GOLF – THE SPORT OF BUSINESS
Inside the Ryder Cup with CPG Chief Executive, Ian Randell, and Jeremy Snape.
The CPG Business Club hosted a live forum with Founder and CEO of Sporting Edge, Jeremy Snape, interviewing Ian Randell live from Whistling Straits, host venue of the 2020 Ryder Cup. Visit the CPG Business Club and find out how you can join future events: https://cp.golf/CPG-Business-Club
THE WINNING MINDSET
This article is available in The Insider by CPG magazine, click here to download your digital copy.
The similarities between sport and business are often discussed, but there are few people better placed to shed light on the subject than former England cricketer Jeremy Snape. Here, he tells us what the two worlds have in common and what they can learn from each other.
CPG: You were a successful sportsman and changed tack totally on retirement. Why was that?
Jeremy Snape: I had always considered myself a journeyman pro. I had 19 years as a professional cricketer, starting at Northants with an incredibly talented team with the likes of Allan Lamb and Curtly Ambrose and a squad full of legends that did not win a huge amount but had a great time. And then I moved to Gloucestershire, who were always underdogs. Everyone fitted together into this tight unit, and we surprised so many people, and ultimately redefined one-day cricket during that period, winning five or six trophies around the turn of the century. And that gave me the springboard to go and play for England. I was man of the match on my debut, but I guess I did not always find I was naturally confident. I was hard on myself and quite analytical – I remember playing a game in front of 120,000 screaming people in India but the loudest voice was in my head, and it was the one that was saying, “Are you sure you are good enough to be here?” I let the emotions divert me from my gameplan and no one had ever coached that, and I suppose it sparked a fascination for me in psychology and mindset and how leaders create a high-performance environment. So that is what I turned to.
CPG: I guess whatever we do we can all empathise with those doubts creeping in…
JS: Yes, absolutely, and I have spent more time trying to understand this now over the last decade or so but often the highest performers are the ones that have the most doubt and insecurity because they have built up so much and they have got so much to lose. And part of that mindset is actually continually testing the boundaries, which means you are living on the edge and you are out of your comfort zone. Elite performers can actually find comfort in that uncomfortable space and they keep going there because they know that if they can overcome those fears, then that is where their proudest moments come from, and their best achievements.
CPG: And you studied this formally?
JS: Yes. I did my Master’s degree at Loughborough University while I was still playing actually, and there was a moment of epiphany, in the final of the Twenty20 Cup in a tight game at Edgbaston, when I needed to hit a boundary to win, and I used some of these skills that I had learnt from my Master’s degree. In India I had been so focused on what the newspapers and the media might say the next day that I forgot to watch the ball in front of me. Here, I was so focused on my breathing and my routine that I played an instinctive shot, and won the game for us.
So I saw the power of these techniques personally in my own career. I wish I had learnt them earlier but that is the way it is, and that gave me the passion to become a performance coach and help people to understand how they can use their mindset to give them a competitive edge rather than be a hindrance. And that led on to coaching in the IPL with Shane Warne’s team, the Rajasthan Royals, coaching South Africa as they went from number four to number one in the world, and then joining the League Managers’ Association (LMA), supporting the leadership development for the Premier League managers and below.
CPG: And you set up Sporting Edge. What was the aim there?
JS: Sporting Edge is ultimately about going inside the mind of champions, elite performers from sport, the military, academia, best-selling authors, futurists, and trying and find out what is it about this high-performance mindset and this high-performance leadership style that can be broken down into tangible tools that business leaders around the world can use. For me the mindset of high-performance in elite sport and in business are exactly the same. We are trying to get the best out of ourselves and to overcome those doubts, we are trying to get the best out of our individuals that are around us, and we are trying to bring an organisation together and help them to navigate change. The lessons absolutely translate across perfectly and we have proven that with thousands of executives around the world, using our digital library of video insights to fast-track their success.
CPG: Do business leaders need to be selfish to succeed?
JS: As a professional athlete you need to be self-focused. Not necessarily selfish but definitely self-focused, and that can lead into selfishness. The team dynamic is all about selfless performance – what can I give to my team? What does my team need of me now? And we tend to think more selflessly and longer-term in a team situation, whereas when we are under pressure we tend to think about survival in the short-term in our own career. I guess in golf that is where that incredible resilience of living in the moment and being able to build a strategy for your tournament or for the day or the round that you are playing and then be able to break it down into these tight routines. So, for example, if you are playing golf for four hours you are actually only playing golf for 23 minutes and it is the transition between the downtime when you are walking up and down the fairway, what you are thinking there, and that ability to really dial up your focus onto the next shot. You have got to be able to forget the last shot, whether it was a brilliant shot and you feel euphoric or whether it was a terrible shot and you have ended up in the woods. You have got to be able to stop that last shot from contaminating the next one, and that is one of the key mental skills that golf demands.
And it relates into business in that you might be a salesperson who has had three bad sales calls but the fourth call, you cannot afford to go into with low energy, low mood and a negative mindset, because that fourth call might be the one that actually transforms your business. It is that ability to reframe and reset yourself every so often rather than just seeing it as a whole day at work or a whole round of golf. Elite performers have that ability to break the game and the day down into focused units of performance.
CPG: The idea of an individual focus is really interesting but what about when golf becomes a team game?
