Sports stars and commentators have paid glowing tribute to British tennis ace Andy Murray who, in an emotional 11 January press conference, conceded that his playing career is all but over.
Bedevilled by a persistent hip injury that has continued to nag him even in the wake of surgery just over a year ago, Murray was visibly upset as he told journalists that his most optimistic, long-term prospect was to make it as far as this year’s Wimbledon – but that was by no means something he could guarantee. Indeed, speculation is already mounting that Murray may not continue beyond his Australian Open first-round defeat earlier today to Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, who beat the stricken Scot in a five-set thriller. 
As a player, Murray has taken on a range of leadership challenges, not least pumping the British men’s game back into Grand Slam-winning shape. His US Open victory in 2012 made him the first UK, male player to win a Slam since Fred Perry in 1936. The same year, he secured Olympic Gold: a medal he successfully defended in 2016.
Off court, Murray has been a staunch advocate not just for female tennis players, but female sport in general. In 2015, he scolded the BBC on Twitter for apparently downgrading the importance of athlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s pentathlon Gold at the European World Indoor Championships, after the story appeared too low down on the media group’s Sports webpage. 
Following his 2016 Olympic win, he corrected BBC presenter John Inverdale’s remark that Murray was the first player ever to have two Olympic Golds by pointing out that Williams sisters Venus and Serena “have won four each”. He also went on the counterattack against journalists and social media users who attributed losses between 2014 and 2016 to his then-coach Amelie Mauresmo. “It became clear to me that she wasn't always treated the same as men in similar jobs,” he said, “so I felt I had to speak out about that.”
Murray’s inspirational role was reflected in generous responses to his tearful press conference from some of the biggest names in tennis – with Billie Jean King telling him in a tweet: “Your greatest impact on the world may be yet to come.” 
Many leaders in business have been forced into early retirement as a result of illness or stress. What can individuals in that position do to ensure that they will continue to have something to offer within their specialist fields – something that will make use of their expertise and inspire others?
The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “Billie Jean King’s message to Murray about how his greatest days may be ahead of him is absolutely key here. If he is going to have a tangible impact further down the line, that will depend upon a range of factors, such as his ability to relate to others, his integrity and his trustworthiness. Is he considered a likeable individual? Is he someone whom stakeholders in his future endeavours would be pleased to see? Is he likely to be invited on to boards and committees – or into ambassadorial roles?”
She explains: “When you are focused with every fibre of your being upon winning tournaments, you may not actually be thinking about the long-term effects of the relationships you’re building along the way. But it seems to me from how Murray is being spoken of by his peers in the top tier of the game  that he is a man who has garnered a huge amount of respect. Not just for his sportsmanship, but for how he conducts himself, how he treats his team and how he has spoken out on issues that are important to him.”
Cooper notes: “The strongest indicators of the potential success of Murray’s post-playing career are that i) he’s respected and admired, and ii) he’s able to articulate his views on complex matters in a way that everyone can understand. All of the learnings that emerge from Murray’s playing career – and how those years of experience will stand him in good stead for the future – can be applied to leaders working in any field.”
She adds: “You never know whether you will one day have to take early retirement on terms other than your own. Amid the cut and thrust of life at work, no one tends to think that it could ever happen to them. But if you spend your time building those relationships, deepening your integrity, communicating effectively and earning the admiration of your peers, your expertise will be sought long after you have left the arena.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on inspiring other people.
Image of Andy Murray courtesy of Alison Young, via Shutterstock
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Other resources of interest
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