The Competition of Work …
As you can see from my CV, I’ve had considerable experience in sports. Both as an amateur athlete and as a consultant to professional teams and players, I’ve seen the stresses of competition close-up.
However, I have also had the opportunity to witness peak performance. I have often been a partner to an athlete’s quest to perform at the limit of his or her ability. As a result, I have learned to apply some of motivational and focusing techniques employed by athletes to the consulting situation.
Thankfully, when I go to work, I’m never booed. At best, when I make a less than inspiring comment or suggestion, I get a blank look from the perplexed client sitting across from me. How does a baseball player manage to perform the most demanding of tasks in front of thousands of screaming fans – some of whom are ready to turn on the first missed play of the game.
Think of it, the batter is 60.5 feet away from a pitcher who can hurl the ball at the plate a over 90 miles per hour. In other words the ball travels from the pitcher’s hand to the plate in about 500 milliseconds. The fastest human can react in a motor performance task only with a latency of 150 to 200 milliseconds, and that’s simple movement of a finger in response to a sound tone. Moving a heavy bat with a rotation of the entire body takes much longer. As a result, the hitter has about 50 milliseconds of visual information from the pitcher’s initial release to the time when he has to start the swing of the bat. This so-called dynamic visual acuity obviously doesn’t happen without practice, however, it doesn’t happen without concentration and focus either.
This same kind of split-second accuracy is required in hockey where a player has only milliseconds to visually analyze the position of his both linemates as well as the opposing defenders in order to make that tape-to-tape pass.
The focus and concentration required are easily impaired by distraction – and often, that distraction comes from doubt. The doubt can exist as a shadow over the players head from a coach who is not behind the player or the doubt can come as an ephemeral flash of what might go wrong. In either case, the smooth athletic performance of being “in-the-zone” is lost.
I’m sure that the parallels to performance in the workplace are apparent. When the worker’s manager is perceived as critical and ready to pounce on every mistake – focus and concentration are impaired. When ideas of failure or disaster flash through the worker’s mind, the creativity and the excitement of success are dampened.
In my coaching work with managers, I employ some of the same techniques that athletes use to cope with doubt and anxiety in the workplace. One of my major techniques is to prepare for it. Without preparation, the already stressed worker is often unglued by the unwanted arrival of negative ideas – so glued that effective coping becomes impossible.