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Winning Management? - Learning From Olympic Athletes

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Personal Development 

Winning Management 

During the Olympics millions watched athletes challenge themselves and each other.  We  saw Canadians and, indeed, Manitobans show that they can be "world class", both in athletic skills and professionalism.  Not only did we get a chance to see sports performances but we also got a glimpse, through interviews and spotlight pieces, of the means that these athletes use to reach their best performances. 

What does this have to do with management?  Two things.  First, a manager's role is to lead people to aspire to be better, and to make anything appear possible.  Perhaps we can gain insight into this process by learning from these athletes.  Second, managers themselves can aspire to "winning management", using some of the techniques of athletes to increase their personal management effectiveness.  Let's take a look at four general techniques that managers can use to enhance their ability to deal with challenging situations. 

Visioning Results 

Swimmer Mark Tewksbury indicated that part of his preparation included imagining standing on the gold medal podium and hearing "Oh Canada".  This type of visioning, repeated over and over, becomes a central motivating force for overcoming obstacles, because it focusses you on the reward.  It makes the reward seem attainable, real and concrete provided that you visualize yourself in the picture, and that you paint a picture that engages all your senses.  What does it feel like?  What are you hearing?  What do you see?   

Some examples.  The manager who needs to do a stressful presentation, imagines that at the end,  the audience is standing and applauding (the reward or result).  She imagines the sense of accomplishment, the sight of those people smiling.  Or consider a manager who has to conduct a difficult performance review.  He prepares by thinking about a successful outcome, shaking hands with the employee, as the employee smiles and thanks him for the help. 


If you prepare for an event by actually carrying out the behaviors, it is called practice.  If you mentally run through the behaviors, it is called rehearsal.  You are practicing in the mind.  Fortunately, practicing in the mind can be done anywhere and can be as effective as "real" doing.  However, mental rehearsal, as with results visioning, must be undertaken in detail, each step, action or word being imagined.  The more vivid the picture painted, the better the results.  Also, it is most effective if you imagine obstacles, things that might go wrong, and imagine dealing successfully deal with them. 

Examples?  The presentation rehearsal, where you run through in your head, what you will say, how you will say it, what you will look like while you are saying it, and what you will do if the overhead projector doesn't work.  Or a meeting with an irate client, where you prepare by anticipating his behaviour, and rehearsing your own responses. 

Skills Building 

All the visioning and rehearsal in the world can't help you if you didn't know what you were doing in the first place.  You need to build your skills and aspire to continuous development, if you are going to improve.  You need to learn.  Read what you can.  Talk to other managers about how they do things.  Take training opportunities.  Ask subordinates.  Network.  And above all, reflect upon what you see and hear and learn.  Even if it's in the shower or driving to work.  Sneak it in. 


One thing that stands out with olympic athletes is their ability to focus on their task and tune out other things.  Imagine if you had to chair a staff meeting with 70,000 observers and 20 million T.V. watchers.  

When faced with difficult tasks, you need to ensure that other things are not intruding on your thoughts.  Part of this is mental discipline which is not easy for some to learn.  Part is learning how to manage your environment.  If you are faced with a challenge, make sure that you are not interrupted in your preparation for the challenge.   

Focussing can be learned through mental disciplines such as meditation, or physical disciplines such as T'ai Chi or certain martial arts.  Learning relaxation techniques will also help your focusing abilities. 


It may seem that these techniques should be particularly relevant for less experienced managers, but,  they are even more important for those who have more experience.  That is because there is a tendency, after awhile, to stop developing and stop learning.  When this happens a once successful manager may become an inept one.  By consciously applying these techniques, you will begin to approach your peak performance levels at any task, and enhance your long term managerial effectiveness.  

Next month we will look at how these same techniques can be applied to an entire organization, and the role that a manager can play in this process. 

About Company

Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992. Since then Robert has trained thousands of employees to deal with angry, hostile, abusive and potentially violent customers. He has authored over 20 books on various subjects, many published by McGraw-Hill.


Robert Bacal

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