What It Takes to Be a Champion

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Marathon match scoreboardJune 23rd, 2010 is a date that will go down in Wimbledon history. This is the date that two guys whom you’ve probably never heard of—Nicolas Mahut and John Isner—battled for ten straight hours in a match that had to be completed the following day because, well, because it got dark!

Ten straight hours! Even before it was completed the following day, it was the longest match in the history of the Wimbledon Championships. In fact, it was the longest match in the history of tennis.

Now, why should you care? (I figured I’d say it first before you could get all snotty about it.) What’s the leadership lesson for your business?

Actually, there are two:

  1. At the end of ten hours, these guys were still playing world-class tennis. Still covering the court and pounding the ball. Still 100% focused. Still giving it their all.
  2. Neither of these guys had a realistic chance of winning the entire tournament, and they knew it. But the thought that they probably weren’t going to win the entire thing didn’t keep them from giving the match they were in everything they had.

Now, let’s look at two other scenarios:

  1. “I’ve been working at this project for three hours straight! I think I’ve earned a long lunch break!”
  2. “The competition already dominates the market/I’ll never be as rich as Bill Gates/I can’t win anyway, so why should I kill myself trying?”

“That’s not me,” you say smugly. Maybe not, but which set of scenarios is closer to your standard operating procedure? Be honest. If you can honestly say the first set is more like you, then congratulations—you’re ahead of the rest of the pack. But even if that’s true for you personally, how about the rest of your team? Do they have the wherewithal to give the job their all, despite the odds of some ultimate prize?

There have been a lot of great rock bands since the 60s, and they’ve given us countless hours of great music. But there’s only been one Beatles. Now, imagine if all of those hundreds (thousands!) of other bands had said to themselves, “We’re never going to be as good, as popular, or as successful as the Beatles, so why even bother?”

To be sure, some bands did say that, and we’ve never heard of them or their music. But other bands decided to give it their all anyway. Bands like The Kinks, The Grass Roots, The Black Eyed Peas, Rage Against the Machine, and yes, even the Jonas Brothers. They put in the marathon hours, and the world of music is better off for it (with the possible exception of the Jonas Brothers). (Make that “with the probable exception of the Jonas Brothers.”)

Neither Nicolas Mahut nor John Isner won the Wimbledon Championships this year. Mahut lost the match, and Isner lost his next match in straight sets. No, neither man became the Wimbledon Champion. Instead, both men taught us that being a champion isn’t necessarily about winning a championship.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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