How an Olympic Snowboarder helped me coach top executives
By Yvette Jeal ACC, Business Coach
My brother-in-law is a professional athlete. A snowboarder, to be exact.
He has spent the last 17 years of his life jumping off 60 foot cliffs, competing in the Olympics, and accumulating a lot of heavy metal on podium stands. In fact, he has one of the most revered and long-lived careers within an industry where names and faces come and go, before you get the chance to really know who they are.
This is all very exciting of course, but what does it have to do with business coaching?
As a business coach I spend a lot of my days with extremely skilled businessmen and women who have reached where they are through hard work, commitment and talent. I see the qualities they possess to reach the top and I work with them to fine tune areas of leadership, management and self-belief that need re-focusing.
In my personal life I have spent a lot of time with Jussi (snowboarding brother-in-law). I have seen that all the skills we work on for success in the corporate world are equally relevant in the world of professional sports (and every other working world that exists).
What has captured my interest even more is how I see that the skills Jussi possesses within his mindset are every bit as important as the ones he has on his snowboard, and one without the other would have led to a very different career path and level of success for him. Over time I have seen that the mindset Jussi has is the driving factor in his success and I have been digging deeper to see just how that can be passed on to my clients.
This is what I have learned:
Fear is the beast that we all need to conquer if we are to truly reach our potential. Nothing holds us back like fear of failure, fear of not living up to expectations, and fear of not being able to continue with the level of success we have achieved. Imagine the fear you would have standing at the top of an enormous slopestyle run (think X-Games) with literally millions of the world's eyes watching you through their TV sets. How do you stay calm under that pressure? How do you pull out your best effort when knowing you could fall in front of all those people?
Jussi tells me that "Fear for me is all about weighing up my options, evaluating risk, and seeing the situation from all possible angles. Once I am armed with knowledge I know I am minimising my risk, which in turn minimises my fear. It all comes down to confidence for me – once I am confident in my own ability having taken all those steps, the fear diminishes."
I like to bring his strategies right back to the office. After all, what is more terrifying than having to stand up in front of hundreds of people (or even a small group) in a presentation and capture their minds and interest? And we all know that panic of being set goals and targets that we don't believe we can reach. Or how about the self-doubt a CEO feels when making a strategic decision that will have an effect on hundreds of people?
We are all victims of fear, yet we can all learn how to control its effect by empowering ourselves with knowledge and using confidence building methods.
ACHIEVING UNCOMPROMISING GOALS
We all know one. The friend who seemed to outwit everyone and create a successful business that nobody seemed to believe in at first. How did they do it? They believed in themselves and what they could achieve more than listening to the naysayers. According to Jussi, this comes down to drive and a clear vision as much as anything.
"It was always important to me that I follow my own path as I knew eventually doing so would lead to the best outcome for me, even if it came with bigger obstacles along the way. My passion for what I wanted to achieve outweighed my doubts and I always had a very clear plan of where I wanted to end up which I think was crucial as it laid out a path for me that I just whittled away at bit by bit until I finally got there!"
In spite of all their success, some of the clients I have worked with have lost their confidence in what they can achieve or even lost sight of what they want to achieve.
Perhaps it is a question of experience (they have lived through some of life's failures and been knocked down), or a change in their life circumstances (marriage, divorce, kids), but somewhere along the way they have plateaued. Working to re-ignite that spark of self-belief and desire to go beyond the required is one of the more satisfying aspects of my work, especially when I see managers turn their teams around and achieve goals they never thought possible.
This one affects us all. Every. Single. One. Of. Us. Even Jussi in his dream job. Staying motivated through the highs and lows of our working lives is a challenge.
"Sometimes it's easy when things get stale to find you just keep repeating yourself," Jussi says. "But the most important thing for me was to make sure I was constantly innovating and finding new challenges. When I started out snowboarding, every day was a challenge to me and I have really tried to focus on re-creating that feeling by putting new challenges in front of myself along the way rather, than just doing what I knew I could already do."
Jussi's approach works for all of us. There are times when I meet a client who has lost all motivation for what they are doing and are simply going through the motions of their job. In many ways the office is no different to the mountain, and by taking people back to basics and helping to identify what motivated them in the beginning, I can start to find the triggers to motivate them in their current role.
All jobs have better and worse elements to them but identifying and reigniting the passion that was found previously is essential in helping clients redirect that energy to their current set of circumstances.
ABILITY TO ADAPT
You've heard it said before: Adapt or die. This applies as much to our success in the business world as it does to the survival of the species. Think of big companies like Apple and Virgin. They are constantly adapting, staying ahead of the curve and losing old ways of doing things that are no longer relevant to the changing market. The same thing applies to each of us in our work environments: If we aren't prepared to be fluid in our approach to our work and change as our circumstances change, we will be left behind.
This was particularly pertinent to Jussi during the influx of social media.
"Just as with anything, if you don't stay current and keep up on cultural changes you won't remain relevant in that time," Jussi says. " The snowboard industry changed hugely during my career and although it didn't come naturally at first, I had to get used to working with social media. Instagram, for instance, is a huge tool for sharing your personality, marketing, staying relevant, etc. and I went from being reluctant to use it to really understanding its importance in today's market and now running my company's site as well as my personal one."
When I dig deep into the working processes of some of the clients I work with I notice that they are reluctant to change the way they have worked over the years, even if it means they keep hitting a brick wall in terms of progress. Once we break down the barriers and see the possibilities in adapting, and learning how to continuously adapt, it's like the shackles come off and they see a whole new set of possibilities.
Jussi recently retired from competitive sports after a long and successful career and now works full time as marketing director for the company he launched while still competing.
His smooth transition from one world to another made me realise that the mindset he possesses is at the core of his success in life. Whether snowboarding or learning an entirely new set of skills in the desk-bound world, Jussi's ability to focus on his end goal, allow failure to teach him important lessons rather than knock his confidence, and work constantly towards excellence means that no matter what he turns his hand to, he has the mental skills to succeed. (His spreadsheet skills might be another matter at this point though!)
Although this might have come naturally to Jussi, these are all traits that can be enhanced and developed through the process of coaching.
The impressive turn-around after a series of coaching sessions that I consistently see in my clients – both in work output and success, as well as workplace happiness – is proof that we can all change our mindsets to learn how to overcome fear, succeed in areas we didn't believe possible, and adapt to a continuously changing world.
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