Blackbelt in the boardroom: What martial arts can teach you about business and leadership

MMA and business have much in common. And Luca Senatore, director and a mixed martial arts athlete, shares how combat taught him lessons about productivity, courage, competitiveness and dealing with failure in business

Blackbelt in the boardroom: What martial arts can teach you about business and leadership

Having started my journey in martial arts early on after watching a Bruce Lee movie, I started clumsily mimicking his moves around the house and invariably ended up breaking things which turned out to be a persuasive way to get my mum to send me to karate classes. 

And it was only during recent years that I truly understood how much competing in MMA helped me in business. In an attempt to not lose these learnings, I bottled them up in three specific skills. 

(1) Dealing with fear

It doesn’t matter how skilled someone looks when walking into a cage or a ring, it’s terrifying for all. Mike Tyson, one of the scariest boxers to ever live, said: “I’m scared to death. I’m afraid. I’m afraid of everything. I’m afraid of losing. I’m afraid of being humiliated. But I’m confident.”

Even when you’re confident about your abilities, it’s scary. I have seen athletes, minutes away from being called into the cage, going to the toilet to then take the back door home. It’s truly terrifying. 

Similarly, in business, it’s okay to be scared. The more we accept this, the less we’re likely to be negatively affected by fear.

(2) It’s a team effort 

The appearance is that two athletes compete against each other. But in reality, the coaches in the corner are vitally important and are often the factor that enables the athlete to win. And as an athlete, you develop the ability to listen to and trust the instructions you hear from the corner. Those who learn to do this are far more successful. 

Indeed, it’s always a team effort. The fact that you’re the boss doesn’t make you the best. You must learn to listen humbly to what others have to say and take their advice seriously.

(3) Seek the win but enjoy the process

The biggest mistake athletes make is to only fight for the win. They go through hard training camps, weight cut, the build up and they hate it. Then, if they get the win, all that accumulated hating is transformed into ecstatic bliss and dopamine-charged happiness. But if they lose, it’s just more hate. 

As entrepreneurs, you must develop true love for most moments of the process, from the fight announcement and the training to the walk-out and the fight itself. This is the right way, the only way to give yourself the best chances to succeed. 

MMA is highly volatile, one might lose against opponents who on paper are less good. Waiting for the win to enjoy what you do simply doesn’t cut it. 

In business, enjoying every single part of the process is essential which many forget. Not just winning the business, not just winning the awards or hitting performance targets but every aspect of running the business. Of course there’ll be things you don’t enjoy doing. But looking to inject passion in each step of the way on your pursuit to whatever it is you’re looking to achieve, pays passive dividends, immediately. 

Luca Senatore
Luca Senatore

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