The year of the underdog

One of the greatest things about sport is its unpredictability. We live in a world where huge sums of money assemble the greatest sporting talent into a collection of extremely wealthy individuals. Yet there’s still scope for an underdog to show that a combination of skills is often greater than the sum of its parts, especially under the guidance of a strong leader.

And it’s something that can be transferred into the world of work, too.

Achieving incredible results

The last few months in sport have seen some fantastic examples of how maximising the skills of an individual or a team can achieve incredible results.

At the recent UEFA Euro 2016 football championships in France, two nations that rarely figure on the radar of success did incredibly well; Wales and Iceland.

The Welsh were accused of only having one star in Gareth Bale and not much else. Yet, as a team they outperformed hugely, making it to a semi-final clash where they lost to the eventual winners, Portugal.

One of their defining characteristics was their never-say-die attitude. And with manager Chris Coleman in charge, they had a mentor with the mental toughness to lead them. Describing himself as someone who has had “more failures than I’ve had success”, his fine run of form with Wales came after he’d worked – mostly unpaid – in the Greek second division.

It was an experience he described as “One of the best things I’ve ever done, because you find out a lot about yourself out of a comfortable environment.”

Dream big

Digging deep is a common factor in many of the stars who have achieved this incredible success, and demonstrates that with the right attitude, almost anything is possible.

Dare to dream big – in sport, in the workplace – and you can achieve your goals.

In Iceland’s case, it was a real David and Goliath scenario. With mostly lower-league players, and co-managed by a dentist, they knocked out England and won the hearts of neutral fans everywhere. Sheer bloody-mindedness, and making the absolute most of their talent, meant a nation with a population of just 332,529 achieved incredible things.

That’s the population of a small English city, about the size of, say, Leicester. Which brings us neatly on to Leicester’s football team achieving the seemingly unachievable in the 2015-16 season, rising from 5000-to-1 outsiders to win the Premier League (and leading to some very red-faced bookies in the process). How? Again, with tremendous leadership from the irrepressible manager Claudio Ranieri and all of the players working as a highly-effective team that just would not lie down and be beaten.

Prepare well

So it’s possible to push yourself beyond the norms. To take the next steps and achieve something amazing. Also this year, Andy Murray won his second Wimbledon title under the watchful eye of coach Ivan Lendl, whose says his philosophy is “I'm a big believer in preparation, and when you prepare well, there doesn't need to be much said.”

Again, this is something we can all do within the workplace to increase our performance. Plan well, accept failure, learn from it and move on. Just look at England’s rugby team, which bounced back from a dreadful Rugby World Cup as hosts in 2015 to take the Six Nations championship by storm with a grand slam in 2016.

Or look at Olympic rowers Heather Stanning, a Royal Artillery captain, and Helen Glover, a PE teacher, who won gold at London 2012 having only paired up three years before. They were spares for the main team back then, but pushed themselves to such physical limits, backed by incredible self-belief, that they eventually became the stars.

Teaching an underdog new tricks

So whatever your goals and aspirations, it’s possible to reach new heights if you want to badly enough.

Find yourself a good mentor, prepare your plan of action, learn from your failures and, above all, give it everything you’ve got – and the underdog can win the day.

Original article published on LinkedIn 28.7.2016