In watching the rerun of “Ali” over the weekend, I was transfixed by the man on a mission, the fighter originally known as Cassius Clay. Muhammad Ali was motivated by multiple factors. He fought for Allah…for the repressed…for black men and women who yearned to be free…for his own self-worth. Stronger, more experienced fighters were knocked down and out time and again by this focused innovator of the boxing ring. Ali had the incredible footwork that made him elusive and seemingly able to “float like a butterfly.” Added to the footwork, he had a lethal left hand that, in his words, “stung like a bee.” This formidable combination proved almost unstoppable throughout a career that spanned a couple of decades.
In what ways is a prizefighter like a business executive? There’s the obvious–not everyone will agree with your beliefs and practices. Sometimes, we are called to make a stand on a life issue that is much bigger than ourselves or event the moment of competition. For many, a career pursuit is an opportunity to find fulfillment as we exercise our gifts and abilities and hope that our contribution to society has been positive and enduring.
But, beyond the esoteric comparisons, what else can we as business leaders derive from Ali and his legacy? He came into boxing at a time when standing toe-to-toe and slugging the other fighter into submission was the conventional wisdom. What did he do differently? He changed the game! By incorporating speedy footwork designed to force others to come to him, emphasizing endurance, and furious arm/hand speed, Muhammad Ali demonstrated that brute force could be overcome, just as other methods of warfare have been replaced over time. The “sting” of Ali was his counterpunching capability–to absorb what the competition threw his way, and to come back with a vengeance and knockout blow to the head.
In what ways have you undertaken a game-changing strategy? When your industry, product, service, talent, etc would dictate the terms to you, do you roll over and take it? Or, do you devise a unique approach that suits your unique competitive advantage and exploit it to gain an upper hand? Are you daring in the face of such long odds? Most of the innovators of our time have been
As to your counterpunch, do you have what it takes to observe the competition’s best effort, take it in stride, and initiate your own offensive? Does it deliver a “sting?” Or, is it benign and overlooked for lack of potency? Arise and conquer! Find a way to “punch” back when your adversary is resting on laurels. Develop your own effective means to TKO them and win your prize.
May you develop the knack to float like a butterfly and sting like a…