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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mental Toughness Matters in Elite Sport and in Business

Mental Toughness is a key attribute of Positive Leadership™. Elite athletes show it in abundance. Congratulations to Amy Williams, Team GB's first individual Winter Olympics gold medallist for 30 years. 

Read this article from the English Institute of Sport website, published just before competition started and then compare it with Williams' comments as described in The Times after she won gold. It is clear that she did learn the importance of mental toughness and used her preparation to excel under pressure. There are lessons in this for business leaders as they prepare for high performance in their world.

English Institute of Sport

'The Skeleton competition gets underway at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games later today (Thursday), with Team GB slider Amy Williams in particularly impressive form in yesterday’s final practice.

The 2009 World Championships silver medallist, who accessing a range of English Institute of Sport (EIS) support services as part of her British based training at Bath, finished second fastest on both the final two practice runs at the Whistler Sliding Centre, where she was runner up at a World Cup event last year.

Among the EIS support she has received, Williams has worked closely with EIS Sports Psychologist Deirdre Angella leading up the Vancouver Games.

“The preparation with Skeleton for Vancouver from an EIS psychology perspective started about two and a half years ago and we really planned backwards from the Winter Olympics to ensure the athletes were in the best possible  position to deliver for these Games” she says.

“The British Skeleton Coaching and support team is well established and everyone’s expertise dovetails to provide the very best athlete preparation. One of the aspects for psychology was to focus on maintaining many of the effective features already in place.  With individuals working to personalise what was necessary for them to maximise their strengths in order to deliver their best performances.”

This process included looking at areas of performance that can and can’t be controlled, whilst agreeing on procedures that the athlete will look to follow in the event of various scenarios so that they are prepared for whatever happens on the day of competition.

“For Amy some of the work she did was aimed at harnessing the excitement of competition so that she can effectively transfer training performance into competition performance” Angella adds.

“We looked at ensuring she follows all the day to day basics and normalises her routine as much as possible so that she finds herself in a position where when she gets on her sled she has a simple focus which just allows her to trust her ability, the work she has done and the thrill of sliding.”

The hard work seemed to be having the desired effect in the practice runs, with Williams commenting yesterday’. “I managed to enjoy it, and whenever I relax, enjoy it and have fun, it seems to work out. If I can enjoy the track I think the results will follow” she said.'

The Times

'Amy Williams gave Great Britain a gold medal shot in the arm on day eight of Vancouver Winter Olympics and admitted her love for the Whistler track, on which the Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed last week.

Williams, leading after the opening day of the women's skeleton, held her nerve brilliantly to seal victory with two more lightning quick runs to get Britain's medal haul up and running.

"I love this track," she said after winning. "Once you get over the fear factor you learn to love it and the speed is your friend. You've got to work with it and relax and if you do that it's a great track to slide."

Williams insisted she had never let her position as overnight leader play on her mind. "I surprised myself because I wasn't really nervous," she said. "I slept absolutely perfectly and I was quite excited. It doesn't feel like an Olympic Games - it just feels like a normal World Cup race except with more people shouting for me.

"I'm not very good at statistics so I didn't realise I'm the first [individual] gold medallist for a long time. But I think it shows that if you have the determination any country can be good at any sport and you just have to concentrate and do your best." 


The Victorious Army Attacks the Defeated Enemy

At 23, Kevin Plank created a sports apparel company out of a Washington D.C. boat house. Fifteen years later, Under Armour is taking aim at the industry's biggest players, including Nike, Adidas and Reebok. Here he talks about growing his company, 'playing offense' and wisdom from Sun Tzu. 
For more, see http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/15/AR2010011503033.html?sid=ST2010012102117


Are You a CEO of Something?

This New York Times interview with Mark Pincus, founder and chief executive of Zynga, a provider of online social games, shows how a collaborative leadership style makes an impact:

'Q. What are the most important leadership lessons you’ve learned?

A. If I was going all the way back, it would be playing on my school’s soccer team, because we were on the same team together, most of us for eight or nine years, and we were at a really little school in Chicago that had no chance of really fielding any great athletes. But we ended up doing really well as a team, and we made it to the state quarterfinals, and it was all because of teamwork.

And the one thing I learned from that was that I actually could tell what someone would be like in business, based on how they played on the soccer field.

So even today when I play in Sunday-morning soccer games, I can literally spot the people who’d probably be good managers and good people to hire.

Q. Based on what?

A. One is reliability, the sense that they’re not going to let the team down, that they’re going to hold up their end of the bargain. And in soccer, especially if you play seven on seven, it’s more about whether you have seven guys or women who can pull their own weight rather than whether you have any stars.

So I’d rather be on a team that has no bad people than a team with stars. There are certain people who you just know are not going to make a mistake, even if the other guy’s faster than them, or whatever. They’re just reliable.

And are you a playmaker? There are people who don’t want to screw up, and so they just pass the ball right away. Then there are the ones who have this kind of intelligence, and they can make these great plays. These people seem to have high emotional intelligence. It’s not that they’re a star player, but they have decent skills, and they will get you the ball and then be where you’d expect to put it back to them. It’s like their head is really in the game.

Q. How has your leadership style evolved, given your experience running several companies?

A. You can manage 50 people through the strength of your personality and lack of sleep. You can touch them all in a week and make sure they’re all pointed in the right direction. By 150, it’s clear that that’s not going to scale, and you’ve got to find some way to keep everybody going in productive directions when you’re not in the room. And that, to me, is a huge amount of what it means to manage.....

Q. So give me an example of what you did to change that.

A. I’d turn people into C.E.O.’s. One thing I did at my second company was to put white sticky sheets on the wall, and I put everyone’s name on one of the sheets, and I said, “By the end of the week, everybody needs to write what you’re C.E.O. of, and it needs to be something really meaningful.” And that way, everyone knows who’s C.E.O. of what and they know whom to ask instead of me. And it was really effective. People liked it. And there was nowhere to hide.

.....I keep my eye out for someone who has achieved a lot, so they’ve been a great athlete or on a great team, but then something didn’t go quite right, and they’re still very hungry and want to be C.E.O. of something. I like to bet on people, especially those who have taken risks and failed in some way, because they have more real-world experience. And they’re humble.

I also like to hire people into one position below where they ought to be, because only a certain kind of person will do that — somebody who is pretty humble and somebody who’s very confident.
This is another thing I really, really value: being a true meritocracy. The only way people will have the trust to give their all to their job is if they feel like their contribution is recognised and valued. And if they see somebody else higher above them just because of a good résumé, or they see somebody else promoted who they don’t think deserves it, you’re done.
My approach is that you have to earn the respect of people you work with.'

For the full interview, see - http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/31/business/31corner.html?pagewanted=1&ref=business