Michael Johnson, the greatest 400m runner in the history of sport, has seemingly had a glittering career in both athletics and now sports punditry and presenting.

You do not have to look too far to find that all of his success comes from three things:

  1. Listening to other people and observing what works and what doesn’t.
  2. Preparing a plan.
  3. Executing your plan, making adjustments where necessary if things aren’t working.

These three things are a perfect blueprint for all of us in business.

Michael’s lessons started when he was a child. He maintains that his father, who was a truck driver, constantly challenged him and his siblings to have a plan for everything they wanted to achieve.

Michael became one of the best athletes in the country and, not surprisingly, he was inundated with sports coaches wanting him to get into University under a sporting scholarship. However, the only one that attracted him was Clyde Hart who made it clear that he was interested in Michael as a person and the degree that he would get, which would make him successful even if he did not succeed in sport. This now looks like being an inspired choice as he has moved seamlessly from sport to TV, where he has made a significant contribution to sports science in his Channel 4 programme, “Chasing Perfection”.

When he got to University he was diligent in both his studies and his sport, but one way that he decided to save some time was avoiding gym-work, which, like most people, he found to be boring and repetitive. This resulted in more frequent injuries and poor progress with his performance so, with his emerging champion’s mentality, he made a conscious decision to alter his course and put in the gym work.

We should all recognise – regardless of our profession – that in order to succeed you must do “everything that it takes!”

When his chance came to represent the USA at the 1992 Olympic Games it looked as though his years of planning would come to fruition. However, food poisoning just weeks before the games robbed him of his chance to get into the Final.

However, setbacks – in sport and business – are meant to be overcome by planning, hard work and persistence. Thereafter he won all of the medals he went after and still holds the 400m record set in 1999.

For those of us in business, there is much to learn from pioneers of “marginal performance” in sport, such as Michael Johnson, David Brailsford in cycling or Formula One racing teams. Their lessons include the following:

  1. Measure everything.
  2. Look for ways to make improvements at every stage – no matter how small.
  3. A lot of tiny improvements add up to a very large one!
  4. People who have good sleep and keep fit do better whatever their job.
  5. Team spirit and a winning mentality does as much for success as individual performance.
  6. Plans, goals and targets are essential. Without a plan, you don’t know if you are successful or not.

All of these lessons can be applied to every business and, if they are implemented, will increase the chances of success.