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Padukone says while it may be difficult to map practice in sport to the corporate world, there are definite parallels: just like in the sporting world, at a fundamental level, discipline and work ethic is what will differentiate the individual. Photo: The India Today Group (The India Today Group)
Padukone says while it may be difficult to map practice in sport to the corporate world, there are definite parallels: just like in the sporting world, at a fundamental level, discipline and work ethic is what will differentiate the individual. Photo: The India Today Group
(The India Today Group)

Prakash Padukone | Passion and the pursuit of success

Padukone shares his ideas for achieving success as a professional

Success—this is a subjective and much sought-after, yet undefined “goal" that all of us work towards. Be it in our professional careers or in personal lives, we would like to define some targets and be successful in achieving them. For us professional sportspersons, success is usually a short-term goal—like winning a tournament or achieving a ranking. I prefer to look at it as a long-term and on-going pursuit of excellence. There are some simple principles I have followed, which I would like to share with you.

Passion

The essential ingredient for taking up any activity, in any sphere of life is that you should be passionate and driven about it. For me, this passion began very young. The first time I picked up a badminton racquet, I fell in love with it. Of course, this was helped in no small measure by the fact that my father was part of a movement that tried to organize sport in Bangalore. Bangaloreans will be familiar with the Canara Union premises in Malleswaram, which is where many of us have spent many an hour listening to the sweet sound of shuttle against racquet! At some point, I realized that badminton would not just be a hobby for me, but a life calling that I would pursue forever. While readers of this article may think that it’s easier said than done, I do believe that in today’s age of enhanced opportunities and connectivity, it is possible to pursue your passion and make it your purpose of existence. What is important is belief and the right effort behind making that belief translate to reality.

Work ethic

Passion does not mean mere superficial interest—it also means putting in the hard hours behind your area of passion to translate it into something meaningful. This essentially becomes the difference between someone who becomes successful and someone who is an “also-ran". Sport as a discipline is intricately linked with practice. Athletes at all levels—from the beginner to the elite—ensure that their skills are honed continuously, even as they chase their goals; what is important is that it is a never-ending process in the pursuit of excellence.

While it may be difficult to map practice in sport to the corporate world (where you will not be necessarily doing the same thing over and over again every day), there are definite parallels. Just like in the sporting world, at a fundamental level, discipline and work ethic is what will differentiate you. It will mean simple things like never being late to office, never missing a deadline at work, never missing a conference call or any one of those small things that we take for granted—but they go a long way in shaping our personal work ethic, as well as the way we are perceived by people— both important ingredients for success.

For me, the success I achieved as a player—at the national level and at the international level was not an accident—behind each match and every stroke was a lot of thought and practice. And this is also where you realize that you cannot do it alone. I have a lot of people who have worked with me tirelessly at the back-end—as practice partners, coaches and physios, who have helped in this process. I am sure that, just like in sport, even in the corporate world, you do find people who are “gifted" or blessed with exceptional talent—but you will realize that even they orient themselves to a regime of structured effort in order to be successful.

Thinking and innovation

The other reason that I am a big fan of continuous practice is that it gives you a risk-free environment to innovate in. This innovation can then be further fine-tuned and finally perfected, before it is actually used in a match scenario. One of the key reasons that made me successful in winning the European circuit tournaments and culminating in the memorable All-England win was the way I dealt with the drift factor. Being able to assess the drift of the shuttle and fine-tuning my technique appropriately, I was able to achieve two things—surprise my opponents with some innovative shots and turn a perceived handicap into a competitive advantage. This can only come by assessing the conditions, thinking smart and having the confidence to execute—terms that are routinely used in the corporate context as well, as you deal with the ever-changing landscape of the markets you operate in.

Coaching is a science and an art

Continuing on the thinking, adaptability and innovation theme, I find it even more relevant today in the context of being a coach. Having decided that I would like to continue my association with the game, even after I hung up my boots as a professional player, I decided to transform myself into a coach and start an eponymous badminton academy. Today, I find great joy in being able to interact with and shape young talent as they begin their journey for excellence and glory. In the last decade spent as a coach, I have realized that coaching is in some sense the culmination of all the principles you have held dear to yourself and some more! It is a science in the sense of being process driven disciplined and patient—it is also an art because you are dealing with human beings who have their own desires, challenges and emotional journey-lines. We are very careful in the academy about choosing our wards—since we have practical limitations on coaches and infrastructure—we look at the right combination of passion, hunger to succeed and work ethic in all our trainees. While I personally work with as many of them as possible, I have also realized the importance of having good quality coaches in the system itself. And with it has come the framework of what a good coach should be— skilled, empathetic, willing to go the extra mile and most importantly, happy to stay in the background while the player gets the adulation.

As you reach the levels of senior management in corporate organizations, I am sure many of you go through the same set of challenges—to stay personally relevant, but yet out of the limelight as the younger guns take over. It is not an easy process, but the fundamental desire to build successful people in your area of passion can be a strong driver!

Finally, it is not easy to put passion over money. But it is possible—what you must ask yourselves is whether you would really like to do this every day, can you be the best in world while doing it and can you create a larger impact in this world with what you are setting out to do? And believe me, you will find that life is a lot more meaningful—the pursuit of excellence is not an easy path, but there is certainly lots of light at the end of this tunnel.

©All Rights Reserved. TENVIC 2012

Game Plan, a column on management lessons from sport, will run every month.
Comments are welcome at feedback@livemint.com.

Earlier in this series: Anil Kumble | A leader cannot be an armchair strategist

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