The Olympics are well underway and it's not just the sport that I'm interested in...
I love the Olympics. That well worn sense of team competition that doesn't really feel that far from sports day at school and yet also couldn't be further away. Years and years of training in most cases with the result decided in a matter of minutes, sometimes seconds. Watching from home it can be emotional but also sometimes also a little bit boring, especially if it's not your sport or you haven't quite worked out how the scoring works! For me, that's when my minds starts to drift, and I always end up consumed with the fascinating psychology of the competition. It's not a secret that many of the most well used coaching techniques originate in sports psychology and when these guys are performing at such an incredibly high level and under such phenomenal pressure, it's not difficult to see why the most ambitious leaders out there would want a piece of the action.
No matter how much training someone does, it's often their mental state on the day that really makes the difference and this is where sports coaches spend a surprising amount of time. It's absolutely the same with business, your skills and experience should be distant runners up in comparison with your attitude and behaviour. That is what will create the real competitive edge, and make a difference to every single one of your stakeholders, especially the people you lead.
There’s one story that's caught my attention more than the rest...
Towards or away from?
What do you do if you don't make the Olympics? In Kendra Harrison's case, she decided to make history elsewhere instead! Having come sixth in the Olympic qualifiers, she went on to literally smash the world record for the 100m hurdles at the Diamond League Race in July. This wasn't just any world record though, one that had stood for 28 years - that's longer than she's been alive! Not hugely surprising to a certain extent - the pressure was off, she was free perform as well as she possibly could. But this wasn't just a good performance, this made her the BEST IN THE WORLD - even with the olympics going on on the other side of it. Kendra herself said “After not making the Olympic team, I wanted to show these girls what I have,” she said. “You have one bad day but I still knew I had it in me." I think she's being polite - I think she though f**k you!
That's a hugely powerful motivator in some cases and it illustrates a fantastic psychological insight which is that most people either have a 'towards' or 'away from' motivation preference. Some people will work towards a goal, focus on it, visualise it, be energised by it and ultimately achieve whatever they'd set their mind to. Others, have more of an away from style - they will work so damn hard to make sure something doesn't happen, or in this athlete's case she's working away from the disappointment of not getting through to Rio. And just think how powerful that must have had to be to result in such an epic performance. The problem with away from however, is that it can leave you somewhat adrift. It's simply not sustainable long term, it is a very short term motivator because you never know whether or not you've achieved your goal.
It's the age old carrot and stick argument - do you offer reward or recognition as an incentive, or do you spell out the dire consequences that will result from failure. If you think laterally and are smart about how you reframe things as a leader, or a coach, you can pretty much create a carrot or a stick out of every situation. All it takes is a bit of imagination and a willingness to think about how to get the best out of the person in front of you and you can have a far greater degree of influence over the result. If you need to create short term motivation for either yourself or someone else, think about the motivation style at play and use this to create the a way to frame the outcome in order to get results.
If you think you have a natural tendency to work 'away from' things rather than towards then you might recognise the somewhat negative cycle of putting a lot of energy into achieving things and yet never feeling truly satisfied when you complete them. Spend time practicing articulating what it is you're really trying to achieve. What will it feel like, look like, sound like (maybe even smell like or taste like) when you've got what you're working on. Try not to focus on what you don't want, focus on what you do want. You'll be surprised by how much better it feels to know that you've done what you've really set your mind to, but also just by spending time really thinking about it, you'll find it easier to get there too.
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