The Business Improvement Network

The corporate athelete

By Dr Alan Beggs

BIN - The Business Improvement Network

For several years in Great Britain, coaching as a management style has been promoted as a way of creating both a more humane, and higher performing workplace culture. Unfortunately, it has now become clear that coaching alone, powerful as it is, cannot produce and sustain such a radical shift in workplace culture.

The reason for this is quite simple. The sport metaphor has not been fully understood or applied in the world of business, and unless and until it is, the Holy Grail of the so-called Coaching or Performance Culture will remain elusive.

Sport coaches achieve their successes through the efforts of athletes, who perform entirely on their own; just as in business, they are the people who actually get the job done. It is now abundantly clear that the crucial element in sport, where competitors are so closely matched on technical ability and physical fitness, is the mind of the performer. As well as being physically fit, they also need to be psychologically fit. It really isn’t rocket science.

But what exactly does this mean?

A good start towards understanding the nature of psychological fitness was made over twenty years ago. Daniel Goleman’s ground-breaking books Emotional Intelligence and Working with Emotional Intelligence spawned a plethora of self-help books for business, and the “EQ industry” has finally made it acceptable to talk about emotions in the workplace. Before 1996, they were strictly a taboo subject.

However, emotional intelligence is only part of the story; In recent years, a more holistic understanding of psychological fitness has emerged. We now know that people who can deliver more of their potential are Cognitively, Emotionally, Socially and Spiritually Intelligent. Actually, to understand more clearly what this means, substitute the word ‘competent’ for ‘intelligent’. The crucial difference is that competencies can be learned.

Cognitive Intelligence is about having a clear vision, paying attention to the processes which will get you there, and staying in the here and now rather than being stuck in the past – or a scary future. People like this are single-minded, dedicated, organised; they plan, they do, and they learn from their setbacks; and they can stay on track more often than not.

Emotional Intelligence is about emotional understanding and control, and importantly, emotionally intelligent people possess what various gurus call mental toughness, resilience, or grit - all ways to describe an ability to bounce back and keep going when the going gets tough.

Social Intelligence is about understanding other people, being able to empathise with them and an ability to communicate in a positive and empowering way. People like this provide the social oil which keeps teams, departments and businesses running smoothly and successfully.

Spiritual Intelligence means being in touch with your own inner strengths, your confidence, your sense of purpose, and your deeply held values. A confident and committed person who truly expresses their values shines out to us like a beacon; they are authentic. We respect and admire them. 

If you go back and read all four descriptions in one go, you will get a flavour of what a psychologically fit person might look like. Could your business do with some more people like that? Would you like to have some more Corporate Athletes around the place?

The conclusion is a bit obvious. With psychologically fit Corporate Athletes and coaching in the workplace, the high-performance culture which so many businesses are seeking today will almost certainly emerge. It cannot be brought about by coaching alone – it has to be a joint effort. Coaches without athletes are irrelevant. 

The good news is that the mental competencies which underpin every aspect of psychological fitness can be learnt. With appropriate training or coaching, people can and do improve their personal skills and strategies, and begin to become the Corporate Athletes businesses so desperately need as they strive to reach the next level.

About the author

Dr Alan Beggs, head of, has spent almost twenty-five years in the groves of academe, with a highly successful research career and over fifty publications to his name, and as an Olympic sport psychologist had an impact on the number of medals the GB Olympic team won in Sydney.

Enjoyed reading these articles?

Have you got something you can share with the Network. Why not submit an article

Submit an article

"Many thanks for yesterday's Performance Measurement workshop. I have clearer thoughts on the downward cascade from Strategy into the processes, something we have not got sorted yet. Thanks for a very useful day"

Jim Hathaway, Quality Manager, Beiersdorf UK