What Can You Learn About Management From Federer?

Updated: Sep 24

Pete Sampras’ record of seven Wimbledon championships stood for 17 years. Roger Federer broke that record on Sunday. What do they have in common?


They combined the science of fitness with tennis knowledge and experience. And one more thing – the art of playing the game. Knowing their game, their strengths and weaknesses, led to amazingly strong belief in themselves. Like the master painter or sculptor, they could choose what decision to make at just the right moment and execute that decision with confidence and excellence.


And how does this relate to leading people to make good decisions? It is the art of decision making we want to address here. There are loads of smart people, Watson is available from IBM – so there is no lack of data. Yet groups too frequently make less than great decisions. At least the outcomes are measurably poor. Perhaps what is missing is the art.


When you’re leading a group of people to make a decision, there are lots of personal characteristics that can get in the way. Let’s see what some of them are and how to handle them.

Our personal biases can be deadly

  • We talked about confirmation bias in Thinking Traps Part 1

  • Can’t forget anchoring (over-reliance on a single piece of information)

  • Halo and Horns effects (attaching goodness or badness to someone or something based on assumptions)

  • Overconfidence (feeling and acting in ways that overestimate the reliability of our judgments)

  • The downside of EQ issues is discussed in EQ Drives Decision Making Success

Beyond Biases, Apply Art – If It Were Easy, Everyone Would Do It

  • Be 100 percent in the moment. You notice everything going on, the body language, tone, who tries to dominate, who waits, who withdraws. You encourage, you enforce rules of engagement, you help everyone make their points and move forward. You keep your mind clear of personal baggage while keeping others from throwing theirs into the conversation.

  • Respect each person while encouraging full participation. Insist that people respect each other and treat each other as professionals. Putting up with bad behavior will rip up a group. You’ve got to do whatever is required to keep behaviors from becoming the key issues and dominating the process

  • Provide clear feedback. Let people know what is helping and what is not. Help people see that their actions make a difference. Let them know what helps move the group forward and be honest about what gets in the way. Accept your role as honest communicator as well as leader. Remember that often “perfection is the enemy of the good.”

Finally, don’t let people forget the “why” of the decision. It is too easy to get tied up in the execution particulars. Keeping people from drowning in the “what” and the “how” requires you to show your passion and energy for the “why.”

Being On Your Game

For the group to make good decisions, you need to be on your best game. Like Federer and Sampras, you can’t allow distractions, the pressure of being down momentarily or the elation of winning a key point to overcome your game plan. People are depending on you, your skill, IQ, EQ, and especially your art as a leader to move forward.

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