You can take an athlete out of the competition, but you can’t take the competition out of an athlete. As it turns out, the resilient mindset cultivated in sports serves as the perfect training for a life in business — whether it’s in the boardroom or the broadcast booth.
There is perhaps no better model of this than Lisa Leslie, the Olympic Gold Medalist and three-time MVP who is among the most accomplished WNBA athletes of all time. Leslie was the most dominant player in women’s basketball during her career, playing on the United States’ Olympic gold-medal-winning teams in 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008, and leading the L.A. Sparks to back-to-back WNBA championships. In 2015, she was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Since retiring from the game in 2009, Leslie has translated her athletic abilities into successful business practices. Her accolades include authoring the autobiography Don’t Let the Lipstick Fool You; working as a TV sports analyst and motivational speaker; modeling for the Wilhelmina Agency; co-owning the L.A. Sparks; and founding several non-profits — to name just a few. Leslie is also the co-author of the new book, From the Court to the Boardroom: The Path to Empowerment, written with the Growth Strategist Bridgette Chambers.
Leslie and Chambers joined IVY for an Ideas Night in Miami centered on how to gain competitive advantage. This dynamic duo has traveled the globe to share their unique perspectives on leadership and personal success. Below are highlights from Leslie’s take on the connection between the passion and strength formed while playing competitive sports and the high-performing behaviors necessary to entrepreneurial success.
Leslie’s first piece of advice is to “work backward.” In essence, this means first identifying your passion — whether that be teaching, founding a startup, or becoming a professional athlete — and then establishing what it takes to succeed in that field. Once you have clarified what it is you want to work towards, you can reach out to people along the way who have gone down a similar path.
Though not everybody has the athletic gifts to become a three-time MVP, “working backward” will still allow you to take advantage of the resources at your disposal, giving you the greatest chance for success.
From a young age — around when she entered middle school at over 6’1″ — Leslie knew she wanted to pursue a career as a basketball player. So starting in ninth grade, she would write down her long- and short-term goals: what she hoped to achieve as a basketball player in one year, five years, and so on.
Now, off the court, these old habits have stayed with her. Leslie continues to map out her short- and long-term goals, which serve as the driving force for her career as an author, public speaker, and model. “What I’ve learned in basketball — and how it’s applied to business — is being really goal-oriented and specific about what it is that I want,” Leslie said. “We have a lot of dreams and thoughts and hopes, but we have a hard time really getting centered and focused on exactly what we want to achieve.”
Enable Others’ Success
The world of sports is a shining example of the advantages of coaching, mentorship, and leadership. From tee-ball all the way up to the MLB (and in just about every other sport), athletes benefit from a trainer-trainee relationship — one that allows them to learn, grow, and develop their skills alongside a more experienced coach or player.
Leslie asks: why shouldn’t this kind of back-and-forth continue outside the arena? Particularly in the world of business, leaders regularly need guidance in order to adapt to new challenges and remain successful. As a result, Leslie believes in the importance of giving back in order to enable others to succeed — an attitude surely influenced by her years working with coaches and trainers. “Once you do reach that pinnacle of success of where you are,” Leslie said, “don’t forget to reach back.”