MT Expert's Ten Top Tips: Learn to roll with the punches

What can corporate leaders learn from the world of boxing? Here are ten punchy tips.

The idea that business can learn a lot from sport and sportspeople is hardly a new one. But we must admit that we've never seen boxing used as a source of wisdom. So when Professor Rakesh Sondhi contacted us to suggest that boardroom leaders should try a bit of pugilism in order to develop some of the characteristics that made the likes of Muhammad Ali into true winners, we were all (cauliflower) ears. Since next month's MT will be a Resilience Special, and we're using a boxing theme to illustrate it, the timing seemed particularly apt.

Here, Professor Sondhi, who's the Visiting Professor of University of Buckingham and founder of BMC Global Services and the Elite Performance Academy, uses lessons from Rocky and co to offer 10 top tips on how leaders can develop.

1. Be resilient and retain the the desire to succeed
The boxer is characterised by a drive to complete and win many rounds of punishment. The boxer also has to demonstrate huge commitment to training, which is driven by desire - this in turn is based on a personal ambition that is nurtured and encouraged over many years and pushes an individual to go beyond the normal boundaries of performance. (One of the reasons sport is probably a good vehicle for testing desire is that it engages the emotions in a way that business sometimes fails to do for many people.) 

2. Develop passion to inspire genius
To be a true genius, people must have heart; geniuses possess a passion that makes them do extraordinary things. How can we expect people to raise their games if they are not inspired by what is happening to them in the workplace? Therefore, senior managers and business owners need to understand what makes people tick - their core values and beliefs, for example. Emotional intelligence teaches us to be self-aware so that we can appreciate what drives our people.

3. Be positive and address situations
A positive mental attitude is built around a self-belief that makes you a winner whatever the circumstances. It always seeks a solution to problematic situations; it does not lay blame to others and rarely looks backwards, accepting what has happened and building on it. In business, management often spend too much time investigating why they find themselves in a predicament, and too little time addressing the situation.  

4. Bring out the charisma
One of the key elements of leaders operating in team-based environments is charisma. Charisma can be interpreted as the personal character that attracts and engages followers. This can take many different forms; even if leaders aren't overtly charismatic, they can earn the respect of their followers by their undying commitment.

5. Be inspirational through good times and bad
In a team environment, inspiration is the leader’s ability to transfer all of their relevant personal characteristics to the rest of the team. The leader uses his charisma to inspire the other team players to push their own boundaries. If the team has the right people, the leader should be able to inspire people to push their personal performance limits when they probably least want to, when the pressure is on.

6. Banish your ego
Ego is one of the key reasons for an individual failing to succeed. Ego stops an individual from learning and developing the attributes to succeed in the long term; it makes them think they are better than they actually are. Boxing is ideal for removing the ego, as a lack of awareness of your personal weaknesses can have painful repercussions.

7. Take the knocks – and get back up
The boxer’s road is long and lonely. Coaches are a great help, but a huge percentage of drive is personal. When things are not going well, the easiest route is to pull out and give in. A special character is needed to get up seven times after being knocked down six times (as demonstrated by Rocky). In the ring, the pressure pushes the individual forward. But self motivation is key to personal development when there is no pressure to succeed. Drive is the ability to channel energy in the required direction; it ensures the individual focuses on the end result and does not lose sight of the objectives to be achieved.

8. Be confident that you can drive change

Self-confidence is different from ego, in that it encourages learning and does not think that the individual is 'too good' to improve. The boxer needs self-confidence to make the other elements work. The business leader needs to believe that he or she can make a difference and alter the path that the organisation is taking. One of the biggest obstacles to decision-making is the fear of making a mistake. In business, leaders are great at hiding their fear and disguising it in different ways. In boxing, fear leads to indecision which means you will lose. Something needs to be done.

9. Hone your inner strength to maintain your will to win

Many people feel the boxer’s strength is their physical attributes. However, the very best boxers’ key attribute is their inner strength. The physical body is likely to give in quite early on in proceedings, depending on the level of training. However, there are numerous instances when the biggest and most physical boxer has failed to win against a physically weaker opponent. Inner strength drives determination and a will to win.

10. Push yourself – mentally and physically

Boxing involves the greatest integration between the mind and body. Leaders need to explore how far they can push their physical being, and in doing so develop their mental strength. Physical training that pushes the individual beyond their boundaries tests their determination and mental will to progress.

Professor Rakesh Sondhi, founder of, is the author of Business Improvement for Learning and Transformation, and Total Strategy.

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