Most fighters retire from the sport of boxing by age 30. In my case, I didn’t put on gloves until age 37, just last year. And while the practice has taught me a lot about fitness, humility and plain old fun, what surprised me the most was the universal lessons I learned.
I may not get a shot at Floyd Mayweather’s belt, but I do know that certain principles about performance apply both inside -- and outside -- the ring. Here are some lessons from boxing that might apply to your attempts to excel in business.
1. Preparation is key.
As Muhammad Ali said, “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses -- behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
It’s amazing how long a three-minute round can feel when you’re squared off against an opponent. More so than in most sports, boxing places a premium on optimal conditioning. If you step into the ring for a sparring session without this, you probably won’t be competitive.
Anyone who’s ever given an important presentation has likely dealt with the pain of being unprepared for a rapid-fire question from the boss or client. The difference between winning and losing in boxing, as well as in business, often comes down to that all-important advance legwork.
2. Develop mental toughness.
Cus D’Amato, the famous trainer of champions Mike Tyson, Floyd Patterson and others, once said, “The hero and the coward both feel the same thing, but the hero uses his fear, projects it onto his opponent, while the coward runs. It’s the same thing, fear, but it’s what you do with it that matters.”
As a new boxer stepping into the ring my first few times, I came to a critical realization: Overcoming fears, as well as meeting the sport’s mental demands, can be just as challenging as the physical requirements.
Every business leader has at some point in time been scared of something. That’s normal. That’s human. Use this fear to fuel your actions toward achieving your goals. And remember, the competition is scared, too.
3. Master the fundamentals.
In boxing, the four basic punches are the jab, straight, uppercut and hook. Every boxer will throw thousands and thousands of them in an attempt at mastery.
I bet if you watch any elite boxer train, he or she will spend most of their sessions working on these fundamental moves.After one -- or 100 -- matches, they know that to grow as fighters and maintain their edge, they must continually sharpen these skills.
Business professionals too often take for granted that they're correctly executing the fundamentals without consistent honing. What are the four basic punches of your job? How can you work to improve each of them?
4. Champions aren’t born. They’re made.
Most business leaders have experienced trying something new only to struggle mightily upon their first efforts. Thoughts like “Maybe I’m not naturally talented at such and such” or “this simply isn’t my thing” might creep into their consciousness.
Although many world-class fighters have a tremendous amount of God-given talent, none woke up one day and suddenly became a champion. The heroes of boxing, like the titans of the business world, are more made than born. Remind yourself of this fact to help you through the tough times.
5. Be strategic.
There’s a reason boxers have a corner man working with them during a match. This coach serves as a mentor and strategist, a resource for each fighter to lean on throughout the match.
A good corner man can spot weaknesses in an opponent or dole out advice the fighter might not arrive at . Business leaders need a strategist or two in their corners to guide them along.
6. Be on guard.
A boxing catchphrase "protect yourself at all times" offers simple but powerful advice for all pursuits in life. What are your vulnerabilities as a leader? Are you guarding against letting these limitations take you out?
7. Be genuine.
I have had the opportunity to work with a highly experienced boxing coach who helps me learn the sport’s fundamentals. In my efforts to be a good student, I’ll occasionally ask him about what ways to improve. Boxing is a highly competitive sport, so I’ll even compare myself to others in the gym. I really want to know how he thinks I measure up.
More times than not, though, my coach steers me away from judging myself against others. Instead, he encourages me to be myself, pointing out that a punch that works for me might not work for another student and vice versa due to differences in reach, speed and other variables.
This is a great reminder to all: While some universal business truths do exist, people need to be the best versions of themselves to land the knockout punch when it really counts.