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How to succeed ~ lessons from the world of elite sport

The world of elite sport is traditionally one that pushes bodies and minds to the limit. Burnout is common. There is a view that it takes a psychopathic nature and a 'chimp brain' to win repeatedly. So it would be natural to conclude that it takes a similar approach to lead people into high-performance and sustained success.

What if it were possible to succeed - without selling your soul?

Two simple shifts in the way the relationship between the individual and the organisation is conducted can make all the difference. It starts with putting the person first, before organisational needs. Flip the objectives process on its head.

Instead of leaders dictating performance deliverables, allow the individual to determine their own development objectives first, and then assign the performance objectives with further discussion on the development needs these might require. This means everyone needs to be aware of their own inner needs, beliefs, values, motivations, and goals to set meaningful objectives that fulfil the individual - ahead of the organisation's vision, mission and values.

The second shift is to let go of the 'sports coach' approach to leadership and start eliciting greater self-awareness and power by holding a 'coaching conversation'; one that allows the individual to bring their own wisdom forward and plan their own path to success.

These two shifts feel somewhat radical at first and are initially a tad scary to most leaders, especially if they are still attached to a command-and-control approach. 'How will I get what I want?' they cry. But they are soon in awe of the richer, more honest conversations that emerge, and a new level of trust is built.

These are small shifts on the surface but are deep mind-set shifts. Ones that are worth the effort to zip the lip and sit on hands as a leader and allow your direct report to sit fully in the spotlight. It takes mindfulness as a leader to know when to hold a coaching conversation and keep your own ideas and needs out of the way. But in doing so, you start the flow of energy that ultimately creates deeper, authentic engagement, greater personal alignment with job roles and organisational objectives, and puts responsibility right back where it belongs - with each smart individual and the job they are being paid to do. It saves time. It creates an enthusiasm that comes with a calm efficiency.

A trend of late is for sports coaches to take a 'you tell me' approach with their elite athletes. More are calling on the simple but powerful GROW coaching model to help shape their conversations to improve and perfect performance. So the shift is happening out there in the arena too.

Fostering a more conscious approach to people development is possible, and the world of coaching is helping to make that shift in powerful ways. How to apply it in the workplace as a daily way of being is the challenge - it only needs you to be brave enough to flip these two key things on their heads and you are well on your way.

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