Sports and Business: The Same Search for Performance

Recruit talent, manage a team, bring it together around a business, raise its skills and make it effective… It’s a sport – and a high standard – in which managers train every day. A well-known scientist is Stephan Diagana, who specializes in the 400m hurdles.

Several times world and European champion and became a sports speaker, he shared his experience a few days ago with business leaders who are members of the Azur Business Club network gathered at the National Sports Museum in Nice. Work life and the life of an athlete have many similarities. Start by looking for performance: medals for some and markets or improving their brand image for others.

How do athletes and companies become successful?
And that requires collaborative action: men and women who are passionate about working together. There is nothing like being perfect on your own. Even in an individual sport. A coach suggests a project to a group of athletes who see each other every day. It is up to him to assemble a team around the project.

So the business manager is the coach around whom the athletes, i.e. his employees, must unite. How do you check it?
By ensuring that there is a compatibility between the collective enterprise of the company and that of the individual employees. I had a very strong coach on a technical level but he also had a great ability to listen. What makes the sports project powerful is the alignment between the interests of the coach and the interests of the athletes who implement it. The training program is nothing more than a transformational project because it pushes the athlete up through innovation and questioning. On the other hand, it should continue to operate in the long term. This therefore means sharing the vision.

And in a company?
This means asking your employees to make an effort to change their habits. It must have meaning both individually and collectively. There is only one constant in life, and that is change that requires great adaptation. Unfortunately, the more changes, the less explained the reason for the reorganization.

What if interests do not align?
When a company grows or changes a lot, misunderstanding, and even mistrust can arise. We lose sense of work, which results in reduced ability to commit employees who drive the project forward.

The result: the company is not running at full speed. So the leader should take the time to listen and question. Simply do pedagogy to explain the meaning of the change. This is the prerequisite for commitment. In sports, it’s simpler: the appreciation of my coach depends on my success. If it worked, it worked.

What are individual interests?
It’s not just financial. It can also be recognition and empowerment that a manager or HR manager should be able to identify. Just as a coach does not train an Olympic medalist like a beginner. The manager’s role is to share thinking, preferably to co-build with his collaborator as this facilitates his participation. He must also appreciate him, taking into account his expectations, and even the difficulties he encounters, to provide solutions, which he feels are useful and in the right place. This means a lot of exchanges I have daily with my coaches.

So it is necessary to listen honestly and kindly…
Even if I questioned my coach, I respected his background and authority. He admitted that I could contribute to his thinking by providing him with relevant field commentary.

For example, I sent him information on my supports when I started in a straight line at 35 km/h. Lots of details he can’t access. Leaders must take into account domain intelligence and this is a form of recognition. Even when I was a beginner, my coach made sure to listen to my notes so I wouldn’t train but train. There is a fundamental difference here.

Training is part of this recognition?
Yes sure. A sense of competence is important; It has value and is a form of freedom because you feel more comfortable, and safer to contribute to the company or… leave it! It’s better to have people who contributed and hired and then left than to have collaborators who still feel incompetent. They do present work but are frustrated.

Is it possible to put this listening in place in all sizes of companies?
Yes, but for me, it’s easier to be a world champion than to run a company well, especially when it’s big.
The interaction I was able to set up with my coach was similar to a startup mode. Around us two, there were skills (physiotherapist, orthopedist, agent…) but it was a little agile build that was very connected between strategy and operational. The understanding of the meaning of the procedure was strong and thus the commitment was strong. When the company is structured from several layers, there is a loss of meaning. All work aims to ensure that everyone understands the meaning of the project, its roadmap, the meaning of its work globally, and the recognition it expects. This is a lot to find.

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