The Skills That Successful CEOs Share with Triathlon Athletes
As a veteran venture capitalist and Ironman competitor, Boaz Dinte believes that running a successful company is much like competing in sports
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Investing in tech companies for more than 20 years and training for Ironman Triathlons in my free time, I cannot help but recognize parallels between endurance athletes and the most successful CEOs in the tech world. I have drawn from my experience in both domains and outlined characteristics I have found common to both.
Stay motivated and determined
Endurance athletes love what they do. They train because they want to and not because they have to, and they do not enjoy taking a break from their routine. The successful CEO will be driven, self-motivated, and passionate about their business. They will always have a strong sense of purpose pushing them further.
To reach their peak performance for a competition, an endurance athlete will commit to ongoing, repetitive training, that, for the most part, offer little excitement. It is not much different than a CEO giving the same pitch countless times to win over customers, investors, and employees, and spending a major chunk of their life sleeping on planes to reach them. Without inherent motivation, excitement and passion for what they are doing, neither can overcome the tedious day-to-day routines that are also the milestones on the way to success.
Be plan-oriented and adaptive
Both athletes and CEOs need to be committed to their strategies, yet still be prepared for surprises. They should be agile enough to change when the need or an opportunity presents itself. An Ironman participant enters the race with a detailed plan but is not “married” to it. They need to be ready to make fast decisions and changes to the plan as the race develops and surprises arise.
CEOs often find out many of their initial plans for their startups do not play out as they initially envisioned. Market dynamics are constantly changing, breakthrough technologies are introduced, and new players enter the market. The best business leaders recognize these changes well in advance and change their plans accordingly. Flexibility is key in sports and in business, as is the need to be able to make the right decisions in real-time, without being fixated on earlier plans.
Approach failures as opportunities rather than setbacks
Failure is inevitable. Rather than view it as a setback, endurance athletes see them as an opportunity to learn how they can improve.
In the tech industry, some of the best entrepreneurs have had their fair share of failed endeavors, but they were clever and took away lessons used to forge ahead and succeed in future initiatives. Coca-Cola’s iconic CEO Muhtar Kent famously said we should not be afraid of making mistakes, as long as we do not repeat them.
Monitor your KPIs
Ironman athletes do not let a single detail about their bodies go unnoticed during training. They track multiple key performance indicators (KPIs) such as pulse, power and cadence, as well as external conditions like temperature, humidity, and wind speed, in tandem with nutrition and hours of sleep. They constantly analyze these data points to understand how they impact their performance and use them to improve.
The tech industry is as dynamic as a race, and data is abundant. The successful CEO will leverage data to keep their finger on the pulse of their business, collecting and analyzing data to make calculated decisions that will boost performance and give them a competitive edge.
Choose the right team
Endurance athletes need to surround themselves with peers that will challenge and support them. Strong athletes train with even better athletes to constantly improve.
This also holds true for CEOs. CEOs should surround themselves with strong, opinionated professionals who are the best in their field. People who they can respect and trust, but who will also challenge them when needed. Their team should not be afraid to ask difficult questions or push the business past its comfort zone.
My coach always talks about the importance of debriefing after a long training session or a race, in order to learn from the experience. Evaluating success is just as important as analyzing failure. In business, a good debrief can help illuminate ways to improve processes and performance and produce actionable conclusions.
Bottom line, there is always another finish line for both the athlete and the CEO and a competitive spirit and a winning attitude are needed to successfully cross it and improve. Keep up the spirit, invest in the team, remain focused on the target, and, most importantly, enjoy the journey.
Boaz Dinte is a managing partner at Tel Aviv-based late-stage venture fund Qumra Capital Management Ltd.