Observing the superb abilities of athletes at the top of their game makes for an impressive spectacle. Michael Jordan, whom ESPN named the greatest North American athlete of the 20th century, led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships in an eight-year timespan. Since his retirement, no player in the NBA has come close to his individual or team achievements. And while most people know about Jordan’s achievements as a player, they don’t know this: He failed to make his high school’s varsity team as a sophomore.
I often wonder if we give athletes like Jordan too much credit. After all, what we really see is the finished product: Jordan hitting the championship-winning jump shot in game six of the 1998 NBA finals. What we do not witness is the practice, the learning and the mistakes they made before they achieved success. It should come as no big surprise that for every minute spent performing in competition, athletes like Jordan spent thousands (more like tens of thousands) of hours practicing, studying, rehearsing and, yes, making mistakes. Their performances represent a minuscule fraction of the time they devote to their “work.”
It might be easy to say, “Yeah, but those guys are athletes; any comparison between what they do and what I do doesn’t work.” If you’re inclined to conclude there’s nothing to be learned here, not so fast. A number of techniques used by top-performing athletes, coaches and teams can also be used to increase your performance.
Coaching: Want to learn how to swing a golf club like Tiger Woods? Don’t ask Tiger. Ask his coach. All athletes have coaches who encourage them, hold them accountable and point out their shortcomings as they help develop their strengths. Do you have a coach? Are you coaching the people you are leading?
Rehearsal: Before every game, coach Lynn Chivarro and the Army’s women’s basketball team would gather in their locker room, dim the lighting, close their eyes and visualize the entire game they would soon play from tip-off to final buzzer. Before major events in your life, do you rehearse? Before a presentation or when anticipating a difficult meeting, do you consider as many of the possibilities as possible? Preparing in advance makes you more confident.
After-action reviews: Athletes are constantly reviewing the “game tape” with an eye toward getting better. You may not have the luxury of a game tape, but you can recreate the experience by discussing the “event,” defining the actions you took that were successful and those that need improvement. Regardless of whether an activity resulted in success or failure, there are lessons to be learned from it. Reconstruct it with a focus toward learning lessons you can apply in the future.
Mid-course adjustments: Trailing by 32 points in the third quarter, the Buffalo Bills came back to win a playoff game against the Houston Oilers in 1993. Now that was a mid-course adjustment! Great teams have an ability to see the situation, adjust to it and achieve their goals. No endeavor ever proceeds exactly as it was planned. Realizing the fluid nature of any situation and taking action to accommodate it usually results in improvement.
Celebrate success: The St. Louis Cardinals, after roundly defeating the Detroit Tigers in game five of the 2006 World Series, joyously popped open cases of champagne in boyish celebration in the locker room. If you reflect, you will be amazed at how many times during the day, the week or month you have succeeded. Good leaders sincerely celebrate success. If you win, take time out and enjoy it. Celebrating success is a guaranteed method for ensuring more successes.
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David Garic develops and trains leaders in organizations and is the author of Leading From the Front. His leadership workshops teach leaders at all levels the skills they need to thrive. Contact him at www.garicconsulting.com or 504-837-4577.