Game, Set & Match – Six Ways Non-profit Leaders Are Like Tennis Stars

At this time of year, my office (a laptop and a phone, basically) shifts to where I can hear the lovely summer sound of racket on ball, polite clapping and excited roars. Yep, it’s Wimbledon! My absolute favourite time of the year.

Tennis analogies fill my brain. Tennis terms scatter about my copy. I just can’t stop myself.

So, why are great non-profit leaders like tennis stars?

1. They think big

Tennis stars like the Williams sisters, Federer and Murray set their heights high and so do the leaders I work with, be it fighting world poverty through trade or committing to support every baby born prematurely. I love that my coaching clients have such ambitions and are not scared to go all out for them.

2. They visualise success

Like all sports people, the tennis greats use visualisation to see themselves lifting that trophy in glory. Great leaders do the same. When you visualise success in all its detail you are sending a very powerful message to your brain that this is what you want, and you are determined to get there.

3. They believe in themselves

Ever heard of a tennis player going into a big game not believing they can win? Nope. It doesn’t happen. In last year’s tennis-themed blog I talked about the critical ‘inner game’. Tennis greats recognise that positive talk is the absolute key to success. Great sector leaders are the same. They know that what they believe about themselves and their team is crucial to creating positive change.

4. They don’t rush

Have you ever seen how less experienced players rush their serves on the big points and the ball slams into the net or shoots uncontrolled out of the court? Top players breathe, focus, – and then send the ball flying past their opponent. Successful non-profit leaders make like Nadal; they take their time. They will ask the right questions, gather information, consult with others. They avoid rushing into important decisions in a stressed-out panic.

5. They are resilient

It amazes me how the top tennis players cope with the ups and downs that tennis brings. Each point is a new moment. Each match a new opportunity. The ability to bounce back after setbacks is a key skill for non-profit leaders, too. It’s not helpful to dwell or take things personally when there is such vital work to be done. The best leaders see setbacks as a learning opportunity, pick themselves up and move on.

6. They get support

Every great tennis player has absolute trust in the team they have around them. Those are the people roaring them on from the sides. The best leaders I know have built a support system around them of peers, friends, mentors or coaches who are their biggest fans; checking out decisions, challenging assumptions and bouncing ideas around with them. With this kind of support, they can hit winners – time after time.

Over to you

Are you channelling your inner Serena or Roger? Do you have your very own fist-pumping,  “COME ON” -yelling support team around you? If a line-call doesn’t go your way, how do you respond? (Note: the office may not be the best place to have a McEnroe moment!) I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

What next

Talking of support teams, I’d absolutely love to see you at the first get-together of my new networking and support group. I can, at last, tell you that it will be in September (I’m working on the final date right now) and I’ll be in touch nearer the time with everything you need to know. Can’t wait!

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