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What business leaders can learn from Tom Brady and Serena Williams

Practice—and reflection—really does make perfect, says this CEO of a goal management platform.

What business leaders can learn from Tom Brady and Serena Williams
[Photos: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images (Williams); Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images (Brady)]
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What do GOATs (or greatest athletes of all time) have in common? 

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Serena Williams didn’t just happen to win 23 grand slams. Tom Brady wasn’t lucky to take home his 7th Superbowl win. Katie Ledecky’s 20 gold medals aren’t a random occurrence. And the 6 NBA championships led by Michael Jordan weren’t accomplished by chance. They—and their teams—earned their iconic status with a constant commitment to improve.

When athletic teams want to achieve more in their sport, they focus on practice, analyzing the output, and using it to develop strong, effective, positive habits that are in line with their athletic goals. Yet, with most businesses, we don’t see the same logic: business teams are always focused on the end goal—contracts signed, launch dates, and revenue targets. The bulk of their energy is spent on setting goals, and once those goals are set, they focus everything on being forward-looking. 

Based on years of studying how teams best achieve their goals, I believe this mindset is a major barrier. I won’t use this space to discuss setting and measuring goals but if interested, you can read more about my views here. (Disclaimer: I’m biased toward OKRs—objectives and key results.)

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What we’ll discuss here is the most impactful way to start achieving your goals—the act of reflection. By integrating your goals into a self-reinforcing flywheel of consistent reflection and iteration, you too can join the ranking of corporate GOATs. 

What’s that look like in practice?

Establish a weekly habit of reflection

Small positive habits, done repeatedly, lead to massive impact. By creating a habit of every team member regularly reflecting on their work, you’ll create space for big impact, continual learning and mindfulness. This is the first step to establishing a team culture in which great communication is valued above all else (an essential attribute for these next steps to work.)

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Make goals a part of everyone’s cadence

When your long-term goals guide your short-term planning, your team will see how their daily or weekly tactical work connects to strategic priorities. Reflection on the bigger picture creates better mental context when  you and your team go to review the progress made, identify upcoming priorities, and flag the most critical issues for discussion. Every contributor should do this separately and then come together to review the aggregate so all perspectives can be weighed equally. 

Work transparently and acknowledge great work

Research has proven when teams huddle weekly on goals and share lessons learned, productivity and profitability increases across the board. Heck, customers like it too. However, this requires that your team can be honest about what’s going well and not going well. Acknowledge when someone asks for help; it’s hard to be that vulnerable. And always tell your teammates when they do something great; recognition matters.

Embrace that alignment can be messy

After getting all the issues on the table, decide if your goals need extra focus and if some goals should even be fully rewritten or shelved. At Koan, we always say we reserve the right to be better. This is an opportunity to remain agile. Rewriting, changing or abandoning goals doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it means you’ve learned something new. It’s important then that everyone agrees on a concrete set of actions to take to move the ball forward before the next reflection cycle the following week. 

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Spin that flywheel 

The key is consistency, you have to keep repeating the steps for them to work. Regular reflection and retrospectives have a positive correlation with goals planning and achievement. In other words, this methodology has to become a habit, not an event. 


Matt Tucker is the CEO of Koan, an organizational alignment software platform that helps teams manage goals.