Two Business Lessons From An Olympic Fencing Hopeful
Fencing is a lot like business, and perhaps even life in general. I learned this yesterday at the British Youth Championships, watching my friends’ 12-year old son compete and listening to his coach (who is an Olympic hopeful for 2012) advise him in between matches.
The first great piece of advice the coach gave was this: “when you take the first step – and only for the first step – take it a little slower and see what your opponent does. Let your opponent show their hand. Then act decisively.” As one who tends to charge forward in full force, I found this illuminating.
The second was, “change up your approach and try to catch your opponent off guard”. Perhaps obvious sounding advice, but it helped my friends’ son come from behind to win the match. (So maybe there is a role for charging forward, but just not every time.)
As in business, fencers have to think strategically as well as weave together their tactics in “real time”. The sport requires both physical and mental stamina, and working hard year round. You have a coach and supporters on the sidelines and a referee/judge who watches and awards points. (I wonder how many of us think of our boss as the coach versus the supporter versus the judge?)
But in the end, it is all about what happens in those crucial moments when you face your competitor in what I think of as “the crucible”. And when you are in that crucible and it is “show time”, you alone must decide what to do in split seconds, drawing on the advice and planning that came before.
As with so many things in life, the trick is to be prepared and know when, and how, to execute. And to be truly effective, it is important to get in touch with how your competitors may be thinking. True for fencing, and definitely true in business.