When I began my consulting career, I found that my decades of training as an amateur and professional athlete provided me with not just the language (think “bench strength” and “suit up”) that I needed to gain credibility with the men doing the hiring, it gave me a leg up when it came to coaching executives on improving their performance.
Wait a minute! You were a professional athlete?
I see I need to back up a little. I was raised in a lower middle class family with three older brothers, whom I had to wrestle to get an extra slice of meatloaf. It was great physical training, and when I was 9, I decided I wanted to be phys ed teacher. (This was long before any woman in my town had held such a job.) Sports were my first love.
When I was 11, I set the Junior Olympics national record for the longest softball throw. At 16, I won the Nevada singles tennis championship—without any formal training. In college, I played three sports and soaked up everything I could about athletics, psychology, education, linguistics and business.
After college, I played amateur and professional softball. In 1978, while playing professionally for the International Women’s Softball League, I became one of the first players in pro sports to simultaneously serve as their team’s general manager. I am more than proud to say that I led that team to a record on-field and financial performance!
When the league folded, I left professional sports behind, became the softball coach at Stanford University, and kept teaching junior high. But after eleven years, I hung up my teaching certificate. The educational system was resistant to innovation and I was, to say the least, innovation-prone. Knowing that leadership was my real calling, I became a business consultant, bringing my sports and education experience to problems facing the corporate world.
Sports demand peak performance. So does high-end leadership. The lessons I learned on the tennis court and ball field morphed into coaching tips I offered my clients. I want to share with you the six steps in the process of achieving high performance – as a leader or in any field you choose.
You start with a commitment to be better at a specific goal, like winning the Softball World Series or increasing my best performance by 50%. Learning and improving performance require an uncompromising commitment to achieve a goal.
The next step is learning. Find information, resources, and people that will educate you in how to improve your performance in your chosen field.
Then comes practicing, not just a little bit but day after day, week after week, month after month. There is NO replacement for practice.
The natural and INEVITABLE outcome of practice is failing. Failing – without excessive self-recrimination or giving up – is what teaches us success.
After failing comes the need for coaching. A coach partners with us in our commitment in many ways. Sometimes this means calling a “time out.” Sometimes it means asking a question that enables us to see what we couldn’t see a moment earlier.
After the coaching comes more practice, yes, MORE practice.
Now Return to Step 2 and Repeat
The learning cycle continues until we take the “big nap”!
This post is adapted from one of the more than 30 free Coaching Tips, all available on our website as part of our Ultimate Leadership Library.
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