The CommBank Matildas’ rise to sporting superstardom provides a timely reminder about what it takes to succeed. Having millions offer their undying support through on-field wins and defeats is one thing, but uniting a nation around what you stand for and changing the game forever is quite another.

For anyone pursuing success in their chosen field, the CommBank Matilda’s journey offers many lessons. The powerful impact of team bonds, managing pressure and stress and having the courage to reflect and learn deeply from your setbacks are just a few.

When it comes to the business world, there are many parallels. After all, the careful planning, resilience, inspiring leadership and self-care elite athletes and sporting teams rely on are regularly found in thriving businesses.

Our recent Business of Winning event series provided an opportunity to examine these similarities and a rare chance to hear from sporting and business luminaries. Hosted by CommBank and Visa as the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023TM began, the events were held in locations across regional Australia.

Event panellists included entrepreneur and Shark Tank host Naomi Simson, former CommBank Matildas and Olympians, Michelle Heyman and Melissa Barbieri, and Socceroo turned broadcaster and human rights activist, Craig Foster AM. Chris Taylor and Andrew Hansen, best known from The Chaser, took on the master of ceremonies duties.

Setting the gameplan

The business community borrows from the lexicon of sport, and often for good reason. That can focus on the importance of strategy and having a gameplan. For Naomi Simson, known for outwitting competitors, a great plan has certain traits that can’t be copied but also must be adaptable.   

“We’ve all got a plan. Then something happens,” Simson said. Of the announcement that Sam Kerr wouldn’t start in the opening FIFA Women’s World Cup Match, she said, “someone’s game plan went out the window. Just minutes before, we were told she wasn’t going to play. Clearly, they had known earlier, but it’s our job as leaders to keep people on their toes.”

In Simson’s experience, sound business planning has three critical pillars relating to your motivation, the measures of success and the consistent application of a business’ core principles. “The first is why you do what you do. The purpose. The purpose is always how you make a difference to humanity.”

Simson explained, “The second part of a plan is always about the scorecard,” saying that financial outcomes are only one of many metrics. “The third piece is how we do business. It’s our values. And this is something people can’t copy.” 

Embedding these foundational aspects not only helps a business stand apart but unlocks the lifeblood of a business in the form of trusted relationships with customers. For Simson, that’s the higher-order goal.

The Business of Winning lunch

An opportunity to succeed, for everyone

The hallmarks of outstanding leadership in business and sports also overlap. There was a consensus among the panellists that respecting everyone’s contribution to a team, identifying their strengths, and challenging others to be their best were enviable leadership attributes.

When talking about the power of recognising people, Craig Foster remarked, “They feel as though what they do is respected and rise up”. Foster believes the best teams “need to create a more united group than anyone. So that emotional intelligence, the ability to bring the best out of every [player] in that group, in my view, is one of the hardest skills and one of the most important.”

Both Melissa Barbieri and Michelle Heyman agreed, discussing coaches that drew out their best performances on and off the field. Barbieri said early recognition of her leadership potential by former Matildas’ Head Coach Tom Sermanni would be crucial to earning her the CommBank Matildas captain’s armband. “It empowered me. I didn’t know that about myself, and it made me a stronger person in the group.”

Appreciating the role everyone plays in a team’s success was in sharp relief during the beginning rounds of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The Matildas may have been without their captain, but as Simson said, “It allowed us to see a broader team. It allowed others to fill the space.”

Filling the resilience well

Performing under immense pressure and navigating heavy workloads relies on building and maintaining mental fortitude. For athletes and business professionals alike, the road to the top is rarely smooth and self-awareness and self-care are crucial, particularly in the face of adversity.

Heyman said even after making the Matildas camp for the first time, the coach told her she wouldn’t be selected until she had more experience. She left to join the Danish league, but didn’t perform to her expectations playing only five games.

“But I got back to Australia, got back into a Matildas camp and made the team,” Heyman said. “It had nothing to do with my ability, [rather] listening and understanding what the coach needed from me, and I continued to push over those negative setbacks.”

According to Foster, overcoming your fears and centring yourself is another determinant of performance under pressure. “You play against a team, and you’ve got 35,000 people who are screaming against you, and their job is to test you,” Foster said. 

“If a player on the opposing side senses any weakness, they’ll spend the whole game trying to open up that weakness. [But] the reality is if you are not ready to fail, you cannot achieve great things.”

For the panellists, personal wellbeing is vital to responding when faced with opportunity or adversity. Foster said having perspective and gratitude is crucial, while Heyman says acknowledging and thanking yourself for your emotions can help. 

“Ultimately, if you’re not looking after yourself as a business leader and a business owner, you are pretty much useless to anybody else,” Simson said. “If there is one thing I urge people to remember, [it’s] to breathe and take a moment for yourself.”

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