Anthony Joshua: Five early signs of leadership greatness

George Karseras explains what business leaders can learn from how leading boxer Anthony Joshua goes about his work.

Following his spectacular win earlier this month, Anthony Joshua could be set to dominate world heavyweight boxing for the next decade, earn zillions of pounds and etch himself into the history books as one of the greatest UK heavyweight boxing champions of all time. Already described as a role model, somebody boxing desperately needs, he’s set to be a true White Knight: a credible alternative to the more usual racist, homophobic, substance/alcohol abusing, chair chucking and arrogant characters boxing has showcased.

But what about his emergence as an inspirational leader – a publicly-stated ambition of his?

He’s off to a flying start, already demonstrating a number of classic leadership attributes with more inevitable, as we get to know him better over the years. At this point in his career, however, I’m picking out a core set of five leadership qualities that I believe will define him as a man, a boxer and a leader of people. In fact I’m going as far as to say that these five qualities will help shape him into one of the greatest leaders we will see from the sporting arena in the 21st century.

Highly principled

Joshua said into the microphone immediately after the fight: ‘As boxing states you leave ego at the door and you respect your opponent.

He then went on to give heartfelt praise and appreciation to the boxer and the person he fought against. This is just one example among many. It’s not just the fact that Joshua has ethics and comes across as a humble (but confident) down to earth decent guy that strikes me. No. What really strikes me is the fact that he is already operating by an explicit set of principles that direct his behaviours. Great leaders know their principles and stick with them. Joshua possesses such a compass.

Makes contact

The gestalt word is ‘making contact’ – the ability to connect with people, so when you’re speaking to them you’re connecting at a more profound, personal level. This is the essence of building great relationships. It was obvious to me in the way he paid tribute to a whole range of people immediately on being given the microphone that he has a gift here. He spoke not only to his own team and to Klitschko, but unconventionally to a number of members of Klitschko’s team as well as to several high-profile boxers in the audience. He talked directly to them, rather than the crowd or the interviewer who asked the question, he used their names and he described and appreciated their contributions and their impact on others and on himself. In doing so he made ‘great contact’. These are first-class communication skills and one which will support him build very strong relationships with all those he comes into contact with.

True learner

Boxing is about winning in the sporting world, just like business is about winning in the commercial world. But wanting to win can create fear of losing. Joshua wants to win, trains to win and boxes to win. However, what comes across to me is what goes with this winning mentality – and that’s his learning mentality. Listen to how many times he uses the word ‘learning’ in his interviews. When your goals include learning and you exhibit a genuine learning attitude where mistakes are genuine opportunities from which to grow and improve, then only good things will emerge. It was profoundly instructive that the very first words he spoke to the microphone after his spectacular win were a message about learning;

‘Well what can I say – three years in boxing and I’m 19 (wins) and 0 (losses). I’m not perfect, but I’m trying. If you don’t take part you’re gonna fail. I’m not the finished article, I learned a lot out there’.

Educator

It was telling that Joshua used these words in his victory speech, minutes after his victory, while still standing in the ring in his shorts and boxing shoes.

‘There’s no complication about boxing – anybody can do this – just give it a go. It’s about character, find what you believe in, what you’re good at and just give it a go’.

He’s already made no secret of his desire to inspire others in prisons and schools. What all of this tells us is his natural desire to teach, inspire and help others grow. Even at the moment when he would have been excused for sticking to the more conventional post fight interview of training sacrifice, fight analysis, self-promotion, competitor slating, he was encouraging 90,000 people to put themselves on the line to help find out how good they could be. Incredible!

Joyous

Boxing, like business, is a brutal business. People get hurt in both disciplines – but boxing is especially brutal – you get hurt physically, mentally and emotionally. Despite this brutality, did you see how Joshua came out for the fight –smiling and relaxed? No doubt this was to put him in the best frame of mind to execute his game plan – stay loose and relaxed – just like Usain Bolt before he runs his races. But there’s more to Joshua than first-class state management. He brings a smile, a sense of fun and humour to nearly all of his interactions.

He’s energising himself and others to create the environment most conducive to achieving excellence – an elusive skill for many a ‘high achieving’ leader. He sees his career as a journey not a destination and he’s enjoying the ride. I’ve no doubt his training camp is a happy, fun place to be when he’s not sweating it. He contributes to this enjoyable environment. As his presence and influence grows so will his contagious positive energy.

Joshua has arrived and most are predicting he will be an inspiration role model for the next ten years of his boxing career. I believe he will succeed in this and then he’ll be an active inspirational leader in various fields for the remainder of his life. Watch out for these five leadership attributes, individually they are predictive of leadership excellence, but in combination they will pave the way for a truly outstanding contribution to the field of leadership. Expect to see them time and time again throughout his exciting journey and revel at a true boxing White Knight in action.

George Karseras is managing director at Leap and works in partnership with Saberr.  

Further reading on sport and business

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