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Business performance: lessons from sport


As we approach 2012 business leaders are increasingly looking to elite sport for valuable insights into enhancing performance.

BOA Elite Performance Director Clive Woodward talks about “the ability to think clearly under pressure”. Steve Redgrave writes about “mental discipline and overcoming low self-esteem”.

A widespread assumption is that elite athletes have bullet-proof minds but that is simply wrong, as my work as a Sport Psychiatrist confirms. However, what they do have is a willingness to work on their mental resilience so that they can enhance their performance. What is it that lies behind this idea of mental resilience, and what lessons does this have for business?

1. Link values to goals: At a basic level it is not just having goals but linking them to personal values which allows us to build resilience. When our goals are linked to values we create better motivation and engagement which allows us to perform better for longer when times get difficult.
2. Without physical resilience we are vulnerable to the negative performance effects of stress (fatigue, reduced concentration, distraction, poor judgement and procrastination).
3. Mental resilience is about identifying the blocks to optimising performance which are associated with our thinking and perception. By identifying these unconscious blocks to performance, business leaders can become more self aware and determine whether their actions are effective or not.

“Trust each other to deliver”

Working with elite athletes and coaches in rugby, football, athletics and rowing I am often asked about underperforming teams. In my experience without a culture of honest but respectful communication there is little prospect of change. A critical message here is ‘trust each other to deliver’. In the run up to the 2008 Olympics the GB Cycling management team decided that their role must change from one of control to providing a platform from which the athletes could perform. And the result of this ‘athlete driven, coach led’ model was a record medal haul. An example to all leaders in business perhaps?

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