Win a copy of The Vital Edge

To coincide with the release of “The Vital Edge” on Amazon, the start of the Football World Cup, and a great summer of sport, I am holding a competition in which THREE signed copies of my new book will be won. Read on to find out more…

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“The Vital Edge” has arrived

My book, “The Vital Edge”, can now be purchased at Lulu.com (it will be available through other distributors at a later date).

dt-improved-performance

Using anecdotes and metaphors from sport, combined with psychology and behavioural models, the book provides guidance and pointers as to how business performance can be improved and how common de-railers can be overcome. It is intended to be an easy to read and entertaining journey through a variety of sports, with an intriguing dive into subject areas as diverse as motivation, optimism, ‘flow’, neuroscience, leadership, teamwork and collaboration. It will include worksheets with ponder questions at the end of each chapter allowing the book to be used individually or as part of team-building, leadership development and coaching programmes.

I recently offered sneak previews to readers.

One reviewer commented: “Being an athlete, an improving coach and a sports policy maker makes your book talk to me in a very personal way. It’s as if you have written this book just for me. I love it so much putting it down is a problem. All the elements that bind sport and business are there.” 

I would love to hear what you think of the book. You can of course leave comments and feedback, as well as ratings, on the Lulu.com page, and it would be great if you did.  In addition, you can send me comments directly using the Contact Us Page.

Many thanks.  I hope you enjoy it.

Louis

“The Vital Edge” is coming

Make a note of the date. The week commencing 14 April 2014 will see the release of

“The Vital Edge”……. (Sporting Mindsets for Business Performance)

dt-improved-performance

Using anecdotes and metaphors from sport, combined with psychology and behavioural models, the book provides guidance and pointers as to how business performance can be improved and how common de-railers can be overcome. It is intended to be an easy to read and entertaining journey through a variety of sports, with an intriguing dive into subject areas as diverse as motivation, optimism, ‘flow’, neuroscience, leadership, teamwork and collaboration. It will include worksheets with ponder questions at the end of each chapter allowing the book to be used individually or as part of team-building, leadership development and coaching programmes.

I recently offered sneak previews to readers.

One reviewer commented: “Being an athlete, an improving coach and a sports policy maker makes your book talk to me in a very personal way. Its as if you have written this book just for me. I love it so much putting it down is a problem. All the elements that bind sport and business are there.” 

A number of people have requested details of how to get hold of the book on its release.  I will make sure you get those details. If you would like to add your name (and contact details) to that list please provide your details using the Contact Us Page and I will get back to you personally.

 

Louis Collins, Leadership Development Coach

 

Perform like a Champion Every Day

I’m delighted to say that I have a publication about to be released ~ to be called………….

“The Vital Edge”

Using anecdotes and metaphors from sport, combined with psychology and behavioural models, the book provides guidance and pointers as to how business performance can be improved and how common de-railers can be overcome. It is intended to be an easy to dt-improved-performanceread and entertaining journey through a variety of sports, with an intriguing dive into subject areas as diverse as motivation, optimism, ‘flow’, neuroscience, leadership, teamwork and collaboration. It will include worksheets with ponder questions at the end of each chapter allowing the book to be used individually or as part of team-building, leadership development and coaching programmes.

I recently offered sneak previews to readers.  Many thanks to those of you who took up this offer and for your invaluable feedback. It was most appreciated, and has helped me make changes to the preview version that I am sure will improve the final product.  You know who you are.

One reviewer commented: “Being an athlete, an improving coach and a sports policy maker makes your book talk to me in a very personal way. Its as if you have written this book just for me. I love it so much putting it down is a problem. All the elements that bind sport and business are there.” 

If you would like me to send you details of where and how to get hold of the book as soon as it is released, please drop me a line with your contact details using the Contact Us Page and I will get back to you personally.

 

Louis Collins, Leadership Development Coach

 

 

Performance dips. Is it all just statistics?

source: wikispaces.psu.edu

source: wikispaces.psu.edu

In the age-old debate about which works best – positively rewarding desired behaviours or punishing non-desired behaviours – we need to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of making a causal attribution that does not actually exist. We may be observing nothing more than a mere consequence of statistical distribution known to students of statistics as ‘regression to the mean’.

This is described in the excellent book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (p 175), where he describes an Air Force trainer who objected to Kahneman making the claim that rewarding improved performance was more effective than punishing mistakes. His objection was based on his experience. When he positively praised someone for performing a manoeuvre well, on the next occasion the individual inevitably performed worse. On the other hand, when someone did badly, he would blast a condemnation into their ear which, in the view of the trainer, always caused an improvement in performance.  Ergo, negative reinforcement works more effectively than positive.

source; aperfectchef.hubpages.com

source; aperfectchef.hubpages.com

And, so it might seem, on first inspection in this example. That is, until you think about these situations as being distributed levels of performance around a mean. It makes sense that one single piece of outstanding performance is very likely to be followed by one that is closer to the mean than before. Likewise, an extremely poorly executed manoeuvre is more than likely an aberration, and (even without the blast in the ear) is likely to result in an improvement, and a performance closer to the mean on the next occasion.

