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Exceptional Performance in Challenging Times

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            Whether someone is Rockstar singing for thousands of people, in a basketball championship game or an executive presentation, peak performers need to have a clear mind and a clear heart. Succeeding is often dependent on how effectively people can transform conflicts or distractions into drivers of motivation.

Distractions, a hinder or hidden strengthen?

            Distractions are a common occurrence, with some being driven with intent while others as a by-product of the environment. Whether it is an unusual sound in the library while studying for a major test, a fan attempting to make a basketball player miss their shot or a competing negotiator set out to put their competitor off their A-game.

Building a positive Call-to-Action from negative internal and external pressures

            To many, these distractions can seem intractable, leading to the loss of time, effort and even a championship ring. For peak performers, it can be seen as an opportunity. To achieve that, it can be valuable to remind oneself of all the previous training, experience and steps that have been taken up until that point. 

            By reframing the issue with ‘A sound-cancelling headphone or changing seats should work’, ‘The fan is scared because I can win the game with this shot’ or ‘The competing negotiator is just attempting to cope with the environment’ a seemingly difficult distraction can become a hidden source of strength.

Mental Map – A Driver of Success

            Mental maps can be a powerful tool to drive one’s vision of the future, helping to achieve their perceived success. But what does success entail and how can it be achieved?

            Athlete – A exceptional athlete may spend time reviewing their competitor’s tapes before a game to learn their actions but more importantly, to visualize how they can react to it to have a better outcome.

            Student – Before an exam, stress can be at an all-time high. For some, building a mental map of the test material can be a powerful tool. Some will even build a house, where every room is viewed as a chapter with the different unique features being perceived as a part of the subject.

            Professional – It is about time to face that dreadful call with an executive that has been aggressive in previous outings. As a professional, preparation has been key, yet, there is that lingering feeling. A few minutes before the meeting, it can be valuable to build a mental map of one’s goals for the meeting, some expectations that stakeholders may have and what the end result is expected to look.

            Quite simply, what people think and visualize can help translate into how they feel and therefore how they perform.

Know One’s Strengths and Weaknesses

            Lately, it has become a common perception that overemphasizing one’s weaknesses can lead to a downward spiral in performance. Some will say to simply ignore the weaknesses and focus on the strengths.

            Although that may be partially true, refraining from doing any self-assessment of weaknesses can lead to a lack of preparation and underperformance.

            A student can benefit from knowing the material she has more difficulty with to determine whether to spend more time learning or to ensuring that everything else is an A+.

            An professional athlete can benefit from knowing their weaknesses to limit their competitor’s ability to exploit it.

            A manager that fails to respond to e-mails or to appear in a meeting, or that may be overly aggressive to employees, or constantly fail to deliver upon their client’s commitment.

            These are an example of areas that if the individual does not self-reflect on their weaknesses, it can lead to negative outcomes. Knowing oneself, being able to listen to other’s feedback and to give constructive feedback are three tenets of a high performance professional.

Manage Expectations

            One of the most common failures that happen in challenging times is that information asymmetry coupled with misaligned views and lack of communication can lead to further deterioration in relations.

            A professor that is not aware of a major challenge a student(s) is facing cannot even fathom to provide leniency in the delivery of a project.

            A professional athlete that is not aware of a mistake she is doing in play will have a much harder time rectifying the issue.

            Managers that fail to keep stakeholders aware of the continuous progress happening to a project may lead to a deliverable that is so out of touch from stakeholder’s expectations.

            Knowing how to manage expectations is an art that can change based on context, environment and individuals. It is important to learn to assess expectations, including implied and explicit ones.

      Look for Models and Become a Model

                  Exemplary actions and individuals are at the forefront of their respective areas and serve as a model on how to act. Children do it with their parents by for example learning to imitate their actions. Athletes do it by watching their idol (e.g. Kobe Bryant in basketball, Wayne Gretzky in hockey) and attempting their actions. Professionals do it by listening and watching other professionals that they look up to.

                  Even if it is just regarding one action or a series of activities, humans are bound to look for models and to be models in the eyes of others. When it is time for you to be someone else’s model, whether as an executive, manager, specialist or an athlete, try to take the steps to be the model you looked up to. It can be a great way to give back.

      Becoming a Model of Success for Others

                  Sometimes changes are as simple as dealing with highly charged issues after a good night’s sleep. Scot cited former Dallas Stars coach Ken Hitchcock, a disciplinarian who would storm the players’ room after a loss and yell at whoever had contributed to the loss. Team morale sank to new lows, with many star performers too distracted by fear to perform at peak levels.

                  Identifying Hitchcock’s short temper as the root problem, Scot persuaded Hitchcock to remain out of the players’ room after the game. Instead, Hitchcock would review that night’s game video on the following day while drinking his coffee over breakfast. Hitchcock would calmly mention any mistakes he noticed in an informal team meeting before morning practice.

                  Relatively conflict-free, Hitchcock led the re-focused Stars to their most wins in Dallas franchise history.

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