The question people most often ask me is how we continue to build our business, even during challenging economic times. I think the answer is in continuous learning from what’s going well – and, of course, changing what doesn’t; attention to detail, preparing for unexpected challenges and using and adapting new technologies. I wrote last week about some of the lessons leaders can take from elite athletes – because I think leadership deserves a medal. Of course, not everything athletes do is transferable to the world of leadership, but these practical techniques are a good starting place.
Anticipate and prepare for unexpected challenges.
Athletes change their routines, or add in additional obstacles. As leaders and managers, it’s easy for us to take on a new challenge, as there’s always so much to do. We need to prepare ourselves for the unexpected – to anticipate and mitigate risk – it also helps improve our mental agility – the ability to flex in the moment when we’re face with challenges. Two tips:
- A different challenge might be to say no
- Use your delegation skills: find ways to hand off (hand over) one piece of work before taking on something new
Use and adapt new technologies to make life easier
Watching the cyclists last week, I loved hearing about the high-tech helmets or the ‘hot pants’ to keep their muscles warm. Since our very first leadership development programme, we’ve added virtual master classes, where people join in the learning by phone and Skype. It’s really helped leaders, coaches, and business people apply what they learn – and I’m delighted that we’ve had some great independent evidence of the value of this approach.
Learn: what went well?
What I admire most about elite athletes is the way they review and learn from every tiny detail. When I heard Matthew Pinsent speak about winning gold medal in the Sydney Olympics, he mentioned how James Cracknell was persistent about reviewing every detail.
In the world of work leaders and managers tend to have a destructive review process – they’ll ask questions like “What went wrong?” or “Who’s to blame?” If every leader, manager and business owner instead asked “What worked well?” that would be a brilliant start. Even in the face of failure, there’s always so much that did work – it’s vital to focus on that.
The 5:1 rule
In our coaching skills courses, many of the participants are parents who give up their time to coach children’s sports teams. We also have sports coaches themselves, coming to learn more about leadership. They talk about the 5 to 1 rule and share these tips with fellow participants:
- Highlight five points that did work and that the team did well
- Then focus on one development area for the team
In the world of work, people believe that their bosses are ‘even-handed’ when they operate in this way.
Our first business building master classes started a year ago, and when I think of the success achieved in that time by our clients, I feel very proud of them. I also love the phone calls and emails we receive when we hear of their successes – or the way that, as a group, they are so willing to listen to each others’ challenges, or share tips and ideas. For me, leadership isn’t just about directors or VPs of major companies it’s also every individual entrepreneur, every person with the talent and passion to do well in their chosen field. You’re leaders too – so give yourself a medal.