Champions’ Lessons from Wimbledon

Imagine you have a mentor who just turned 60 years old who has had similar experiences as you thus far in your career. This mentor has been in your industry for the last 30 years, worked on many projects and has a host of valuable lessons and stories to share.  Now imagine this older person is really just you giving advice to your younger self.  What sort of advice would your 60-year-old self help you with today?  What would your future self say about you and the project you are managing?  Would he say you should have followed the lessons from Wimbledon?

We were watching the Wimbledon tennis tournament this past weekend and noticed a relatively new phenomenon called the “super coach”: tennis great Ivan Lendl has been acting as Andy Murray’s coach.  Lendl has recently signed on to help Murray unseat Novak Djokovic, who is being coached by another tennis legend, Boris Becker.  Even John McEnroe has joined the fray by coaching Milos Raonic (Raonic lost to Murray if you didn’t see the Wimbledon final).

Why don’t we have “super coaches” in Project Management?  One reason may be that Project Managers think they have been hired on the belief that they are the best project leader and know the most about running successful projects.  There may be concern about being seen as vulnerable.  This could either be naiveté or simply ego getting in the way, but Project Managers are often left to their own devices with little or no oversight.  Even CEO’s have guidance from their Board of Directors, yet Project Managers only have their boss to report to and that person may not have any project experience.

While this question may seem self-serving, we have seen many project managers who use name brand consultants only to see their projects go “sideways” because those consultants often rely on newly minted MBAs who lack the requisite experience.  Another reason Project Managers may not be using seniors, mentors or super coaches is that advisers are often viewed as too expensive, or “not worth the time and effort to bring them up to speed”.

Would Andy Murray say that Ivan Lendl’s coaching was too expensive, given his latest 2016 victory at Wimbledon?

I recently read Ryan Holliday’s book published in 2014 “The Obstacle Is the Way” (complete book review pending in a future blog).  After the release, the book slowly made its way through the community of professional sports. On the way to their 2014 Super Bowl victory, Michael Lombardi and Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots distributed copies of The Obstacle Is the Way to their staff and players. In the 2015 season, Seattle Seahawks GM John Schneider and Pete Carroll passed the book around the team’s locker room.

The title of the book is drawn from a quote from Meditations, a series of personal writings by Roman emperor and Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

So today’s winning professional football teams are taking advice from a philosopher who lived over 2,000 years ago?

Asking project management advice from an ancient philosopher or a former “star player” may seem like an expensive option for you and your project, and car insurance seemed really expensive the first time you got behind the wheel.

Will your 60-year-old self say, “You should have hired a coach for this project!”?

Written by John F. Gravel