Unity & Clarity of Purpose

“In my business, togetherness is not just a nice concept that you can take or leave according to taste. If you don’t have it, you are nothing. Selfishness, factionalism, cliquishness are all death to a football team…

“As a manager in football, I have never been interested in simply sending out a collection of brilliant individuals. There is no substitute for talent but, on the field, talent without unity of purpose is a hopelessly devalued currency.”

Sir Alex Ferguson

The parallels with the project world are undoubted but what about an individual sport like tennis?

At the elite level, of course, tennis has ceased to be an individual sport.  Even when Federer or Murray did not have a formally engaged coach they both had teams around them.  These included fitness trainer, physio, family and agent.  However, it also extends beyond, as top players also have close relationships with commercial sponsors.  The goals, or purpose need to be clear for both the player and the supporting team in individual sports, just as they do in tema sports.  For example, this year it was not only Federer and his immediate team that had the goal of getting him back to number one in the world but also his principal sponsors.  When, over the last couple of years, many have been predicting a slow demise, at the age of 31 Federer reclaimed the top spot and surpassed the record of number of weeks at number one previously held by Pete Sampras.

As in football, where the primary goals may be season long – winning the league, a particular trophy, or simply ensuring survival in the top league – these need regular communication to the team, along with intermediate performance goals along the way, together with the process that achieves these performance outcomes.  In this respect the “process – performance – outcome” model is important for the work and sporting environments.

In the context of delivering change in a corporate environment, where there may be diverse agendas among senior stakeholders, it requires a vision of the purpose to be articulated and communicated regularly, together with gaining buy-in to achieve the unity of purpose that is so important to successful delivery.

Hard work pays off…smart work even more!

Wow! What an amazing match to end the Tour Finals.  Back in 2010 Federer gave Djokovic a lesson in the semis, taking him apart to win 6-1 6-4.  At the outset it looked like this could be worse for Novak, as Federer won 12 of the first 14 points, taking a 3-0 lead and looking awesome in his aggressive shot making.  However, there is more steel to Novak these days and with the confidence of finishing a second year at number one there is more belief.

It was reminiscent of Federer’s semi final at the Australian Open in January, where he started off in similarly awesome style only to be overhauled by Nadal.  Djokovic got back into this by grinding out his second service game and then managing to break Federe. The contrast between third and first service games for Fed was not a first serve missed in the first, not a first serve in in the third.  At this level the margins are minute, at the end, Djokovic had won one more point than Federer.  Both men created seven break points but Novak converted four to Roger’s three.  Despite the glorious nature of Fed’s shot making (and Djokovic was not far behind, particularly the winning pass), in tennis it’s when those points are won that counts.

The hard work that Djokovic has put in has improved his movement immensely, so that he is physically imposing on court.  Fed is used to taking risks but with players like Djokovic and Murray, where they cover the court so much better than most other players and then on the stretch can still control the ball means looking for more of an angle, playing closer to the lines and ultimately missing more.

Physical hard work is critical in this like any other elite performance, then comes the smart work, being able to perform under pressure.  It requires a particular type of preparation – the type of mental performance mentioned in the last post doesn’t just happen, it requires work too.

Love the competition and don’t get down when things don’t go your way

Well, it was hyped as a the decider of the big London duels between Andy Murray and Roger Federer and, though, as Fed said, it was a “nice match”, it ended in a rather one-sided manner.

Andy Murray has come a long way, particularly under Lendl, where his management of his own mental energy under pressure has improved immensely.  However, this was one of those nights where he lost momentum and let it get to him.  He started amazingly well and, with Federer seemingly out of sorts, it looked like it might be a one-sided affair in favour of Murray.  Andy broke in the opening game and Federer had to battle to hold serve in the next two.  It all looked rosy for Murray, pumped up and serving well, until at 4-3, when Federer broke.  Murray hung in until the tie-break, even taking an early lead but Fed got back in, broke and held on to take the first set.

Then things got worse at 1-1 in the second, with Murray looking on the way to a straightforward hold, he let it slip and Federer was in front again.  It was at this point that Murray’s body language started to betray him.  Before long it was all over following a further break for Federer and him holding for the win.  Murray let things get to him, in a way that shouldn’t have happened for a top player.  The very best may sometimes look down and out but rarely does that last long.  The Swedes, particularly Borg, Wilander and Edberg, were masters of maintaining constancy in the face of adversity – while psychology can affect your physiology, revealed in body language, it can also work the other way.  If you watch videos of the very elite (the Swedes mentioned particularly) you can not tell from their body language whether they won or lost the point.

The lesson for us is of course to ensure that when we face adversity, either at work or personally, not to let it get us down.