Did you hear the news recently that the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt is switching from being a professional sprinter to becoming a professional footballer?
The other morning, I saw ex Socceroo captain Paul Wade being interviewed on a morning breakfast show. Wade was beside himself with excitement about the prospect of drawing attention to the A-League and raising its National and International profile. But he did so setting a clear expectation that whilst Mr Super-Speed doesn’t need to be a football super-star, he is required to perform to a level such that he doesn’t embarrass himself.
There are a lot of examples of elite athletes changing sports. Some might be considered a minor adjustment such as a shift to a new code as Israel Folau did in his switch from AFL to Rugby Union in 2013. Jarryd Hayne has played in 3 different football codes; ARL, NFL and Rugby Union.
Anyway, this got me thinking...
What enables elite athletes to change sports and is this the same as business professionals changing careers?
Anthony Mundine changed sports entirely from rugby league (where he won an ARL grand final with the Broncos in 1997) to boxing where he became a multiple world champion title holder.
How did Anthony do that? Certainly, rugby league and boxing are two entirely different sports. Anthony is not unique in this regard; Rebecca Romero was a world champion in both rowing and cycling. Ellyse Perry represented Australia in both cricket and football. And let’s not forget olympic decathletes who are considered to be the fittest people in the world (yes, this is debatable, I hear you cross-fitters!).
Along with elite athletes, other examples of elite business people who have changed careers include Rio Tinto’s Sam Walsh who joined the miner in 1991 after 20 years in the automotive industry. Hewlett-Packard hired Leo Apotheker as CEO in 2010 from SAP even though he wasn’t savvy in computer hardware. Armstrong World Industries, a global building supply company with $2.8 billion in revenue hired Matthew Espe as CEO in 2010. Espe had been CEO of Ikon Office Solutions and Ricoh Americas Corp. despite lacking expertise in building supplies.
Espe said his strengths are in strategic planning, organisational vitality and operations planning and execution. He said, “A CEO coming in who isn’t tied to the past can move more boldly and faster than someone from within the company”. I’m sure Usain Bolt would agree!
OK, let’s forget about elite athletes for a minute. We all know that elite athletes have physical, mental and technical characteristics that can’t be emulated or translated easily. Case in point, I’m sure we can all agree that Michael Jordan was no Babe Ruth and we wouldn’t exactly compare Connor McGregor to Muhammed Ali.
So, that we might be able to extend this analogy to us mere mortals, let’s instead talk about ‘sporty people’. What do I mean by ‘sporty people’? You know the people I mean; the ones who can play any sport they apply themselves to. Give ’em a racquet? No problem. Run a mile? Easy. Kick a ball? Cinch. In fact, I am quite sure that some of you reading this now are nodding your heads in agreement saying “yep, that’s me, I’m a pretty good all-rounder!”
So, how do they do it? What do sporty people have that the rest of us don’t that allows them to transcend different sports and other physical activities with ease? Well, that’s easy. It’s Physical Fitness!
Physical fitness is something that’s separate and independent of the sport itself, it’s all about the individual. That is, if an individual has physical fitness (strength, agility, speed and endurance) then they are more likely to be able to adapt to and excel in any sport they play.
Sure, there are some technical elements that need to be acquired such as craftsmanship (e.g. how to swing a racquet) and knowledge (e.g. where to kick the ball). There are also some cultural elements such as interactions (gameplay) and behaviour (gamesmanship), but these are about the sport itself and therefore differ from sport to sport.
Isn’t this exactly the same as when you change roles and careers? Just like a new sport, there are technical elements required in learning a new role whether this is acquiring industry knowledge, adapting to new processes, gaining an understanding of your product, or learning new technical competencies such as a new programming language or how to use new tools and machinery. There are of course also cultural elements associated with a new environment that need adjusting to.
What do I mean by ‘business people’? You know the people I mean; the ones who can outperform in any role they apply themselves to. Customer service? Fantastic. Finance? Outstanding. Project Management? Brilliant.
Professional fitness is not about being the CEO any more than physical fitness is about being an elite athlete.
Professional fitness is about developing a balanced, well-rounded combination of soft skills that enables you to succeed in your role, at your level of capability and at your level of experience.
In the same way physical fitness transcends different sports and physical activities professional fitness transcends different roles, professions and industries.
In the same way that athletes with greater physical fitness can compete at higher levels of sporting competition, individuals with more developed professional fitness can succeed in roles with greater levels of complexity.
Map your “soft” skills and find out!
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