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”!