When you visit any of the RX Medical offices across the country, it won’t take long for the topic of sports to come up. We’re an organization with an inherent competitive spirit, and our discussions (or perhaps lively debates) often revolve around valuable lessons learned from athletes and coaches. When observing those who excel, it becomes evident that they rarely rely on luck. It may come as a surprise to some, but innate talent plays only a minor role in the process that empowers top performers to achieve pinnacles of excellence. If you aspire to excel in your field, what essential factors pave the way to success?

To perform at optimal levels, regardless of your profession, you must be willing to dedicate yourself to the best possible outcome. Top athletes and coaches incorporate crucial elements into their routine says Sally Jenkins, author of The Right Call, What Sports Teach Us About Work and Life. She believes leaders and athletes alike face similar demands. Jenkins encourages us to consider how implementing seven crucial elements can contribute to success. Below, you’ll find a selection of real-world examples from her book selected for this month’s leadership blog. Which of these will you incorporate, if not all, into your 2024 routine?

7 Crucial Elements (+ top athlete examples)

(1.) Practice: Eliminate errors and prepare for unlikely possibilities.

The 2006 Indianapolis Colts couldn’t understand why coach Tony Dungy insisted that quarterback Peyton Manning and center Jeff Saturday practice with a soaking wet football every couple of weeks. The Colts played in a domed stadium, protected from the elements. Nevertheless, Manning and Saturday diligently practiced their “wet ball” exchanges. The Colts reached the Super Bowl that season which was played in Miami, in February, South Florida’s dry season. Yet on game day, a torrential downpour moved in. Manning knew all those wet ball practices would give his team an edge. The Colts won the championship, 29-17.

(2.) Discipline: Coaches must encourage good choices, not command them.

Discipline is a challenging character trait to instill. When former Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia tried ruling with an iron fist, he alienated his players. The team fired him during his third season. Coaching through intimidation demonstrates a lack of self-discipline and destroys a coach’s credibility. The most successful coaches understand that establishing too many rules dilutes the effect of the few critical ones. 

(3.) Candor: Accountability is the core of successful leadership.

Successful leaders, on the field or in the boardroom, avoid blaming others; they find solutions. Finger-pointing puts people on the defensive and discourages dialogue. Good leaders focus on two-way communication and create alliances. Steve Young failed to understand the importance of accountability when he first took over as starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers in 1991. The future Hall of Famer was quick to blame his teammates for his mistakes instead of taking responsibility. The team finished 10-6, a far cry from the standard of excellence it had established in winning four Super Bowls under quarterback Joe Montana. To regain his teammates’ confidence, Young took a different approach in 1992. He accepted responsibility for blunders – even when a mistake wasn’t his fault. This approach prompted other players to scrutinize their performance and develop personal accountability. Young won the league’s Most Valuable Player award that season and eventually led his team to three Super Bowls.

(4.) Culture: Organizations with supportive environments prosper.

All coaches and business leaders are familiar with the term “culture,” but not everyone understands its meaning or how to shape it. Steve Kerr won NBA championships while playing for coaches Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. When Kerr became head coach of the Warriors in 2014, he could draw from their example in creating his own culture. Taking the advice of his agent, Kerr spent a couple of days observing coach Pete Carroll and the 2014 Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Their intense, energetic practice sessions impressed Kerr. But Kerr was dumbfounded when Carroll explained that play design and strategy paled in importance compared to environmental and workplace dynamics. Carroll suggested that Kerr document the values, principles and standards he would not compromise. To set the right example and build the right culture, Kerr understood he had to live his values consistently. Commitment anchors strong, enduring cultures. How an organization conducts business and treats its employees must be consistent with its mission statement too.

(5.) Conditioning: Athletic high achievers make a habit of pushing physical limits.

Dana Cavalea, former head of performance for the New York Yankees, trains executives who recognize that mental and physical soundness promote optimal decision-making. Poor diet, lack of sleep and excess stimulation from electronic devices compromises performance.

(6.) Failure: Setbacks are priceless learning opportunities.

Fear of failure can cripple decision-makers. Fear of potential consequences can also cause anguish and stop an organization in its tracks. Like elite athletes, business leaders must move beyond their failures without losing confidence. Management scientist Paul C. Nutt says organizational decisions fail 50% of the time. Those who regard failures as learning opportunities typically bounce back. However, “failure mode” can become an enduring state of mind for those who deny reality or shift blame. 

(7.) Intention: Conscientious leaders attract loyal followers.

When Super Bowl winning quarterback Tom Brady arrived in Tampa after being traded to the Buccaneers from the New England Patriots, he gathered a few receivers and headed to a high school practice field to work on routes with his new teammates. He got together with his offensive colleagues so they could help him learn and understand the Buccaneers’ playbook. Brady always believed in setting an example, particularly if he expected to gain the trust and respect of his teammates. Intention is crucial for athletes and leaders when evaluating integrity and credibility.

📌LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE: What additional elements would you add to the seven shared in this month’s leadership blog?

Brandon Rouse leads a diverse & growing team of professionals well-versed in the challenges facing healthcare. Headquartered in OKC, OK, Brandon’s experienced team represents various technological & innovative medical solutions. ZB RX Medical is a direct distributor of Zimmer Biomet.