What lessons Corporate Execs should take from Andy Murray becoming tennis world number one.

What lessons Corporate Execs should take from Andy Murray becoming tennis world number one.

What lessons Corporate Execs should take from Andy Murray becoming tennis world number one.
What lessons Corporate Execs should take from Andy Murray becoming tennis world number one.


 Andy Murray is 29 and has been playing professionally for over a decade, and so far has won just 3 Grand Slam tournaments from about 40 attempts. In contrast, Novak Djokovic, who is the same age, has won 12 Grand Slam titles.

By 2008, Murray was part of the “Big 4” in tennis – Nadal, Federer, and Djokovic. In the same year, he had reached the final of the US Open, but lost in straight sets to Federer. At that point it was anticipated that Murray would start winning Grand Slam titles, but instead, until 2012, he appeared in only two Grand Slam finals, losing both. But then at the start of 2012, he hired 51-year-old Ivan Lendl as his coach. The following year, Murray won the US Open, reached the Wimbledon final, and won the Gold Medal at the London Olympics. 

The following year he reached the final in Australia, won Wimbledon, and achieved a career high ranking of number 2 in the world. In early 2014, Murray and Lendl amicably split, mostly it seems because Lendl didn’t want to travel too much. Murray was without a lead coach for a few months before engaging 35-year-old Amélie Mauresmo s his primary coach. Soon afterwards two of his team left, unhappy with the Mauresmo appointment.

Amélie Mauresmo was a wmen tennis player who had a decade long career, reaching the world number one, and winning 3 Grand Slam events – a fine record. However, over 2 years under Mauresmo, Murray competed in only one GS final where he was defeated. In June 2016, Murray re-engaged Lendl and since then has won Wimbledon, the Gold Medal in the Rio Olympics, winning for the first time the ATP Tour finals, and become the top ranked tennis player in the world. 

I wonder if we are seeing a pattern….. Other players certainly did and Djokovic engaged Boris Becker, Federer brought on Stefan Edberg, and Nishikori hired Michael Chang. As Chang said, “We’ve been there. We know what it takes, and we know from experience what has worked and what has not.”

Ivan Lendl won 8 Grand Slam tournaments and competed in 19. Through his struggles he learned what it takes to win a GS event, so could guide Murray appropriately. Mauresmo also had some ideas but she is more a peer of Murray than a coach. She lacks the wisdom that comes from reflection and analysis after 30 years in the game. And the men’s game is different from the lessons learned in the women’s game. 

The most appropriate path is for Murray to add what he lacks – an old head on young shoulders. When he engaged Mauresmo, he got a young head on young shoulders – which he already had. The problem is the younger person doesn’t yet know how much he doesn’t know, but will when he is 50, so in the meantime, the younger should engage a 50 year old to serve that function.

I once advised a 22-year-old female professional golf player. I set up a performance program and she quickly reached the top 5 in the main feeder tour to the LPGA. And that is when a 22-year-old decided that she had succeeded enough to postpone the program until the off-season. I tried to persuade her that staying with the program was the only hope of maintaining her rank, but she was sure that her play was now strong enough to continue for the second half of the season without further assistance. 

By the end of the season, her first half season efforts had held her into the top 20, but the following year (without the program) she fell out the top 100, and eventually quit golf. That is what happens when a 22-year-old is deciding the shots on a performance program. They just have no idea of the gulf between their current knowledge and a mature perspective. It’s a shame they learn only in hindsight.

When Corporate are trying anything difficult, they ask the team they have to deliver. They might some consultants to help, but if the consultants are below 35, they only know what they know and have (obviously) no knowledge of what they don’t. These consultants will hopefully still add value and probably energy and enthusiasm, but these projects need to be guided by the 50-year-old who has done this 10 times already. And asking the company 50-year-old “spare exec” to deliver an enterprise where they have little detailed familiarity is like asking a weekend tennis player to coach Murray – they have wisdom just don’t have the depth of experience.

Why is it still more likely that projects will fail rather than succeed? A large contribution is because mature Leadership is an undervalued commodity. Even a former superstar 35-year-old exec will tell you (after they reach 50) that on reflection, they realize how much experience they were missing at 35, but at the time thought they knew everything that was important. And that might be true of the 65-year-old looking back at their time when 50, but the knowledge gap would be smaller.

So the Corporate Executive Suite – Learn from Murray’s experience. If you want to be the best, engage mature, proven leadership to lead, guide and coach, and often that has to come from the consultant ranks since such experience is not always on tap. When you are crowned number one you will be glad you did.

The Author : Stuart Hamilton


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To structure the delivery of complex, large-scale transformational projects while managing and coaching multidisciplinary and matrixed teams. Day 1 assistance to develop strategy, roadmap, and execution plan, then execute and manage the implementation.
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