Chris O’Brien at Cyara explores lessons learned from Sugar Ray Leonard and how these can help find your power to win.
The principles that drive success are universal. Whether you strive for greatness as an athlete or in your business, it takes discipline, determination, and a certain amount of fearlessness to achieve your goals.
Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard knows something about what it takes to succeed. With 36 wins, only three losses and one draw, world titles in five weight divisions, and an Olympic gold medal, Leonard is one of the most decorated athletes of the 20th century.
Since he retired from boxing in 1997, he has devoted his life to helping and inspiring others to achieve their own dreams.
The Cyara team was recently privileged to host Leonard as the keynote speaker at Xchange Virtual Summit 2021, and he shared lessons from his boxing career that readily apply in business. We wanted to highlight a few that might help you as you aim for your own personal and professional success.
Define Your Victory
When Sugar Ray Leonard wants to highlight his accomplishments, there is no shortage of boxing stories to tell. His 1987 defeat of “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler alone is one of the greatest boxing victories of all time. But Leonard doesn’t define success solely based on boxing wins.
“I just didn’t want to be a boxer,” he says. “I wanted to be someone that helped others out… who reciprocated.”
When he talks about his victories, he highlights his family, his efforts to fund diabetes research, and simply hearing his kids say, “I love you.” The lessons he’s learned from these successes apply in every area of life and business.
“That’s what’s so wonderful about victory: It is defined in so many ways,” he says. “However you define victory, the key is to always strive to attain it. But you’ve gotta’ have a plan… a blueprint that turns that dream into a reality.”
As you think about your business, ask yourself the big questions. What are your dreams? How do you define success? For many in the world of tech or focused on customer experience right now, success in digital transformation is essential. You may know you need your company to offer a fully integrated digital experience, but what does that look like?
As Leonard puts it, “Dreams are your GPS toward your success.” Take the time to make sure your GPS is calibrated.
Accept the Risks
There’s no success — in life or business — without risks. Once you have your dreams mapped out, it will soon be clear you have to traverse some dangerous terrain to get there. Your challenge is to accept and embrace those risks.
“Some entrepreneurs took huge risks on their way to the top — and they made millions and they also lost millions,” Leonard says. “But the one common thread was no fear of failure, only fear of doing nothing.”
Using digital transformation as an example again, it’s not hard to see the risks. Creating a truly digital-first company requires major overhauls of nearly every business process. It takes a significant investment of time and resources. Mistakes can be costly.
But what’s the alternative? To sit back and do nothing while your competition surges ahead? When you think about it that way, the choice is clear.
Know Your Opponent (So You Can Outwork Them)
Success isn’t just about charging ahead, though. It takes strategy and, most of all, hard work. You have to understand your opponents so you can learn how to outwork them. These opponents show up as competitors in business or internal aspects that hinder personal and organizational success — the fear, self-doubt and habits that block your path to victory.
Sugar Ray Leonard’s success didn’t come easy. He grew up without much money. And even when he found success, other problems like pride and alcoholism threatened to take him down. But he was committed to overcoming these obstacles and doing what he calls the “road work.”
“Road work … is doing everything necessary to achieve your goals and dreams,” he explains. “It gives you the ability to dig deep and perform in those high-pressure situations.”
For Leonard, that meant studying every aspect of his opponent’s style, technique, and preparation so he could work twice as hard to defeat them.
In your organization, one of your key goals may be to deliver a top-notch customer experience. Applying Leonard’s advice, ask yourself “What’s getting in the way of that?”
Take the time to understand every problem, and every pain point in the customer’s path. Learn what your competition is doing better. Find out what it takes to go further, and dedicate your customer experience team(s) to making it happen.
When Leonard talks about his 1980 defeat at the hands of Roberto Durán — one of the few in his career — it’s clear it still stings a little. But it’s also clear that what defines that moment for him is not the loss, but his response to it. Instead of letting defeat cripple him, he used it as motivation and won a rematch with Durán just five months later.
“At some point, at some time, we all get taken out of our game plan,” Leonard says. What sets apart real winners, though, is how they respond to these setbacks.
Maybe a recent software launch didn’t go so well. What was supposed to improve the customer experience instead made it more cumbersome. Or maybe your company is in the hot seat with some bad PR. Whatever it is, it’s not the setback that shows who you are; it’s what you do next.
“We all possess that extra hidden reservoir of strength… we all have it. But what separates us is the ability to activate it,” Leonard says. How will you bounce back after the next loss?
Dedication to Quality Is a Commitment to Being the Best
In the world of customer experience, most organizations know the importance of quality assurance. They have entire teams dedicated to it.
If your organization is committed to quality assurance, then you have at least one thing in common with Sugar Ray Leonard: You want to be the best. By its very nature, a drive toward quality never stops — it always seeks to improve and be better than before.
Early in his career, Leonard knew he needed to learn how to carry himself professionally. To keep up, he made a habit of studying the dictionary so he could expand his vocabulary and excel at speaking in public. Today, he’s a motivational speaker. That didn’t come naturally; it took dedication and hard work.
“No one is born a world champion just like no one is born a brain surgeon,” he says. “The successful do what they can and what they must to be the best.”
If that attitude defines you and your organization, then you’re on the same path as Sugar Ray Leonard. The path to becoming a champion.