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Ep 603: Talent Lessons From Elite Sport

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Companies can learn a massive amount from elite sports in terms of spotting and nurturing the talent required to build highly effective teams. Having an adaptable, flexible, and self-aware mindset is critical in these disruptive times, and professional sports have coaching models that can help leaders develop this mindset in their teams.

I was lucky enough to speak to former England Cricket Captain Sir Andrew Strauss at the recent Transform conference in Las Vegas. After his playing career finished, Andrew ran elite cricket in the UK for four years. He is now the co-founder of Mindflick, a high-performance coaching business that uses psychology and technology to make the lessons from elite sports accessible to companies.

In the interview, we discuss:

• What can elite sports teach business about leadership?

• Learning how to be adaptable in dynamic environments

• The importance of self-awareness

• Understanding how teams react under pressure

• What makes top talent

• Understanding and accepting weaknesses

• The role of technology

• Getting buy-in and building an emotional connection with a group vision

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Matt: Support for this podcast is provided by Willo, a video interviewing platform for scaling businesses. As the talent market evolves, you’re probably thinking about how to build a more inclusive candidate experience that doesn’t require long days on Zoom, Teams or Skype. Willo is a virtual interviewing platform, where candidates can record responses on their own time using video, audio or text. And it’s used by some of the fastest growing businesses like Coinbase, Hotjar and HelloFresh.

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There’s a free trial to try everything. And if you need more, Willo’s tailored plans include features to help you expand your talent pool and streamline recruiting operations, all with 24/7 live support. Request a personalized demo today at willo.video. That’s W-I-L-L-O dot video.

[Recruiting Future theme]

Matt: Hi, there. Welcome to Episode 603, a Recruiting Future with me, Matt Alder. Companies can learn a huge amount from elite sports in terms of spotting and nurturing the talent required to build highly effective teams. Having an adaptable, flexible, and self-aware mindset is critical in these disruptive times, and professional sports have coaching models that can help leaders develop this mindset in their teams.

I was lucky enough to speak to former England Cricket Captain Sir Andrew Strauss at the recent Transform conference in Vegas. After his playing career finished, Andrew ran elite cricket in the UK for four years. He is now the co-founder of Mindflick, a high-performance coaching business that uses psychology and technology to make the lessons from elite sports accessible to companies.

Hi, Andrew. And welcome to the podcast.

Andrew: Thank you so much for having me.

Matt: It’s an absolute pleasure. So, lots of people listening, you probably don’t need to make an introduction to, but there will be a few people in the audience, particularly those people in America who may not have come across you and your work before. [chuckles] So, can you introduce yourself, tell us what you did and tell us what you do now.

Andrew: Fine. Yeah, well, in a past life, I used to be a professional cricketer. So, I played for England for the best part of a decade. I captained England for the last four years of my career, and subsequently went on to run elite cricket in the UK for four years between 2015 and 2019. But I’m here today as co-founder of Mindflick. And we’re a high-performance coaching business, really taking the lessons and the experiences from elite performance and making them more accessible in the corporate world. Helping individuals and teams to perform at a higher level and to perform at a level that hopefully separates you from your competitors.

Matt: Bring that down for us a little bit. What are the kind of things that leaders and businesses can learn from elite sport?

Andrew: Well, I think to begin with, the only way to be consistently successful in elite sport is to be adaptable. The context always changing, the opposition’s always changing, nothing stays the same. It’s a very dynamic environment. And if you’re not able to be adaptable, you fall in love with your wins and you think, if I just repeat this, then I’ll get success again. But of course, everything is changing around you. So, adaptability is crucial.

And then the other thing we really focus on at Mindflick is this idea of mindset. And really, we look at it in terms of your sensitivity to threaten reward. So, it’s when you are under pressure what you default to. And so, understanding that when you’re under pressure in the elite performance environment, it gives you strategies and interventions to help you navigate your way through that.

It’s a self-awareness thing. But then in the team context, it’s also about understanding those around you when you’re under real pressure, how to get the best out of them. So, I think every team is good and functional when you’re not under pressure. As soon as you’re under pressure, I feel most teams default to being dysfunctional. And that’s why there’s such a pressure on leaders, people running teams to make sure you give people, I suppose, the confidence to be able to operate when they’re under the utmost pressure.

