Wimbledon’s top tennis players inspire leaders in business

Having no regrets and focusing on one key development area are key leadership lessons from Wimbledon 2017


Wimbledon is back for another year and with it some incredible talent. As the world watches best-in-class players take to the court, what lessons can business leaders draw from an athlete’s mentality? 

There are many comparisons drawn between top sportspeople and successful professionals. Both demonstrate confidence, motivation, persistence and focus, says Richard Jolly, Adjunct Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School.

Briton Johanna Konta's hopes of a first Wimbledon final ended with a semi-final defeat by five-time champion Venus Williams. Seven-time champion Roger Federer became the second-oldest man to reach an open Wimbledon final.

“They are all different, but universally have a no-regret mindset in common,” says Jolly.

Read The athlete's mentality: lessons and limitations for business leaders

“Imagine you’re Murray or Williams and you’ve just played the worst, most humiliating point of your life. Do you have the ability to walk to the other side of the court and start a new point with a focused, positive attitude?” The best players can and do, says Jolly.

“It takes internal resilience to just let stuff go. Resilience is typically defined as the ability to cope with pressure that comes from stressful situations. Sports professionals are focused on the future and don’t get bogged down by bad serves.

“Living your life with regrets will bring you, your team and overall performance down. You have to let go of failure and move on.”

As well as trying to stay focused on the future and not on the past, leaders should focus on development areas rather than weak spots, he says.

“Tennis players can train themselves out of bad serves: this is a development need. But too often business leaders try to fix their weak spots,” claims Jolly. He makes the distinction between weaknesses – being bad at something – and development needs – getting better at something. “Working on a weakness is usually a recipe for failure: find a coping strategy instead. 

“The best coping strategy is a strong, diverse team around you that balance your weaknesses. Just like a tennis player focused on improving their serve, business leaders should focus on the one development need that will give them the biggest improvement.”