Juan Martin Del Potro has the Fierce Resolve of a Winner

Del Potro came back after a nose bleed and losing the first five games of his opening match in the Masters cup in London. He was demonstrating the fierce resolve associated with success, found among top athletes and also among outstanding winners in other walks of life

Del Potro has been tipped as a future World No 1 Tennis player since beating Roger Federer to win the US Open a few months ago.

Juan Martín del Potro has been tabbed as a candidate to be the next superstar in men’s tennis, and his performance in the 2009 United States Open is a good example of why. Del Potro stunned the No. 1-seeded Roger Federer in a gritty five-set match, and claimed the men’s singles title, which Federer had won the past five years. Del Potro moves with surprising grace for a man his size. Very tall tennis players sometimes struggle with their movement, relying instead on booming serves. Del Potro moves with nimble, graceful steps that defy his height. He takes the ball early, and uses the leverage created by his long arms to produce power, especially from the baseline.

The Masters Cup November 2009

This week I watched Del Potro come back from losing his first five games in the opening round of The Masters cup at the O2 arena. He took a medical break to deal with a nose bleed, and then carried on. What happened next demonstrated a characteristic which is probably necessary (although not sufficient) for success as a sports star, political, military, or business leader, and even for entrepreneurs and Nobel-winning scientists. It is sometimes referred to as extreme determination, guts, self-belief, or the ability to tough it out, or even as a will to succeed. Or maybe resilience. In trait theory it also goes under various names such as ego strength and achievement need. Other ‘maps’ refer to the exceptional capacity of exceptional people to achieve exceptional goals. Earlier leadership studies described almost mystically ‘The Right Stuff’, a version of another tautology for ‘having what it takes’. Leadership guru Jim Collins refers to fierce resolve.

Overlapping Concepts

These concepts seem to me to be rather overlapping. They are based on countless studies of leader behaviours. Only a small proportion, such as the work reported by Collins, have been rigorously conducted . Collins suggests that successful business leaders have often combined a personal modesty with fierce resolve. He contrasts this with a more blatant and charismatic style of so-called natural leaders, who may be engaged in a constant battle with egotism and narcissistic delusions.

I Have Seen the Future…

Del Potro was playing Andy Murray, another top player noted for his fierce resolve. Often a top player fights back after a medical break. Nadal, for example, has also acquired a reputation for doing so on the rare occasions he faces defeat, and almost regardless of the ranking of his opponent.

Because of the tournament round-robin design, Del Potro could have conserved energy in face of almost inevitable loss of the first set. Instead he battled and clawed back several games. I scribbled down a headline to myself ‘I have seen the future and it’s called Del Potro’.

As it turned out, Murray squeezed through that match. It did not change the opinion I had formed. Here was someone with that something extra under the pressures of extreme competition.

A few days later Del Potro demonstrated his fierce resolve, winning again against World No 1 Roger Federer. Ironically, his three-set triumph gave him a marginal qualification into the knockout stages of the tournament at the expense of Andy Murray.

There he will face other players of similar levels of fierce resolve and with marginal differences in conditioning, talent and other ingredients which may play a part in the outcome of the tournament. I’m not saying Del Potro is a winner of this prestigious tournament. But I am saying again that ‘I have seen the future and it’s called Del Potro’.

Note to leadership students

This case deserves study as part of any leadership development programme. You will find it worthwhile to go more deeply into the literature ‘maps’ for theories of leadership traits and behaviours associated with excellence and success. Fierce resolve is found in the socially-oriented achievements of a Ghandi and a Mandela, but also in the histories of tyrants such as those catalogued by Jeff Schubert and other leadership researchers.

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