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Four tips for sustaining success


How good is that split second waking thought about last night’s win?

It’s a moment to savour as you reflect “I did it, I proved everyone wrong and I actually did it against all the odds”.

Whether you are a football manager or a corporate leader this feeling of semi-smug euphoria is the same and it’s all about the result. But why are we so happy and why are we so relaxed?

The science of motivation is the Holy Grail in any performance setting but one thing is for sure, nothing threatens our motivation like success.

If we unpick our motivations, we have to understand where our key drivers come from. In psychology we can cluster these into either extrinsic or intrinsic motivations.

We experience extrinsic motivators from the outside in and they include things like, winning, praise, money, promotions and results.

Our intrinsic motivation is driven by our internal reward system including things like the feeling of hitting a golf ball sweetly, the freedom to choose, the pride of belonging to a special team, or making a contribution to something bigger than ourselves.

The challenge for us as performers is that the extrinsic motivators are loudly communicated and the intrinsic drivers which are equally powerful, are rarely articulated. As a result we associate our success with meeting these external criteria of more money, a promotion and the crowd’s adoration.

The media don’t celebrate stories of the man who feels really connected to his team or who has finally mastered a new skill, it’s about goals, outcomes and profit and we need more, more, more.

During my cricket career I was fortunate to win eight domestic trophies in exhilarating Lords finals and they stay with me as special parts in my career, especially the first few, they were magical and unexpected. Intrigued by this feeling, I once asked Gordon Banks the first emotion he felt when the final whistle blew in the 1966 World Cup and he said … “Relief!” I had to check his answer as something inside me died, “Relief… is that it? You won the World Cup?!”

Gordon’s instinctive response uncovers a bigger question for us as performers. Are we celebrating winning because we delivered our wildest ambition or simply because we met other people’s expectation and didn’t lose face?

If all we get for our troubles is the neutral emotion of relief then maybe we have got this all wrong. Maybe we have missed the most motivating things, the risk taking, the learning, the growth. England cricket is a classic example of a meteoric rise, relief and stagnation - what a horrible trap.

At Sporting Edge we have been fortunate to go inside the mind of some of the world’s greatest sporting champions to investigate their proven methods for avoiding the success trap.

There are some key drivers in play and the main one is to focus on what is on the process of excellence rather than the outcome . 

Our interview with Sir Dave Brailsford highlighted how he attempts to define leadership success, “We all find it hard to distance ourselves from the outcome but, from a coaching point of view, it’s about the athletes going through the process and us trying not to judge ourselves by somebody else’s performance as winning or losing.”

This seems the ideal but in the heat of battle, the results shape our career and its leader’s role to stand up at these moments of high emotion and provide some rational context. Our ability to flatten out the roller coaster track may be the solution.

Stuart Lancaster explained to us how he manages this, “I’m pretty level in the sense that I never allow the highs to become super highs or let the lows become super lows. If you want to be a leader you’ve got to find the energy to inspire them and give them perspective on the performance on where we’ve come from as a team and where were going.”

So there is a clue here that lengthening the time lines on the story seems to help provide perspective and knowing when to be in the moment and when to gaze at the horizon is a key skill.

So how about the individual rather than the teams and leaders, what does it take as an individual to keep on winning after winning? Maybe a more telling clue comes from A P McCoy the Champion Jockey of 19 years and over 4000 winners. 
“Multiple Champions understand suffering, anyone can win once but as a multiple champion you have to go further than anyone else is prepared to go. I wake up every morning and think someone’s going to beat me today”.

Scary as this may seem, perhaps the antidote to the success trap is that nervous insecurity that you are not good enough, yet and having that burning desire which no amount of fame or fortune can extinguish.

Not everyone is as relentless as A P McCoy, so what can coaches and leaders do to keep their teams on their toes – here are some ideas to deploy after the champagne stains have dried.

  1. Find a past or present role model who has achieved more, this helps to add perspective.
  2. Set stretch goals for the team and individuals, what’s next?
  3. Give your team the responsibility of planning a training session or discussion on the dangers of success.
  4. Confront any sloppy behaviours, this is when people drop their standards so it will make a statement if you pounce loudly and quickly.

Get them to see the hunger and ambition of the next generation, they are chasing fast. In a world of instant messaging and emotionally charged headlines, our sporting or business leaders are going to be constantly exposed to the judgment of others. The key thing is to turn the volume down on what everyone else is saying and turn the volume up and focus on what you can do in the next hour, days and week to make a difference to your team.

The myth of talent has been rumbled in recent times with more and more back stories of the long attritional road to success and the need to overcome regular setbacks. Success doesn’t just happen so we are right to savour the moment of magic which provides the reward for all our efforts.

The question is, how long should this ‘moment’ last?

Maybe we need to remember that the fun is actually in the striving not the arriving so don’t put an ‘end’ to our journey and make learning and sacrifice your team’s renewable fuel.

You will have great successes ahead but one question you might want to ask as your eyes open the morning after the win is “Have I completed my quest?”

J. Snape MSc CEO & Founder of Sporting Edge

Join our next  High Performing Teams Masterclass on the 13 May 2014 to find out how you can fast track your team's success.

Watch a mini preview of our last Masterclass here.

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