Four Lessons in Success from Roger Federer’s Fairytale AusOpen Run

People thought his time had passed, he was facing a losing battle in front of a younger and stronger opponent, and that he was there just to make up the numbers. But Roger Federer had other ideas.

In a tennis Grand Slam Final that had been billed as a throwback to a previous era, Federer’s win over eternal rival, Raphael Nadal, at the Australian Open 2017 capped an astonishing comeback for the much-loved Swiss, who spent the past six months recovering from a knee injury and had gone without a Grand Slam title since 2012 at Wimbledon.

His fairytale-like return to winning form had people all collectively wondering how he did it and his subsequent reaction to winning was a hallmark of a true champion. Articles are already popping up trying to break down and analyse his achievements and one in particular caught my eye. It’s good, solid personal advice, and it got me thinking about what kind of advice we recruiters and talent managers can take from Federer when sourcing and engaging talent.

Stay Humble

I think this is what makes a true champion – the ability to empathise with your vanquished opponent and relate to your audience and fans. Federer has that in abundance and it can be observed clearly during his victory speech.

My lesson here is when you are talking to a stakeholder, be they a Hiring Manager, Candidate or fellow employee, do you seek to understand them and create opportunities for them to make their points? Are you aware of when is the right time to chime in with a comment? Do you seek to create equal opportunities for communication?

Having interacted with over 300 speakers – most are subject matter experts – during the course of organising numerous talent management conferences, you get to see the ones who are able to really connect with the delegates. Speakers like Chris Hoyt, Todd Wheatland, and Shannon Pritchett are some of the very best in their fields but they do not overwhelm their audience by talking down to them. Instead, they leave room for people to come in with their ideas and continuously facilitate conversations so everyone, including themselves, can learn. They know they are good, but they are understated and they encourage the audience to connect with them on an equal basis.

You may be an expert at what you do but in recruitment, you need to be more than that. You need to be good at building relationships with your stakeholders and you will not be able to do your job effectively if you continuously rank them below you.

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Seize the Opportunities

Federer took advantage of the top seeds’ failure to overcome inferior players to get into the final and he never looked back. This opportunistic principle works the same for recruitment too.

Whether you are learning and trying new technologies, or planning your career, or gaining buy-in to create change in your Talent Acquisition Function, this all comes down to seizing opportunities. Talent leaders such as Rebecca Houghton (Aussie Post), David Bell (GE), and James Elliott (CBA) understood their working environments perfectly and took calculated risks at strategic times to invoke positive changes in their organisations.

As a modern recruiter, you need to be continuously aware of the changes in the Talent landscape and be creative in your quest to find the right candidates. Do not be afraid to approach others for help and remember to seize the opportunities when they come your way.

Play Offensive

Federer is known for his offensive tennis and this can be seen from the number of winners (73) he hit against Nadal (35) during the final. He is very proactive in seeking for the points and it allowed him to gain control of the match.

This can be applied to recruitment too and I can safely say Stuart Elliott from SunCorp is one of the best at proactive workforce planning. Stuart understood SunCorp’s key competencies and positions that create the most leverage in the organistion. He used this knowledge to push for permission to outsource non-critical positions so that he can focus his recruitment efforts on areas that mattered most to the business. This brilliant offensive play has allowed his organisation to take control of the market and gave it a serious leg up over its competitors.

Mindset Matters

In his post-match interview, Federer said he told himself to “play free” during the match. “That’s what we discussed with Ivan [Ljubicic] and Severin [Luthi] before the match. You play the ball, you don’t play the opponent. Be free in your head, be free in your shots, go for it. The brave will be rewarded here,” he said.

For Leaders of Recruitment and Talent Acquisition, having a can-do positive approach is as important, if not, more important than technical skills. You will receive many knock backs, you will encounter many roadblocks and you will be discouraged. But the important thing is to stay positive and keep going for it.

Remember – fortune favours the bold.

Cover Image: Ben Solomon/Tennis Australia


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