David Carry, a former Olympic swimmer and winner of five Commonwealth Games medals, is the co-founder and CEO of coaching firm Track Record. He draws on his experience in elite sport to offer performance-enhancing tips for business leaders and their teams
The planning, practice and positivity that any sportsperson requires in order to compete at the highest level can be brought to bear successfully in a commercial setting. By adopting the following techniques, which have been tried and tested by world-class athletes, business leaders can improve both their performance and that of their employees.
1. Anticipate the barriers
In sport, as in business, confidence is vital – and the key to true confidence lies in rigorous planning that considers every likely obstacle to achieving a given goal.
Ask yourself: what are the most likely problems to get in our way and what can we do to manage these risks? With such “pre-mortem” planning for a project, you can ensure that those working on it will be decisive when problems do arise – and be justifiably confident that their responses are improving its chances of success.
2. Address your stress
Preparation, adaptation and recovery are vital parts of Team GB’s psychological coaching in resilience to stress. The first step is to understand your own capacity. Ask yourself: what triggers send me into a state of stress and what can I do that will truly minimise these and/or their impact on my performance?
The measures that people often take to counter stress are the very things that make it worse. For instance, drinking alcohol, clearing your inbox after hours or going to the gym late at night are likely to impair your sleep and increase your recovery time. They will have a detrimental effect on performance, including the quality of your decision-making.
3. Adopt a team mentality
The best sports teams are built on mutual respect and the absolute conviction that all of your teammates will perform their assigned roles effectively. Ensure that everyone understands both their own and others’ roles in achieving the clear business goals that have been agreed. Openly declaring commitment to your own role will boost accountability and build trust.
Ask yourself: to increase our chances of success, which relationships do I need to improve and how can I do that? Many firms think too vertically – when board members are asked who their teams are, they’ll often point to employees in their departments rather than to their fellow directors.
4. Optimise your regime
Building in recovery time between training sessions and competitions is vital for maximising performance in sport. This is also true in business. Ask yourself: when is the next critical moment approaching and how can I ensure that I’m physically and mentally ready for it? Planning to finish a difficult meeting before a lunch break, for instance, will give you scope to recover and gather your thoughts before you need to do any further important work.
All leaders should audit how they are spending their time. This will help you to determine whether you are devoting too much to reactive work rather than more strategic, value-adding tasks.
5. Encapsulate your values in a mantra
Ask yourself: why do we do what we do as an organisation? Articulating the meaning behind your enterprise unites employees in a common cause, boosting engagement and performance. Great sports teams attribute their success to strong collective values. New Zealand’s rugby union team, the All Blacks, sum up theirs in their “better people make better All Blacks” mantra.
Business leaders have to demonstrate the stated values through their own behaviour if they expect others to adopt them. While most firms have developed collective values at some point, many fail to live by them, so authentic role models at the top of the organisation are crucial.
6. Adopt winning routines
Positive habit formation is a method that successful athletes have tried and tested. It entails identifying what behaviour is required to achieve a win and establishing a routine to reinforce this.
To apply it in business, ask yourself: what consistent actions do I need to start taking that would improve my overall performance? For instance, if meetings with a certain colleague often overrun, it’s worth considering how that time is being used, adopting a more efficient format and then embedding this through repetition.
This article was originally published in the February / March 2020 issue of Director magazine
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