The worlds of sport and business may involve distinctly different attire, hours and after work refreshment, but the approach to performing at your best is actually very similar

The fact that many successful sports stars move into the world of motivational speaking after they have reached the finish line of their career is testament to that.

But what can a business leader learn from the way athletes approach their respective sports? Here’s five ways to start:

1. Set clear and defined goals

Athletes know what getting a gold medal means and what they need to do to achieve it.

Usain Bolt will know that to win gold he will need to run the 100 metres in less than 10 seconds. In fact, he has gone so far as to predict the time he could run in this year’s Olympic final down to a hundredth of a second (he ended being slower, but still taking gold).

This is an approach not uncommon in business, too. “At Grant Thornton we use something called the Well Formed Outcomes framework in our programmes and coaching which mirrors a mindset like Bolt’s,” says Kylie Roberts, the firm’s Director of Challenger Leadership.

2. Focus on incremental improvements

Doing many things 1% differently often leads to more success than focusing on just one at 100%.

This has been the mantra of British Cycling for some time, and more recently at Team Sky – both led by Sir David Brailsford. Examples of a marginal gain (as Brailsford refers to it) can be simple, such as giving road cyclists their own pillows when they away are at long races, through to the result of extensive research and development, such as the new skinsuit that has been produced for this year’s Olympic track cycling programme.

A third Tour de France title this year and a record haul of medals at the Rio Olympics is testament to it being an approach that works time and again.

3. Have 100% focus on your goal – all the time

Belief that you can succeed is a massive factor in sport – and in business.

Great Britain Olympic flag-bearer and double gold medallist, Andy Murray, is a great example of this. Before winning this year’s Wimbledon title, his win ratio in grand slam finals was just two in 10 final appearances – a win percentage of just 20%. Putting these statistics to one side and having 100% belief that he could win the match in front of him saw him improve his grand slam win percentage by 10% in winning his second Wimbledon title in July.

He achieved a similar feat in winning gold at the London Olympics four years ago, beating the same opponent (Roger Federer) on the same court (Wimbledon) just a month after losing his first Wimbledon final – a loss that at the time appeared to have the potential to affect his Olympic performance:

4. The importance of team goals vs individual goals

For rower Ben Hunt Davies nine years of rowing with no medals culminated in a bar in Cologne in 1998. The team decided something had to change if they were ever going to get an Olympic medal.

They needed to change the culture of how they worked with each other and focus on one goal that all behaviours would be accountable to. To achieve that, they asked themselves the same question after each training session: “Will it make the boat go faster“.

The result? The crew won gold at the Sydney Olympics just two years later.

5. Adjust your performance to the situation

A shown above, athletes – most often sprinters – will focus on a specific time they need to achieve to win their race. But what about runners of longer distances, such as Mo Farah, where tactics also come into play?

In these situations, athletes will often adjust their tactics and performance to the situation. A recent example is Laura Muir, who set a new British 1,500 metre record at the Muller Anniversary Games in London.

Clearly capable of running a similarly fast time at the Rio Olympics, Muir has gone on record as saying that the final in Rio “won’t be as fast and it’ll be tactical and scrappy”.

This will result in Muir adjusting how she approaches and runs her race – concentrating instead on honing tactics to beat her opponents on the day, rather than just running as fast as she can.

Author Profile - Steven Perryman

Steven Perryman is Grant Thornton UK's Digital Content Manager