5 tips for enabling peak performance in the workplace using proven Olympic coaching technique

5 tips for enabling peak performance in the workplace using proven Olympic coaching technique

Written by Professional Academy guest blogger Nicki Hayes

Kathryn Knights, in a recent Professional Academy post, made the case for why coaching isn’t just for Olympians. In this post, Nicki Hayes shares coaching lessons learnt from two Olympian medalists, one past, one present, distilling her research into 5 tips for achieving peak performance in the workplace…

When British gymnast Max Whitlock was interviewed by the BBC after achieving his second Olympic gold this year, the role that goal setting and coaching had in his success was clear in the characteristically understated way he revealed; "Winning the floor was a surprise. I never go into any competition thinking about medals but just thinking about doing my job.”

The role of coaching shines through too in the BBC article ‘How Max Whitlock made his teenage dream reality’. The journalist’s assessment of Max ‘ending a 116 year wait for a British gymnastics Olympic champion coolly and with flair’, brought to mind a key theme in a book by Peter Vidmar, another Olympian gold gymnast: Risk, Originality & Virtuosity: the keys to a perfect 10

Peter won his gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and has spent the last three decades sharing his wisdom as a motivational author and speaker. Watch him in action here.

Regardless of his book’s title, risk, originality and virtuosity (meaning showmanship and flair), are not his key messages. Indeed, in the book, he reveals how they only account for 0.8% of the equation by looking back at how his event was scored in those days and describing the steps people took to score the ‘Perfect 10’.

Firstly, they must achieve the Olympic standard of technical competence, which takes years of dedication, to reach 9.4. They could then add 0.2 by taking a risk, 0.2 by demonstrating originality – something that had never been done before – and 0.2 by demonstrating virtuosity (showmanship/flair). Such a brilliant performance produced the ‘Perfect 10’ and, hopefully, the Olympic gold.

As strengths mentor and author Mike Pegg points out in his tribute to Peter, the man is an inspiring speaker, so much so that it would be easy to leave his sessions believing: ‘We can now believe in our dreams. All we have to do is to be original, take risks and demonstrate virtuosity.’

Mike points out that we’d be forgetting one thing if we did. Peter’s most important message, and one emanating from the early post 2016 Olympics interviews with and about Max, is that people must first achieve the 9.4, before daring to be original, take risks and demonstrate flair.

Here are five tips for following these Olympians’ methods in your own way, with thanks to the wisdom and generosity of Mike, from whom I borrow a simplified version of the first three tips. A framework to help you focus on these in your own life came be found in his blog post, ‘Getting a Perfect 10’.   

Tip 1: Play to your strengths: choose an activity in which you stand a chance of achieving 9.4

Play to your strengths (areas where you feel positively energised and where you have the ability to become a peak performer). Become brilliant in these areas, maybe even becoming a niche supplier.

When I met Mike I was a freelance PR consultant and IT journalist. He helped me to understand that I could align my personal strengths of empathy, compassion, collaboration, flexibility and optimism to my core skills of writing and understanding human behaviour. I am now a niche supplier of strong content designed to inspire positive action and I can honestly say, I love my job!

Too many people choose to do work where, at best, they can only ever reach a 7/10. By honing in and sharpening your strengths and aligning them with key skills for which there is a need, you can go beyond the expected. Do this and you will earn the freedom to focus on risk, originality and flair, the very things that will set you ahead of the crowd and enable you to flourish.

Tip 2: Work hard to achieve the 9.4

Clarify your goals. Design an action plan for reaching your goals. Develop good habits. Keep doing the right things in the right ways every single day. Practice, practice, practice. Practice until you have done it in your mind, or in your muscle memory, at least 1,000 times. Then begin to think about the 0.2% increments.

Both Peter and Max trained and planned harder and longer than others in their field, working closely with their coaches, identifying goals and sticking to the plan, no matter what. Max even overcame enormous health hurdles following the impact of glandular fever on his strength and ability to train post the London Olympics. He never gave up. He learnt about pacing. He re-focused on what was key to his goal, and trained to recapture and retain his 9.4 standard level, choosing to only compete in essential competitions before moving towards the next step: adding sparks of risk, originality and flair to win those 0.2 increments.

Tip 3: Add incremental touches of risk, originality and flair

In the business world, customers buy predictability, so having consistently reached a high level of performance is vital before you develop ways to add a touch of class.

Having reached that level, the equivalent of the gymnast’s 9.4, you can start to look for ways to add touches of risk, originality and flair. Peter talks about being the first ever gymnast to introduce a hand stand to a pummel routine that did not mark the end of the routine. I grew my established business by offering case studies written in a story-telling style.  I found myself writing more and more of these, thanks to the eternal power of word of mouth advertising, until I eventually began advising business coaches on how to use storytelling techniques to bring their learning material to life.

Like I said, I love my job. How can you add a touch of originality to your job?

Tip 4: Focus on the now

Max’s words ring as true in business and life as upon the pummel horse or gym floor. "I never go into any competition thinking about medals but just thinking about doing my job.”

You may have heard similar advice from other Olympians in interviews during this Olympics. From boxing, to rowing to athletics, previous winners, coaches and experts proffered advice such as “Don’t think about the medal think about the next fight”; “Don’t focus on the next heat, just on the two shirts ahead of you”; “Don’t think about the winning line, just your next two strokes.”

Peter offers similar advice too: “Stop watching the other guy. Get to the point where everyone else is watching you.” Going on to advise: “Be unique. Be original.”

Which brings me to my final tip…

Tip 5: Share your successes

Being unique, being original is wonderfully energy giving. It’s joyful! Just as much joy, if not more, though can be garnered from using your success to help others. Max’s coach, Scott Hann, told the BBC how he had met with Max after the merriment and revelry of London 2012, and Max had shared with him his goal: He wanted to be great, to be remembered and to inspire a nation.

"I asked if he wanted to be just a pommel horse specialist," remembers Hann. "He said, 'I want to be an all-around gymnast and I want to be one of the world's greatest. I don't want to be a flash in the pan.' That inspired me."

Coaching is just as inspiring, if not more so, as being coached. So too is mentoring (see Professional Academy’s previous post on why coaching isn’t just for Olympians for an explanation of the difference between coaching and mentoring).  

So, the final tip: celebrate and share your successes.

Coach or mentor others, whether in your workplace, a local school or college or through a not for profit organisation such as The Princes Trust or 50th Generation. Success, after all, breeds success …

Professional Academy offer a range of Management & Leadership Training as both bespoke in-company training with the option of accredited CMI qualification pathways and management & leadership qualifications for individuals looking to progress in their management career. Why not contact us today to see if we can help you with your personal development as a manager and a leader?