Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Going for Gold: What can our Aussie Athletes teach us about leading and sustaining high performing teams?

Image from Getty

Yes we’ve seen the Aussies dominate in the pool; Cate Campbell making a comeback since Rio and her sister Bronte deservingly having her time in the spotlight as she took out the 100m freestyle title. We’ve seen the Boomers swish their way to the top, and gymnasts Alex Eade and Christopher Remkes execute gold-medal winning routines. And we’ve been witness to the heartbreak and the sheer display of resilience and embodiment of sportsmanship as we watched the disqualification of Claire Tallent whilst leading the 20km women’s walk, to collapse to the ground in tears, and minutes later, to make her way to the finish line and cheer on fellow Aussie Jemima Montag.

After 11 days of competition involving 71 nations across 25 events (including para events), the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games offers a fascinating workplace parallel into how we lead and sustain high performing teams:

1. Organisations must have a clear vision. Organisations need to start with the vision of goals including desired culture at the forefront. Whether it's winning a championship, maximising profitability or developing talent to become the future leaders of the organisation, people need to 'get it'; not just intellectually but how it is to be embodied behaviourally.

2. Organisations must remember to inspire their people about their purpose and successfully attach a social or moral cause to its strategic goals. People have to connect emotionally with the why behind what they do. That is, they need to be ‘moved by it’ and inspired to lead and drive action. Too often organisations dwell on what has to happen i.e. business results and forget to emphasise why it matters. When athletes are selected to represent their country, the 'cause' is self evident. How many spoke about the incredible support competing 'at home' as a driver for our best success ever.

3. Whatever the organisation’s code, their people need to 'live by it'. Once the organisation's vision and purpose has been established, leaders need to be clear about the expected behaviours to follow. How does your organisation continue to demonstrate that it will not tolerate 'below the line' behaviour? Traditional management techniques are great if you want compliance. If you want engagement, self-direction and employees who show initiative, tangible and intangible 'tools' to succeed in their role, work better. Create a supportive culture in which giving and receiving feedback is the norm and employees feel safe enough to have the tough and courageous conversations. Invest in leadership development, in attracting and retaining talent, building resilience, emotional intelligence and the desire for innovation within leaders (all of which are prized commodities being talked around right now). However, all of this doesn't mean a high performance culture has to be built from scratch. Nick Kyrgios and the Australian Swim team are vivid examples of how underperforming individuals and teams demonstrating 'below the line' and counterproductive workplace behaviours can change.

4. Break past habits, challenge 'old world' thinking, be bold. As the old saying goes, where there's a will, there's a way! Inspire the team (and its audiences) through appreciation and accommodation of difference. How inspiring and infinitely do-able was it to integrate other-abled and para events? Certainly easier that producing a compelling and heart-warming closing ceremony it would appear, judging by the backlash!

5. Organisations need to develop a growth mindset and foster resilience. We may have a 'default' mindset but we can choose to develop it. Carol Dweck’s research on Mindset has shown that adopting a growth mindset (believing that your abilities aren’t ‘fixed’ and can improve) is a key element to achieving success. We saw Cate Campbell crumble under the pressure of a fear to fail at the Rio Olympics. This was a different Cate just now. How the organisation defines and rewards this success can shape how employees respond to failure and mistakes; that is what is praised and reinforced develops or impedes the growth of resilience and willingness to innovate/try new things especially when there's no guarantee of success or worse, there is fear of failure.

Being resilient requires us to work through challenges and adversity. Studies have shown that the specific personality trait of hope is a key predictor for resilience. Mentally tough or hardy individuals seem to:

a) Believe they can. This is not arrogance but high self-belief.

b) Have high confidence in their ability to navigate obstacles that arise whilst working towards achieving goals. This is high self-efficacy.

c) When a crisis strikes, they accept the fact that stuff happens and kick into problem solving mode quickly. They push the reset button and exhibit high 'bounce-backability'. 

So, as an organisation, how energised are you towards achieving your goals? What is the path or multiple paths to getting there? Have you identified them clearly? And if so, what strategies are you going to put in place to ensure that you and your team can achieve them?

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