Leadership, Olympians and Gold Medals
How do you perform under pressure? Do you put yourself to the test very often? And, what are the outcomes? Is this a biased view of your own performance, or do you benchmark yourself against world class leadership standards? The Olympic Games are an incredible example of high performance on a global scale and lessons can be taken from amazing athletes for your own leadership approaches. And, you can build in other habits and lessons to become a world class leader. Now is the time to take charge of your leadership future!
One Hundredth of a Second WINS GOLD
An article by Tess Bennett in The Australian Financial Review shows “What CEOs can learn from Olympic swimmers.” The difference between fourth place and winning gold can come down to one hundredth of a second in the pool.
Looking for an edge over their competitors, elite athletes understand the way their thoughts and emotions affect their bodies and their performance, says Jemma King, an expert in how humans manage stress.
Dr King, who holds a PhD in human behaviour, began working with the Australian Olympic swim team after the Rio Olympics, with a focus on performing under pressure. At the Olympic level, most athletes have reached the peak of their fitness and physical skill – it is their mental state that determines success, she said. Jemma King says athletes “inoculate themselves against stress” before entering a high-pressure environment.
“If you sit there before a race feeling like you haven’t trained enough or have negative ruminations, you’re literally burning up the very energy sources that you’re going to need at the back end of the race, that one hundredth of a second.” Dr King, who has also worked with the Australian Special Forces to help soldiers develop pre-emptive tactics to moderate stress, said athletes trained extensively before entering a high-pressure environment.
The same concept should be applied in the C-suite, said Dr King, who also works with McKinsey & Co on the business consultancy’s executive leadership programs. The overarching principle is that CEOs need to know how to manage their energy, what depletes it and what replenishes it. “The impact that your physiology has on your cognitive ability is enormous,” she said. “Humans are bags of chemicals. We are machinery, so if you work out your optimal formula, you can really hack this to make sure that you’re showing up appropriately every day like an Olympic athlete would.”
Executives need to be aware of the factors that can impair their cognitive abilities and put themselves in the best frame of mind before a negotiation or an important conversation with the board. As well as eating well, exercising and getting a consistent night’s sleep, Dr King said CEOs should avoid having an argument with their children or partner on their way to work.
“CEOs also need to understand that a change in mood prior to an interaction will have a profound impact on the way they perceive the situation, mentally process information, their decision outcomes, and how they themselves are perceived by others,” she said. “Reading that text, taking that phone call, or engaging in that mental argument in your head can really derail what you wanted to achieve in a meeting.” To refocus after an argument, Dr King recommends setting the issue aside until a specific time to stop your mind from dwelling on it. “Your brain hates to ignore conflict that isn’t dealt with.” She also recommends a brisk walk – take the stairs – to burn off adrenalin and cortisol. A distraction such as talking to a friend (without mentioning the argument) or watching a funny video on YouTube also helps produce oxytocin to counter stress hormones.
Sleep is also a powerful weapon to boost cognitive performance. CEOs should also keep their energy tanks topped up by learning and staying intellectually curious as well as working towards goals that are linked to a higher purpose or improve the world in some way, Dr King said. Taking into account the emotional state and energy levels of leaders and employees is one of the new skills CEOs are honing to adapt to an uncertain operating environment, said Dr King.
Although previously leaders could always rely on the wisdom of the people who came before them, Dr King said there was no playbook for the pandemic. “We have had pandemics before, but we’ve never had them within this technological landscape,” she said. “It creates something that none of our forebears can help with. You want to be going to this landscape with the best possible physical, psychological and emotional state you can.”
Compelling LEADERSHIP stories
OVER A HUNDRED YEARS AGO, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and four teammates became the first men to reach the South Pole, arriving in triumph five weeks ahead of Robert Falcon Scott. The Amundsen crew would return safely to its base, but, heartbreakingly, Scott and his four British companions died on the return journey. The race to the pole has long attracted leadership experts, who like to contrast the Amundsen focus on efficiency and innovation with Scott’s more deliberate dedication to scientific pursuit. But another polar explorer — Ernest Shackleton — faced harsh conditions in a way that speaks more directly to our time. The Shackleton expedition, from 1914 to 1916, is a compelling story of leadership when disaster strikes again and again.
Shackleton exemplified this kind of leadership for almost two years on the ice. What can we learn from his actions? Shackleton assumed ultimate responsibility for his team. Perhaps he recognized that he was partly to blame for the crisis that befell the Endurance.
Perhaps his naval training instilled in him a deep sense of loyalty and obligation to his fellow crew members. The men themselves understood this, and most, in turn, offered him their commitment. Shackleton devoted himself to a worthy goal. “As soon as I first read about Shackleton, I was struck by how critical a leader’s personal commitment to his or her mission is,” said Lynne Greene, global president of the beauty brands Clinique, Origins and Ojon, part of the Estée Lauder Companies. “Shackleton’s team knew that whatever came before them on the ice, their leader would give his all to bring them home alive,” she said.
This knowledge, she added, “was crucial to achieving the mission, and this commitment is key today when so much is changing so fast.” Shackleton’s sense of responsibility and commitment came with a great suppleness of means. To get his men home safely, he led them across ice, sea and land with all the tools he could muster. This combination — credible commitment to a larger purpose and flexible, imaginative methods to achieve a goal — is increasingly important in our tumultuous times.
High Performance Leaders are great readers
In my blog “the 10 Best books to read right now,” I mention the importance of learning for leaders. I am always learning, every single day,I never want to stop, I love to learn. That is why I write, speak and read about leadership books all the time. I suppose when you are truly passionate about something, you love to learn about it. Many times I’ve had people ask me, “In addition to coaching and training, what else can I do to learn more about how to improve myself? How can I learn to be a great leader that propels myself and others towards greater growth and greater opportunities?” My answer is simple, read. Read everything you can about successful leaders and leadership and the steps that they have taken to achieve peak performance for themselves and their organisations.
The following is a list, and brief overview (love your recommendations too!) of some of the best books that I have read (and written!) about leadership (click on title to learn more and purchase via Booktopia):
- PRINCIPLES: LIFE AND WORK BY RAY DALIO
- FIRST COMES COURAGE BY SONIA MCDONALD (Leadership Attitude rocks too!)
- INDISTRACTABLE HOW TO CONTROL YOUR ATTENTION AND CHOOSE YOUR LIFE BY NIR EYAL
- STOP PLEASING, START LIVING: THE NO.1 SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER BY GLENNON DOYLE
- BEHAVE THE BIOLOGY OF HUMANS AT OUR BEST AND WORST BY ROBERT M SAPOLSKY
- THE RESILIENCE PROJECT FINDING HAPPINESS THROUGH GRATITUDE, EMPATHY AND MINDFULNESS BY HUGH VAN CUYLENBURG
- 12 RULES FOR LIFE ANTIDOTE TO CHAOS BY JORDAN B. PETERSON
- ATOMIC HABITS AN EASY AND PROVEN WAY TO BUILD GOOD HABITS AND BREAK BAD ONES BY JAMES CLEAR
- STILLNESS IS THE KEY ANCIENT STRATEGY FOR MODERN LIFE BY RYAN HOLIDAY
- EMOTIONAL AGILITY GET UNSTUCK, EMBRACE CHANGE AND THRIVE IN WORK AND LIFE BY SUSAN DAVID
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