Last night while watching a show on the life of Muhammad Ali, it occurred to me that Ali was as skilled in sales, marketing, and leadership as he was in boxing. Here are just a few things that business owners can learn from Ali.

         1.  Brand Yourself.

Ali proudly declared himself “The Greatest” before his fight with Sonny Liston in 1964. See the video here. By giving sports writers, news reports, and the public his own nickname, no one else had to create one for him. Creating your own nickname and branding, you define who you are to your buyers. I suspect Marco Rubio (Little Marco) and Jeb Bush (low energy Jeb) wish they had their own simple nicknames established before Donald Trump’s names stuck.

         2.  Live Up To Your Brand.

After declaring himself “The Greatest”, Ali went on the defeat Liston to win the world heavyweight championship. He went on the win the title 2 more times, making him the only three-time champion. That nickname would never have become the title of a movie or a book had Ali not won the fights that he did. Had he not delivered, the media would have added another word to his brand such as “flop” or “failure” or “disappointment.” But he didn’t.

         3.  Never Let Your Self-Worth Be Tied To The Outcome.

In 1978 Barbara Walters interviewed Ali prior to his winning his third heavy weight championship, she asks what will happen if he doesn’t win? Ali matter-of-factly states, “Then I don’t.” Walters follows up with “Would it break your heart?” And again Ali states “No.” Losing a particular boxing match or losing a sale or not getting the job is not a referendum on your career, your business, or you as a person. It is what it is…one simple loss. You learn from it and move on.

         4.  Never Need the Money.

In that same interview, Walters asked about the money he might lose if he didn’t box. Ali’s response is so grounded. “I’d find a job tomorrow pumping gas in a gas station in I had to. And me and my wife and my children would get a two room apartment and one bathroom and one kitchen and be happy.” As business owners, we need to know when to walk away from a client that isn’t profitable or a deal that isn’t the right fit for your business.

         5.  Speak in Sound Bites.

Ali used poetry and rhyme to communicate, making his messages memorable and catchy.

“He’ll be mine in Round 9.”

“He’ll fall in 8 to prove that I’m Great.”

Short sayings that rhyme like these are perfect for rallying teams around goals. Ali states the goal clearly and objectively. His coach and team know the expectations and can support him. One of the best sound bites I know was from my corporate career at Motorola – DWYSYWD “Do What You Say You Will Do.” I can only imagine that the organization was not meeting deadlines, projects were slipping and goals were not being met prior to this leader coining this term.

Muhammad Ali may have been controversial, but was clearly provocative and inspirational to many. This is my favorite inspirational quote from Ali:

"Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing."