“What Failing at the CrossFit Games Can Teach You About Success” by Val Wright

I read this short article after performing the first workout of the 2015 CrossFit Games. One of my main purposes for doing this blog is to consolidate and link my thoughts and ideas between the books, articles, and insights I have on a regular basis. What this article did for me was that it took my involvement in a physical pursuit (i.e. Crossfit) and clearly outlined how success in such a physical pursuit lends value in our intellectual and professional pursuits. I do CrossFit because it is hard and I feel personal validation when I complete one of its daily challenges. CrossFit has also blatantly identified my own weaknesses and forced me to work on them. If you want to read some more established insights about CrossFit and its life-changing effects, I recommend picking up Rich Froning’s book, “First:What it Takes to Win.”

Would you be happy to be in the bottom 30 percent of any competition? I was delighted last year to come 3551st out of 5062 competitors in my group in the CrossFitGames. On Thursday hundreds of thousands of athletes will be glued to their screens waiting to hear the first of five workouts that make up the 2015 CrossFit Games.

As I await the CrossFit Open for the fourth year running, I want to share lessons that any entrepreneur can learn from the most inclusive fitness competition on Earth.

1. You can’t fail if you don’t try. 

It is easy to get distracted if you focus on where you are in the race rather than how close you are to the finish line. I am often the last to finish a workout, especially during the CrossFit Open. Rather than focusing on the fact everyone else has finished and I am still eking out my pull-ups, I think about all of the other athletes who decided not to compete. I would rather participate and place last than avoid competing in the first place. Failure shouldn’t scare you, but not trying should.

2. Measure and share success.

The CrossFit Open has a worldwide online league table, which records the results of five different workouts over five weeks; anyone can compete for the CrossFit Games open stages. Whether it is burpees, squats, or deadlifts, everyone knows the rules, how you are evaluated, what it takes to win, and the rewards. Now, think about your relationship with your team, your board, your investors, or your boss: Do you have the same level of clarity of what is expected of you and your results?

3. Performance during exhaustion matter. 

Exhaustion is inevitable in CrossFit. How you perform when you are exhausted yet three minutes remain on the clock will set you apart from the crowd. Last year during the games, one of our coaches in the final minute just exploded–he managed three “ground-to-overhead” movements in the last 10 seconds. He performed harder and faster than in the previous nine minutes. That is the definition of an elite athlete. As a leader it is easy to become overwhelmed, exhausted, and overworked. The key is how you dig into your mental and physical reserves and continue to perform until you reach your business goal or your CrossFit coach calls “Time!”

4. Galvanize your team around a common goal.

Anyone and everyone can compete in the CrossFit Open, and results are broadcast for the world to see. On February 26 at every CrossFit box, individuals will come together as one team with passion, determination, and energy. Even though the CrossFit Open isn’t a team event, every individual has the same priorities: to beat their Open score from last year, or hit a new personal record. My wall balls are terrible; I know they will likely appear in the Open so I have been working on them. (Unlike my overhead squats, which still are pathetic!) Even if you appear in the bottom ranks of the table, you know where you were successful and what areas you need to work on. This level of alignment, awareness of strengths, aspiration, and camaraderie is the envy of many leaders trying to inspire and motivate their teams.

5. Build a community where people want to belong.

Last year I moved from Seattle to Los Angeles. I got a recommendation from my old box, CrossFit Belltown, and I joined the CrossFit 626 family in LA. Immediately I felt welcomed and inspired–like I belonged. CrossFit may have an image problem to outsiders, which is baggage that events like the all-inclusive Open can help dispel. How is the reputation and reality of your business? When you bring in new employees to your company, how do they feel?

6. Team building with a payoff

Leaders invest millions in ineffective team-building events where you might learn something new about your peers, but do you truly accelerate your understanding and performance against your goals? Maybe you should hold an “Engineering Games” or a “Design Games” and create a competition to inspire, motivate, and accelerate innovation. Or perhaps you and your team could consider signing up for the CrossFit Open?

If you want to hear more, you can learn other leadership lessons from CrossFit in my interview last year with Inc’s Burt Helm.

I wish every athlete who is competing in the CrossFit Games Open the best of luck. May you also beat some business personal records during open season.

3…2…1… GO!

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