Not every entrepreneur takes the same route into business. After completing my college degree, I was drafted into the National Football League and played 11 season with the Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.
While it may not have been the traditional trajectory to starting a company, I learned a lot of important lessons from professional football — many of which have been invaluable in business. After all, business, like football, is a game, and I play to win.
Here are the six most important lessons I learned on the field that have helped my company find success in a competitive environment:
1. Leadership is key: Have a clear vision and be decisive. Your team can only play as well as you coach, and as the CEO, you have to provide the direction, the inspiration and the motivation for your team to work together and produce results.
In sports and in business, it’s the leader’s responsibility to put his or her players and employees in the best possible position to be successful.
2. The best coaches hire great assistants. There’s a reason a football team has a head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, special teams coordinator and numerous other support staff. Each person brings a certain set of skils to the team that adds to the collective strength of the group.
Great teams research and source the top players in the game. When I formed my company’s business team, I found the best industry leaders in logistics, with more than 200 years of combined experience. Their industry knowledge and their ability to construct new dynamic solutions are key to our explosive growth.
3. The little things matter. Football is a game of inches. Often, one inch can be the difference between winning and losing. In business, a matter of minutes can make the difference between pleasing and angering a client. You never want to lose to your competition because you didn’t perform effectively enough. Don’t lost sight of the details, and bring your A-game every day.
4. Hire slow and fire fast. It’s worth taking time to find great talent for your team. Hiring the wrong person can have a cancerous effect on your organization. In the NFL, we didn’t allow the cancer to spread. We eliminated the problem by cutting the person quickly. Your firm will have a better shot at success if you adopt the same mentality.
5. Go above and beyond. The average career in the NFL is three and a half years. I was able to sustain a much longer career in the league because I worked harder and smarter than many of those around me. I showed up early to practice and I stayed late. I kept a positive attitude. I took preventative maintenance to protect against injuries.
I approach my business the same way and try to set the example for my employees. I’m always the first person in and the last one to leave.
6. The eye in the sky never lies. When I played football, I would spend hours with my coaches going over film of how I played in practice and games. These evaluations helped me lean on my strengths and manage my relative weaknesses. I don’t film my day-to-day work anymore, but I do make sure to sit down with my employees weekly, monthly and annually for evaluations on our company’s growth and performance.
Extra points: Don’t let the fear of failure, keep you from playing the game. Mistakes can be the best teachers. If your game plan is falling apart, simply call a time out. Take a look at what’s working well and what’s not and adjust. And remember, admitting a weakness is not the same as admitting defeat.
Tony McGee is the owner of HNM Global Logistics. Before starting the company, McGee played eleven seasons in the NFL professional football with the Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.
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