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Medal-winning management pt1


With many Olympic and Paralympic athletes extolling the virtues of sports psychologists to help enhance performance and focus the mind, Julie Wales asks why aren't all business leaders following their example to ensure winning performances for themselves and their teams?

Mind and body

The recent buzz around the Olympics and Paralympics cannot have failed to inspire people from all walks of life across the UK. The excellent performance of the UK Olympics and Paralympics teams has shown what is achievable with real focus and the right state of mind.
State of mind is equally as important as physical strength and training when it comes to medal-winning performances, and many athletes have extolled the virtues of focussing on honing the mind as well as the body to achieve medal-winning performances.
Many of these psychological techniques are similar to those used by training and leadership professionals, and can be really useful in the professional business environment.

Eyes on the prize

One of the common factors medal-winning athletes share is that they use visualising techniques to look ahead - to imagine the shape of future success. As busy professionals and leaders the key to getting to where you want your business or organisation to be has to be the ability to keep the big picture in mind. The CEO of beer brand Cobra, Karan Bilimoria, attributes a clear goal to his company's success. For him, "There has always been a goal. From day one, the idea was to create the finest Indian beer and make it a global brand."[1]

The power of the imagination

Visualisation techniques can certainly be extremely powerful. By imagining themselves succeeding and surrounding themselves with the symbols of success, athletes focus entirely on their ambition and increase the chances of this actually happening. So for example, cyclists keen to emulate Bradley Wiggins's success, whether at the Olympics or the Tour de France, may imagine themselves on the highest podium or in the yellow jersey. Indeed some coaches would encourage their people to feel the actual experience. And while the idea of people buying chocolate medals and wearing replica shirts maillot jaune may sound absurd, research supports the idea that motor imagery techniques can trigger the same brain response as previous performances and boost results.[2]
CEOs and Leaders might borrow similar techniques. So, visualising the moment they hear that they have been successful in achieving their strategic vision – whether the handshakes, champagne corks, or just their feelings of satisfaction of that moment can apparently have a very positive effect on the outcome. In fact I know of a few successful business people who deliberately surround themselves with images of their aspirations - whether the yacht in Antigua or headline brand recognition. 

Training, training, training

What has been bugled loud and clear through our Olympic summer is a real appreciation of just how long and hard these athletes had to work towards their events to prepare for their successes. So whether via personal coaches or the support of bespoke training programmes for their teams, training makes all the difference to future success as far as our experience will testify. Helping people to prepare for success is what we do, supporting those who will ultimately deliver.

Tales of the unexpected

Refreshing antidotes to notions of overnight X Factor success - what was clear is the extraordinary tenacity and determination that underpinned the achievements we witnessed. Certainly, nothing worth achieving comes easily and athletes, like the rest of us, have to deal with everything from rainy Monday mornings and setbacks to injuries, disappointing 'off days' and countless other challenges thrown in our paths, including frightening new rivals – so, how do athletes retain their motivation and confidence?
Not alone is one answer. In an interview following a below-par performance in Ostrava in May, Usain Bolt said he never stressed over such things, "I've gone through so much, so many things that even if I lose every race up to the Olympics it doesn't matter because I know that I have one focus and that is just to go to the Olympics and do great things."
And to underline the point, "I'm confident that I and my coach can put together a programme to be a champion. I will focus on that. My coach is the greatest coach ever and knows exactly what to do to get me to the top, so I’m not worried."[3]
So, if coaches are good enough for the coolest man on earth, why do remnants of embarrassment remain about seeking professional support? North American coaching colleagues say it's definitely a UK state of mind and far less prevalent in larger companies with global profiles.
Centring techniques are used by some sports coaches encourages athletes to let go of previous poor performance or future worries. Not only does this technique work well in terms of focusing on achieving objectives and retaining motivation in the workplace, but it can also be a great help in managing emotions in pressurised situations. 
Julie Wales is a senior consultant at Impact Factory

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