Matt: And in terms of the talent themselves on the team. So, a lot of people listening to the podcast are in talent acquisition, in recruiting, when it comes to that top level of sport, what’s the– And obviously, there’s a base level of talent that’s required anyway. But what’s the mix between talent and practice and performance and mindset?

Andrew: Well, listen, my view is that the people that get to the real top, they have the talent, but I think they tend to be quite self-aware. They understand themselves quite well, and of course, they have that incredible work ethic. You have the combination of the three, really, which is a talent, but also an intelligence there and an understanding of what the situation is asking of me and what I need to flex into in order to be able to be successful in that environment.

Matt: And is that kind of an awareness of your own abilities and weaknesses as well?

Andrew: And blind spots. Yeah, I think that is it. Exactly. But also, I think understanding– This is where confidence plays a big part. Understanding that your weaknesses, your blind spots, everyone has them. I think some people, they’ll see that they have a weakness or they have a situation where they might feel uncomfortable and think, “Oh, well, that means I’m not as good as someone else.” Elite performers have managed to have that confidence that whatever the situation, “Even if I’m not in my comfort zone, I’m still going to find a way through that.”

Matt: Yeah, that’s really interesting. And I suppose that that becomes even more applicable as change gets more volatile, disruptive. Businesses don’t stand still. The situations they operate in change the time. It’s a very disruptive world at the moment, isn’t it?

Andrew: It is. And of course, as I said, professional sport is exactly like that. It’s always slightly chaotic. You have plans before you start a game. And then you get into the game and everything– that Mike Tyson quote, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” I think that we’re feeling that more and more in the corporate world now as well. The rate of change is increasing. And therefore, being able to adapt, not just adapt, but adapt quickly, is crucial. I think you’re only able to do that when you understand yourself and those you’re working with as well as you can do.

Matt: One of the big focuses of the transform conference is technology and the role technology plays. What role does technology play in your business? How does it marry with the science and the coaching and everything? What does it do for your company?

Andrew: Yeah, we started just as a coaching company. And then we realized, actually, I suppose to be able to scale, but also to be able to help people when we’re not coaching them. We had to design our own tools. So, we started with a personality profiling tool called Spotlight, which looks at people under pressure, that sort of mindset under pressure. And then we’ve developed that over time to be a platform and an app. So, take that profile off the bottom drawer where people leave it and help you in the day-to-day flow of your work, and also helping you to connect with others around you and to understand the team dynamics that are at play in any team you’re in.

So, it’s really trying to, I suppose, make sure that the team development stuff, the individual development is not something that you just do on an off-site somewhere. It actually helps you in the day-to-day flow of your work. That’s what we’ve designed.

Matt: How different is it working in a business from playing cricket for a living?

Andrew: Well, it is different, but also very similar. I think when you’re working in a small business, having that goal, focus of, this is what we’re trying to achieve, and breaking it down into small segments in terms of how to get there. But also, I think, understanding that any group of people that you bring together has different aims and ambitions and agendas. And the key for a leader, whether it’s in a sports team or in a corporate team, is to get them to buy into something bigger than themselves, get them emotionally connected with what you’re trying to do as a group. And if you’re able to do that, you’ve got every chance of being successful.

Matt: And I suppose that leads on to my last question, which I suppose is a summary of what you said. So, lots of people listening are leaders who lead teams, who are trying to influence within their business. What would the best bit of advice you could give to them in terms of them being a better leader?

Andrew: I think better understanding the people that you’re leading, being prepared to be adaptable and flexible, but also making sure that people are connected to emotionally to what you’re trying to do as a group of people. And I think that’s easier in sport than it is in business. But I think it’s still crucially important that people feel like they’re being swept up by a purpose or a cause that means something to them. I think that’s crucially important.

Matt: Andrew, thank you very much for talking to me.

Andrew: Thank you so much.

Matt: My thanks to Andrew. You can follow this podcast on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for @recruitingfuture. You can search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast, and get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

[music]

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