Among my earliest memories is a sheet of ice painted with rings at each end, granite rocks sliding along it to the sounds of a sweeping broom and a skip shouting enthusiastically: the roaring game of curling.
A lifetime of curling has left its mark on me and imparted many lessons that translate to business leadership. So, as we move deeper into Canada’s winter, here are my top five leadership lessons from the curling rink:
- You can’t win unless you play as a team – and the leader sets the tone. Curling, like business, is a team sport. There are four team members on the ice, each with an equally important role to play. The “skip” is the team captain, responsible for directing the shots and throwing the final stones, and a good skip knows that the team is a unit. He or she is supportive and encouraging of each and every member, helping them work together toward a shared goal as well as achieve their personal potential.
- Passion is good, but throwing your broom (or a tantrum) when someone makes a mistake will get you nowhere. I’ve seen it: type-A skips in a high-pressure game who slam their broom on the ice in anger or speak harshly to a team member when they miss a shot. It embarrasses everyone involved and only results in negativity amongst the team and an advantage to the competition. There will be setbacks, in curling and in business. True leaders know how to stay cool when things go wrong and look forward instead of back.
- Have a guiding vision – and the ability to adapt. At the outset of a game of curling, a good skip will have a plan in mind based on many factors, including the particular skills of the team and the opposition, knowledge of the arena and its ice, and so forth. Similarly, a good leader in business should have a guiding vision and map out a strategy. It should include the ability to change if the situation warrants it – a strong leader is flexible and willing to adapt if, say, their vice misses an open hit when they’re tied up with the hammer coming home in the eighth end. (A little curling jargon for you there. If you don’t curl, just know that it means something bad happened at a crucial point in the game and it’s time to be adaptive.)
- Communication is crucial. Curlers talk to each other. A lot. Sometimes at top volume. It’s essential, because not only do they have to know what the skip wants them to do, the rest of the players have to make sure the skip knows what is happening at the other end of the ice. Business leadership is much the same: leaders need to share information with their teams but they need to listen, too, and act decisively on the information they receive from those around them.
- Be willing to take a chance. The most famous, game-changing curling shots are always the tough ones. It takes guts and daring to try some of these make-or-break shots. The greatest skips – like the greatest leaders – are not only solid when it comes to the run-of-the-mill games, they are also willing to take a chance when something big is on the line.
Canadians excel at curling: more than 700,000 of us play the sport, the Canadian men’s and women’s teams are the reigning Olympic gold medallists, and Canada consistently wins on the world stage. In short we are curling leaders – and there’s a lot that can be learned from this success for business leaders, too. So get out there, keep your eye on the broom, and “hurry hard”!