The Rio Olympics have come and gone. We’ve spent two weeks glued to our TVs, watching the best the sporting world has to offer.
We’ve seen some outstanding sporting feats. There have been athletes that have performed just as we anticipated. Think Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt claiming his much expected victory in the 100m. And there’s been those that have seemingly come from nowhere to claim gold. Like Chloe Esposito crossing the line after an epic effort in the modern pentathlon to take the win for Australia.
There’s also been disappointments and heartbreaks. Our hearts broke when the Campbell sisters, Cate and Bronte, fell short of the medals in the 100m freestyle final. And we grimaced when French gymnast Samir Ait Said broke his leg after crash landing from the vault.
Whatever the results, we can never underestimate the work, sweat and tears it’s taken every one of them to get to where they are. So how do they do it?
Elite sports men and women work their minds as much as their bodies. They know, all too well, that when they get their mindset right, peak performance will follow.
So what can we learn from our sports people? If we transfer some of the tools sports psychologists use into the business environment, will our performance improve? Absolutely!
Danielle Fraillon (Partner, People & Organisation at PwC Australia) says business leaders can learn a lot from our Olympic athletes. By understanding what goes into peak performance, business leaders can deliver a more agile, fail-fast and innovative organisation. She says purpose and culture are the critical ingredients for success in both the sporting and business arenas.
Sense of collective purpose
Athletes find meaning in their life through sport. For athletes, defining their purpose through their sport fosters resilience and allows them to continue to drive forward against the odds. It also allows them to rebound after a poor performance.
We all watched on with dismay when swimmer Cate Campbell, the gold medal favourite going into the 100m freestyle final, finished sixth in her pet event. The look on her face was one of complete devastation. But she was back on the pool deck the next day competing and has already signaled her intention to compete in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. How does she do it? She has purpose.
And so it is also with successful business leaders. They create a clear purpose for their business in order to engage the hearts and minds of their team. According to Fraillon, leaders need to have the ability to focus on their purpose, test a proposition and rebound quickly after a failure. Success relies on mastering your purpose.
Strong team culture
A winning culture is also critical to success. We all saw what happened with our swim team at the London Olympics. Swimmers described London as the “lonely Olympics” and the “individual Olympics”, as team morale dropped to an all-time low and the toxic culture inevitably contributed to the team’s overall poor performance.
Successful teams – whether in sport or in business – are defined by their culture. A culture that is positive. Fraillon says each member of the team trusts the individual expertise of their fellow team members and individual roles a clearly defined. Everyone understands what they have to do in order to be successful.
But success doesn’t require a culture of doing whatever it takes. Sometimes dogged persistence can turn into something not so positive, and you can find yourself locked into behaviours that have stopped working or are no longer in the best interests of your business. Yes, to maintain a positive culture you need to push. But when things change, your culture needs to change too.
Business performance has many parallels with sports performance, and the sports psychology tools of purpose and culture are easily transferable into business. You can use them to enhance your performance at work and that of your team, helping everyone to develop workable and meaningful goals as a cohesive team and enhancing individual abilities.
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Background source: “Executives seek edge with Games strategies”, The Australian Financial Review, 16 August 2016