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Does sport help improve leadership skills?

sports leadership

Gold medals aren't really made of gold. They're made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts says Saeed Al Muntafiq.

August 17, 2012 10:13 by

When I was 15 years old I started playing ice hockey. This by itself isn’t a remarkable thing, till you factor in that I lived in a desert. In fact, a couple of decades ago, ice and indoor skating were pretty much unheard of in Dubai.

I found the region’s only indoor ice skating rink and started to play a totally foreign game in an alien atmosphere. I played my heart out and whilst most played a couple of hours a day, I played up to 10 hours, when time permitted, so I would be as good as them. My perseverance paid off and in short time, I was voted the ‘Most Valuable Player’ three years in a row.

It’s a violent, fast and physically demanding game, so demanding that in fact teams of 5 players go in to play for only 3 minutes at a time. But it’s a game that taught me skills that I use even 25 years later in boardrooms, meetings and across negotiation tables.

It taught me to rely on my team, to respect their ability, to trust them even when I could not see them. It taught me to think quickly on my feet and it gave me the invaluable gift of stamina.

When a puck travels at over a 100 miles per hour it can wipe you out if you aren’t alert. Not too different from out-smarting your competition and their political agendas in the work place.

Jack Welch said it first: if you see a good idea, steal it. And unknowingly, that’s what I did. I watched and learnt how to dribble, to maneuver, to copy someone who was better; until I adopted all these traits and became the best. You should do the same at work.

Then, I discovered go karting. Between the ages of 21 and 24, I was the UAE champion, and in Hong Kong a few years later, ranked 16th out of 350 karters. But this sport was distinctly opposite to ice skating. A complete contrast. And now when I look back, I see how lucky I was that I got to do both and learn from each.

Motor racing is at the helm of individual sport. No matter how long, how many years you train, in the end you are always alone. Those four hours on race day you are king of a kingdom and no one else may enter.

And like in all kingdoms there are those who will kill to be in your place, that’s why my first lesson at the race track was to inhale competitiveness.

I hate to lose. And go karting fine tuned my tenacity, and taught me how to focus my aggressionand turn it into assertiveness.

Perhaps my most valuable learning was the fine art of strategy.

It is this skill that I use at work, every day, all the time. No one can perform at peak, at 100 percent, throughout the whole race.

I learnt with my sweat and tears which lap I should give my heart to, which one I should fall back ,which chicane I should de-accelerate, how I should use wind resistance ,when I should  slipstream  and blast past to go for the checker flag. At times like these it’s just you and your goal.

And how different is that to your workplace your performance and your annual targets?

Make no mistake, sports help to sharpen, to shape-up, to set your sights high and train. It inculcates a very tough and strong mental attitude. And it is yours alone: gold medals aren’t really made of gold. They’re made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.

Passion, drive, motivation, focus, strategy, tenacity, teamwork, trust, speed: all these are learned habits. And each one of them come together to make an inexorable, relentless, implacable and ferocious executive.

1 Comment

  1. rummrum on August 19, 2012 2:59 am

    Saeed Al Muntafiq:

    I really loved your article and the determintaion and discipline you displayed throughout your young years.

    You did indeed choose 2 rare and contrasting sports.

    I would love to hear a lecture from you as a mentor.
    If this is ever on the cards, or something you are interested in doing please let me know.

    I also was a number 1 female snowboarder, 12 years back.. and a competitive long distance runner.

    I had a bad accident during a black run snowboarding stint. Two surgeries after, and unlike some people who use an incident like that to fight back more fiercely and determined, I completely lost my drive and passion.

    Looking forward to some mentorship from you :)


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