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Medal-winning management pt2


Julie Wales concludes her look at why business leaders aren't following the Olympic example to ensure winning performances for themselves and their teams.

Staying focused

Not only did this summer's athletes qualify for their events as a result of putting in the hours, weeks and years to achieve their ambitions, they also had the mental resilience to keep going, to stick at it come rain or come shine.
It is not easy sometimes to keep going, or indeed to filter out the noise. Whether it's an inspiring wall of noise laden with expectation, or comes at us in the shape of other priorities, our fears or else just the distractions of our daily lives - it can so easily make mincemeat of lesser mortals. Yet our athletes gave us lessons in superhuman focusing skills on a daily basis.  
The amazing Jessica Ennis had the heavy expectations of the whole country and a trillion sponsors on her shoulders over seven events. Her face was on every billboard as her competitors arrived in London - to what one described as a Disney theme park in her honour. How did she do it?
She attributes her success to an ability to focus on each event at a time, using mental preparation techniques to ensure she stayed 'in the zone'. Certainly, many athletes use conditioning and visualising techniques to help them to block out all distractions and place them very firmly in the moment. Leaders can certainly benefit from this ability together with that of staying positive and solution-focused - even when the going gets rough. The ability to stay in the moment, regardless; how many of us would like to bottle that skill?

Goal setting

It is obvious, too, that like athletes business professionals need to perform under pressure. They need to keep their eyes firmly on what they want to achieve, retain their positive focus and be flexible to challenges as they materialise, to work around them as inevitable challenges to any exciting vision.
"If a stumbling block knocks you off course in achieving your objective, remind yourself of the end goal, much like an athlete."
Approaching business and management by breaking down goals in this way is very effective and common to many. If for example the end goal is to mobilise a sales team to reach annual sales targets, breaking the process down into the smaller individual tasks required to achieve this objective and focusing wholly on these tasks will achieve much better results than treating the project as a whole and being daunted by the enormity of it, which can not only damage confidence but may also affect the quality of the outcome.
This same goal setting technique which helps athletes to work towards personal bests has been proven to work, particularly if the goals are, measurable, difficult but attainable, time-based, written down, and a combination of short-term and long-term goals.[1]
In business the same rules apply. If a stumbling block knocks you off course in achieving your objective, remind yourself of the end goal, much like an athlete. Focussing on the raison d'etre of the business, your role in it and key objectives will provide renewed vigour and resourcefulness to meet unexpected challenges.

The power of self-talk

I am always keen to stress the positives and unique strengths of my clients and delegates. I refer to these as the foundations for future choices which are not only doable and realistic but sustainable. Good coaches will encourage their athletes wherever they are - on an Olympic track or more likely in the boardroom, to find their own ways to find positive clarity. To help them to identify what they can do, as opposed to what may not be working. Dwelling on negatives is not a recipe for a future gold as far as I'm concerned.
Empowering each person to be their own best support, a technique known as self-talk can help here too at pressured times, or when additional focus is required. An athlete or performer literally repeats a phrase or instruction to themselves at key points, something those of us who can lip read may have noticed Tom Daley was doing before he took his second dive to secure his bronze medal.
Research from the Journal of Sports Psychology [2] has shown that this technique can be highly effective in improving performance. So, many athletes repeat mantras or phrases to themselves as part of a pre-performance routine, which can also include personal rituals like repeating a physical routine like turning a racket handle over three times before serving. These routines, no matter how bizarre, can provide the consistency and predictability which in turn creates mental and physical strength required to propel an athlete to a strong performance.[3]
"If we are keen to be the best we can be, all of us could choose to see ourselves as professional athletes see themselves - people with possibilities and potential"
It may sound strange, but giving yourself a good talking to from time to time, with or without the prompting of your coach's advice, could be part of your professional rituals too.

People of influence

Thinking of the impact Ivan Lendl has had on Andy Murray's performance at the Olympics and the recent US Open, the role of the coach is massively important in helping us to address negative emotions such as self-doubt. If we are keen to be the best we can be, all of us could choose to see ourselves as professional athletes see themselves - people with possibilities and potential. It would be great if one of the legacies of this summer were that we take a leaf out of the athletes' book - to actively seek how to support out optimum potentials.
It is worth noting that Mo Farah's coach said that he is one of the most dedicated people he has ever worked with - he was also totally under par physically when they first met 18 months ago. Not to infer that anyone reading this article would want to win the 5,000 or 10,000 metres, but rather that investing in our potential in whatever field of events we find ourselves in, there are medals to be won.
To read part 1 of this article click here
Julie Wales is a senior consultant at Impact Factory
[1] Locke, E. & Latham, G. (1985). The application of goal setting to sports. Journal of Sport Psychology, 7, 205-222
[2] Hamilton, R.A., Scott, D., & MacDougall, M.P. (2007). Assessing the effectiveness of self-talk interventions on endurance performance. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 19, 226-239.
[3] Marks, D. (1983). Mental imagery and consciousness: A theoretical overview. In A. Sheikh (Ed.) Imagery: Current Theory, Research and Application (pp. 96-130). New York: Wiley.

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