JS: It is very interesting, I did an interview with Paul McGinley about his leadership at the Ryder Cup, and I think there were a few key elements there. One of the things he tried to do was build this emotional connection with the team. So, clearly all the stars are incredibly successful, they are financially secure, there is nothing that they really need but this team culture has the opportunity to be the thing that they are most proud of in their career and Paul McGinley leveraged this in a couple of ways. First of all he connected them back into the emotional history of the Ryder Cup, so all the players that had gone before them in that lineage. They used really powerful, emotive imagery of people like Seve Ballesteros and tried to bring some of that mindset, almost like the ancient wisdom of these forefathers was speaking to them, that they wanted to be part of this community. And then he, sort of, fast-forwarded it again and asked the players, you know, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we were sitting in a pub in 15 years’ time when we were old and grey and we could look each other in the eye and say we did it, during those few days, we were the ones that absolutely sacrificed and delivered and we stayed true to the team spirit.”
McGinley was one of the first people to use data in an analytical review. For two years before the Ryder Cup he was looking at the course profile and the pairings and match-ups. He had got really strict rules around meetings only being 30 minutes, so he had to make sure that in those 30 minutes he had got their attention and their focus. And then he made sure he understood different people’s requirements so, for example, some leaders would have mandated a team meal every day at a particular time whereas McGinley had a rolling buffet because he knew that some of the Scandinavian golfers might have wanted to eat early and go to bed early whereas some of the Southern European might have stayed up later and gone to bed later. Having that ability to flex the environment for individuals to be at their very best meant that they did not feel as if they were fighting against the team, they were bringing their best as an individual into a team environment. And then because they had been supported as an individual, they could give as much as they could.
I have also interviewed a lot of Olympians who have spoken about individual performance being great but actually what really make them proud are when they have played their part in something bigger than themselves. Because that is not just a test of skill, but being part of a high-performing team is a test of character as well.
CPG: Are there attributes that these elite athletes, and by extension business leaders, share?
JS: Elite performers need certain core attributes, without a doubt. What I have learned from interviewing some of the world’s elite performers is that they have got this ability to visualise the endgame in high definition. They can imagine what it is going to feel like. And they can see themselves on the podium, they can build this incredible vision of what it is like and that is what motivates them. But they are also able to break that down into the behaviours and processes that are going to help them to do that. And then, more importantly than anything, they can set out a strategy. The discipline to be able to stick to these basics day after day after day is what sets them apart. So, we all see the Olympians on the podium, we all see the Tour de France cyclists in the yellow jersey, but what we do not see is them hacking up the mountains in the rain for four hours a day, for five years in a row.
The other thing I think is really important for entrepreneurs and elite sports stars is the ability to create a high-performance team around them. They rotate their hitting partners, physios, biomechanists, psychologists, nutritionists around them depending on what their game needs at the time. One of the challenges when you become successful is you get an echo chamber around you of people that just want to say that you are doing really well and they do not want to challenge you. What you actually want is a group of advisors who are going to support you and challenge you to be the very best you can be, to give you honest critique to keep you on track, and that could save you years of making the same mistakes.
CPG: Moving away from the absolute elite level, what would you say to the 12,500 professionals who are part of the CPG?
JS: The analogy I often use which is relevant here is that we are all the CEO of our own performance company. It is very easy when you are part of a big organisation to feel like you are another cog in the machine but actually when you run your own business it is critical, every decision that you make about how you communicate, your marketing outreach, the customer service that you offer, the risks that you take with the events that you are putting on. I think having real resilience is absolutely critical, having that optimism is absolutely critical, and we have needed both of those things over the last couple of years with COVID. But I think it is also important to have some kind of strategic roadmap of where you want to be.
One of the experts in digital strategy that we interviewed spoke about three time horizons being critical for leaders. The first time horizon is what’s your email inbox and your to-do list for the next few weeks or the next quarter. And then he spoke about horizon three being this disrupted future which is maybe five to ten years out where technology might have a different role to play. And the most important place to focus on is horizon two, which is this middle ground between our to-do list and this crazy world that may be very different in the future. Having that ability to plan some of these skill developments or entrepreneurial activities where a golf pro may be learning new skills or setting up a website or building some digital courses, they might seem like they are nice-to-haves in the future but if we are constantly just focused on navigating the short-term and surviving, we never build that business model in horizon two, which could be the thing that completely transforms our business.
CPG: Do you believe that golf is the sport of business?
JS: I do. First of all you get to meet lots of new contacts. If we get to play golf with a friend or a business partner and their colleague or client, then that sort of proximity is already a trusted relationship. And as the game unfolds you get to see what people are like under pressure, when they are losing, when they are winning. You do not often see that on a zoom meeting or sitting in a business meeting. Seeing somebody’s emotional profile as they go through pressure I think is a fascinating tell of what that person’s character is like. And again, you are spending a long period of time, maybe three or four hours, out in the fresh air, you are getting plenty of exercise. You are able to be creative because you have got the blood flow and your brain’s switching off from a lot of the analytical processes and often that is when our best ideas come.
In so many of our social interactions there is a power hierarchy, isn’t there? This person is a more senior leader than me, this person is a multi-millionaire, therefore we defer to their power. But in golf, you could have a multi-millionaire who is rubbish at golf and a young buck who is playing off scratch and those power hierarchies are inverted, and you get a pretty good sense from the way people interact with each other what they are like in business. So yes, I would say golf provides a great shared experience and is very much the sport of business.