When the tears come streaming down your face
I was in tears last week watching what was probably the last ever match played by tennis great Andy Murray at the Australian Open. Murray is (was:) one of the ‘big four’ of tennis. In what most judge to be the most competitive mens’ era ever, he rose to be world number 1. and won three Grand Slams in the rarefied company of Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic and, the ultimate ‘great’, Roger Federer.
Murray came into the tournament after a year out with ongoing hip issues, hoping to resume at the top level. It became clear that his injury was, if anything, worse. He had every right to bow out, but instead took on the challenge of playing in the first round.
Rage against the fading of the light
Murray was drawn against Spaniard, Roberto Bautista. Clearly in significant pain, he was soon, as expected, down two sets against a free-moving opponent. The inevitable seemed just a few minutes away. At that point, few would have bet against a straight sets defeat. Understandable, but sad. Instead Murray raged against the fading of the light to stage a fightback - full of guts and displaying all of his skills, determination, grit, power and grace. It was like a condensed showreel of the man’s finest qualities - everything that had taken him from a skinny boy from Scotland (though we English generously claimed him as British - everyone loves a winner!) to briefly rule the tennis world. This was about so much more than tennis. It was a demonstration of what it means to be a champion.
Talent is not enough
Murray ultimately fell short - losing the deciding set. But the manner of the loss told you everything about the man. Everything about what it takes - beyond talent - to perform at the highest level.
In the same news cycle, the Australian press was down on the nation’s two highest-seeded players, Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic. Both have reputations as extraordinarily talented players. Both have equal reputations for not having the focus and doing the work required to turn their talent into achievement. Both, like Murray, were beaten in the opening round - but the manner of their losing could hardly be more different.
Are you a Murray or a Kyrgios/Tomic?
Chances are you’re not a world-class athlete. But there are many parallels from this modern day morality tale that we can apply to our own performance. Being smart is a great start, but too many of us don’t press on to do the next level of work needed to fully develop.
To grow we need to challenge ourselves. We need to make sure we are constantly learning, stretching and testing. Too many of us fail to do this, and too many organisations allow their talent to cruise or live on past glories. The world is changing fast, we know. If we fail to do our best to change in response, we’re doing both ourselves and our organisation a disservice. We can’t complain if, like our two Aussie tennis playboys, it doesn’t end well!
Good leaders do the work!
The best leaders ‘get’ this. They obsess on evolving themselves and their people. They are focused and value the qualities that turn raw talent into consistent high performance - irrespective of external conditions. Champions like Murray work on mental toughness, diet, flexibility, strength, endurance, mindset, psychology. They understand the importance of rest. They are ultra-disciplined and - despite the jet-set image - work extraordinarily hard to get to and stay on top. They scenario plan what it takes to thrive in the fifth set of a Grand Slam event having played 5 tough games in just 14 days. That’s where the winning is done.
What about you?
As we start a new year this is a good question to ask. Are you cruising? Are you getting by on your wits. Are you growing - or are are you going through the motions?
We don’t have to want to rule the world to invest in our growth. The habits of a champion mindset can help us all to grow steadily and to make the most of our talents by adding to them over time with layers of wisdom, experience, learning and insight. To do anything less is to sell ourselves short, which is a crying shame.
In the words of Coldplay;
“If you never try you’ll never know
Just what you’re worth”
Here is too a gloriously stretching 2019 for you and your family!