Aging Out of Sport and the C-Suite - What Roger Federer Has Us All Pondering

Roger Federer, history’s most successful male tennis player with 20 Grand Slams to his racket (and a superhero alias, Fedex – for being able to send it fast, reliably, and on-time), has announced he’ll be out for “many months” following knee surgery.


Personally, at 40 years old (which is about 73 tennis years), he’s now considering if he should stay or go? Roger has shared with fans that he holds hope of returning to his beloved tennis – and yet he’s a realist in how tough that comeback would be at his age and at that level. With only three Grand Slams in the past 9 years (the last one being in 2018) - The New York Times aptly puts it: “Can Roger Federer Be Roger Federer Again?”.


It does beg the question – should Roger exercise his passion to return, or just bask in his immortal replays and hang up his strings with grace? Has he already done enough to join the kings and queens of longevity – alongside the likes of Tom Brady in the NFL, Seinfeld in comedy and Dame Judy Dench in acting?


The thing is, there are many similarities between the careers of sporting superstars and C-Suite executives.


Let’s run the obvious parallels between sport and the board room.


Both:

  • have high stakes and the pressure to perform - to be the best, to win, to lead others, to leave a legacy

  • enjoy lots of eyeballs monitoring performance with the metrics up in lights on the scoreboard

  • boast younger, well resourced, hungry adversaries with upgraded playbooks

  • roles are relatively short-lived - most athletes if they’re lucky stay at the top of their game for a decade and in the 2017 report “Age And Tenure In The C-Suite,” Korn Ferry highlights that the average tenure of a C-suite executive is a little over five years


So, when do you know it’s time to leave the corner office or center court? Is it as simple as “if there’s more story to run and you still love it – just do it”?


Staying in the game. And even if you think you still have it, how do you fight in a world which prefers talent over wisdom? A world which McKinsey outlines in its Seven Traits of Effective Digital Enterprises report, by identifying that “leading companies frequently look to other industries to attract digital talent, because they understand that emphasizing skills over experience when hiring new talent is vital to success.”


Are there ways to keep the top spin on your career as a C-suiter, as you move beyond your “used by” date? Here are a few Good Soul tips, should you find yourself at breakpoint, but desperately want to go a few more sets.


1. Get up close and digital


No ifs or bytes. Lean so far into technology you’re chanting code. It’s here and it’s staying. And if you want to as well, you gotta know your growth hacking from your data mining, your UX from your API. Ensure your board is tech savvy too. Hire grunt from other, more competent sectors. Subscribe to new resources. Put on the damn goggles and see the new reality.


2. Be reverse mentored


Korn Ferry confirms the average C-suite Joe or Joella is 54. Meaning they were in their 20’s when the world’s first text message was, well, simply text. To remain in reach of the new world and future customers you must listen to, hire and be mentored by Millennials and GenZs.


3. Let data light your way


Stop doing it all your way and let the market speak. The future of business isn’t data-driven. It’s data-led. In every department. Invest in gathering, interpreting and utilizing data in everything you do. Every day. Trusting your “gut” of 30 years experience will only take you so far and with the new world comes a new diet.


Image credit: by Squeaky Knees/Wikipedia – Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC 2.0): https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/


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