Michigan State basketball coach, Tom Izzo, wrote “Players play. Tough players win.” I would add to that, “It’s tough to win.”I think if you, as a leader, are looking to build an organization that is successful – that wins – you first have to accept that it will be tough. There are no shortcuts to success. In my 44 years of coaching, I was fortunate to coach a lot of tough players. I believe the toughness I have seen in athletes corresponds well to any organization or business.

Athletic toughness encompasses the following five characteristics.

1. Work

Tough players work at practice. When they tie up their shoes and step across that line for practice, they are ready to work. They take no part of practice off and work hard at every drill which leads to their not taking a play off in games. Is it not the same in business? When you open that door for work, be ready to roll up your sleeves and go to work.

2. Habit

Tough-minded players are the same every day and toughness is one of their habits. They don’t need to be motivated because they are self-motivated. They know no other way to approach practices but to go all-out. Their toughness and willingness to work hard consistently is their calling card and they become an ingrained habit.

“There may be people that have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.” – Derek Jeter

3. Ethics Matter

They play hard but never dirty. In athletics we know the difference between tough players and dirty players. Tough players play within the rules; dirty players try to intimidate opponents by doing things outside the rules – things that have no part in the game. We all respect tough players but feel that dirty players don’t belong in the game. We have seen some businesses play outside the rules and have watched their demise.

4. Do the Little Things

Tough players do things that don’t appear in the statistics, but leads to wins. They get deflections on defense, they get loose balls, and they take charges. People in the stands may not be aware of all the things they do to help their team win, but their teammates and coaches know how instrumental their work is to winning. Coach Wooden used to say, “If you take care of the little things, the big things take care of themselves.” Are not the little things important in all organizations?

5. Study

They know the game plans because they take the time to study them. This is no different from being a good student. It is tough to spend all the time being successful in the classroom. Is this not the same in business? If I am to promote the business I work for, I must take the time to study why our business serves the needs of our clients better than all of our competitors.

It is tough to win in any venture and tough people definitely put your organization in the best place to earn the win. The combination of these 5 key characteristics is the blend of toughness that is needed to compete and win in today’s environment.