It’s about bringing the best out in others. That’s the main factor of leadership.”

Tommaso Allan, fly half for Italy

Great leaders are not just visionaries or decision-makers. They empower and inspire their teams to reach their full potential.

In business, leadership should go further than delegating tasks and setting goals.

It should involve understanding the unique strengths and motivations of each team member and fostering an environment where they can flourish.

A great leader recognises that the success of an organisation is a collective effort and they’re committed to nurturing the growth and development of their team.

This form of leadership requires empathy, effective communication, and the ability to provide constructive feedback. It’s about creating a culture of trust where others feel valued and are encouraged to take the initiative and innovate.

Such leaders are adept at aligning individual aspirations with organisational objectives, creating a synergy that drives the team forward.

Great leaders lead by example, setting standards for excellence, integrity, and commitment.

They are adaptable and resilient, capable of navigating through challenges while maintaining team morale.

Lesson 7: Stay in control and focus on the task at hand

 “The first thing you’ve got to get right is yourself and then other people will follow you. Other people follow actions, not words.”

Rory Best, former Ireland captain

This principle is pivotal in business. It empowers you – no matter whether you’re a CFO, a small business owner, an HR professional, or in a different role – to be the driving force behind your business or team’s focus and direction.

Staying in control and remaining focused requires self-discipline and self-awareness. Leading by example demonstrates commitment, resilience, and integrity in your actions.

When you embody the qualities you wish to see in your team, you inspire trust and confidence.

This approach not only helps to maintain clarity and direction in challenging situations but also fosters a culture of accountability and excellence.

By focusing on your own performance and behaviour, you can set a powerful precedent, encouraging your team to focus on their tasks and goals.

Final thoughts

Resilience, discipline, and teamwork celebrated in elite sports such as the Guinness Six Nations are also essential for business success.

Embracing consistency builds trust and confidence, while learning from setbacks fosters resilience and adaptability.

Leveraging data-driven insights guides strategic decisions, and exceptional leadership is about inspiring and empowering others.

These principles are not just about competing.

They’re about cultivating a winning mindset in business, driving innovation, productivity, and long-term success in an ever-evolving market landscape.