Part three: Transferrable skills
The conundrum for many international athletes is how to apply their skills once they retire. For former England cricket captain Sir Andrew Strauss, a three-year post as the Director of Cricket for the England and Wales Cricket Board (2015-2018) was seen a natural fit for a sportsman who had led his national side to new heights. But while his passion for elevating the sport is undoubtable, Strauss had already set his sights on the corporate world.
Since 2013, Strauss had been a director of leadership consultancy Mindflick and in 2018 he became CEO. Promising simply to ‘switch your thinking’, the consultancy is run from a barn in the Peak District and offers performance psychology to clients including the English Institute of Sport, the high-end restaurant group The Fat Duck, and Manchester City Football Club. For Strauss, it was an obvious move to leverage the lessons he had learned.
“The leadership skills I developed as an England player served me pretty well as I went into the corporate environment,” he says. “What I had to learn was that it was very important that I set the intent of what we were trying to do to bind people together, like we did with the England cricket team.”
But there were challenges too. “I think the hardest thing was that it’s much easier when you’re in a dressing room with eleven other people to run a cricket department – whereas when running a business, you can be quite disconnected geographically.”
Like many entrepreneurs, he battles with the decision to relinquish control of the business. “Increasingly I just let them [my colleagues] do stuff themselves. I couldn’t be with them, and I had to trust them to go out and play their part,” he says. “Letting go was a hard thing for me but I think in corporate environments it’s massively important,” he admits.
Key to withstanding the pressures of a relatively new venture has been recognising his vulnerability.
Letting go was a hard thing for me, but I think in corporate environments it’s massively important.
“I think what people perceive as resilience is that this is someone that just doesn't get affected by things – that when the going gets tough, they just charge through it. In truth, resilience is the ability to come back from difficulties,” he comments. “I think if you start framing it like that, it allows you to admit that you are going through difficulties and that things aren't going the way you want them to.”
Strauss believes leaders need to voice their weaknesses more often. “A lot of it comes down to going, ‘look, this is me, and I'm honest that I have these failings, and I have these strengths.’ And then being able to share that with other people, or someone you trust.”
That said, reflecting on strengths rather than weaknesses is performance psychology 101.
“Focus on what you're good at, because it just puts you in a completely different mindset,” he says. “It shifts your mindset from one where you're worried about what might go wrong, to instead focusing on what it is you can do well, and what will go right for you.”
That doesn’t mean leaders should only focus on work – a sure-fire way to intensify stress.
Focus on what you're good at, because it just puts you in a completely different mindset
“I think when we all get very busy we get caught up in that huge, long to-do list that we need to get ticked-off every day, and often we forget to work on ourselves,” says Strauss. “What that means will be different to different people, but it may mean getting away from work completely, it might be doing something you love, it might be working on your physical fitness. So, I think working on yourself, not just work is number one.”
Of course, dealing with pressure is obligatory for international athletes – and Strauss has a simple way of re-focusing his energy in challenging times.
“Always keep in mind the intent of what you're trying to do, and say to yourself, ‘what am I actually trying to achieve here?’” he advises.
“I think sometimes we feel like we've always got to be busy and doing things and achieving, but actually you've got to ask yourself ‘is this actually helping me?’ It’s important to focus on the intent, don't get caught up in the reeds, and give yourself a break as you go through that journey.”
Missed our previous articles featuring Andrew’s insight on what drives success and the art of high performance, Read them here:
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