What the trainer had stumbled upon was a rule of statistical distribution, and not a profound principle of psychological reinforcement theory.

What we do know, however, is that the brain is wired in such a way as to be biased toward negativity.  This is a consequence of our evolutionary journey and is one of the reasons that we have survived as a species.  It was critical, and indeed life-saving at times, for our ancestors to be alert to danger, to be primed to detect predators, to see risks everywhere. Neuroscience demonstrates that our emotional centres are biased toward negative emotions, and, for this reason, positivity does face an uphill battle. It is working against the tide of our emotional make-up, and to overcome the bias (or at least redress it) we need to experience at least a 3 to 1 ratio of positive thoughts or experiences over negative ones on a daily basis.  (for a deeper treatment of this area see the previous post Overcoming the Brain’s Negativity Bias).

Negative reinforcements and punishments have their place in a world associated with danger and risk, but in a world where our safety is less of an issue, and the emphasis is on how well we thrive, grow and develop, the powerful effects of positive reinforcement are in the generation of optimism, creativity, empowerment and confidence.

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If you feel that you or members of your management team would benefit from exploring ways to make substantial improvements to personal and collective effectiveness and productivity, please do get in touch.       Simply  submit  your contact details on the Contact Us page and I will be delighted to get in touch for an informal initial chat.

About me:  I enable people in business to operate more successfully.  You may be struggling to implement corporate strategy, you may want to get more productivity out of your teams but don’t know where to start,  or your people may not be having as effective conversations with each other as they could be. I will work with you to enable you to formulate more effective ways of leading, to raise awareness of blockers to successful ways of working, and ultimately to help you to lead more successfully.  

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We’re rewarding the wrong behaviours

The subject of bankers and their bonuses has raised its ugly head again this week. Yes, it is getting kind of boring.  If only because nothing new ever comes out of these media-driven examinations.  All we really get is a platform for the ‘public’ (or sections of the public) to express their disgust. What is there new to say?  Well, one or two thoughts spring to my mind (albeit not necessarily new).

First, the mass demonization of everyone who works in the banking industry is unhelpful and unfair. Indeed, a sizeable majority of those who work for the bank in the news this week, operate a long way (both physically and financially) from the lofty heights of the “City Bonuses” often quoted by the press. The people who work at the front desks of the provincial banks up and down the high streets, or in the call centres around the world, or in the admin departments at HQ, are not earning big bucks, and in the main, will never see a bonus no matter how good a job they do.

Second, the bonus system (not just in banking), one of the key incentivisation tools at the very heart of capitalism, is profoundly broken.

Let’s assume for a moment that monetary bonuses do have some merit as a means of incentivising staff to do a better job than they otherwise would do.  At the very least, one would expect that the measure of success used to decide whether the bonus should be paid, would be one that resulted in a direct improvement for the customer. That may be in the form of better value (financially), better quality or better service, but it should be something that is tangible and agreed (externally) as having resulted in that improvement.  

What has become all too prevalent in the crazy ‘bonus-driven culture’ of our businesses and organisations, is an industry of internally-driven, inward-looking, process improvement measures, which have little or no relevance to the end customer, or recipient of the service. Internal departments, in order to prove their value and viability, concoct complicated measures, based on process efficiency, productivity enhancements, employee engagement and so on. All worthwhile activities, no doubt, but irrelevant if the end customer experience is not impacted and does not improve. Despite this, great effort is expended in agreeing annual goals and targets, and even greater effort in gathering evidence to prove they have been achieved, regardless of whether the end customer is receiving improved service, value or product innovation.  The system has lost its way, and lost touch with its original purpose.  

Ah, original purpose. What was that anyway?   Continue reading

What’s a genius anyway?

Pablo Sarasate (violin virtuoso) stated “A genius!  For 37 years I’ve practiced 14 hours a day, and now they call me a genius” (cited in Simonton, 1999) *.

Last week I wrote a post called ‘Stroke of Genius’ and it attracted a pretty high level of interest. Clearly a popular topic. And many comments I received were along similar lines, mentioning that identifying talent in the first place is often the most difficult challenge faced. I figured that I owed it to myself and readers to address this area in today’s post.

source: blog.kennedyviolins.com

source: blog.kennedyviolins.com

Well, right up front, we need to think about recruitment.

Recruiting talent
Do you know what you are looking for in the first place?

This is not as simple a question as it might first appear. For example, if you are a company, can you answer the following questions?

  • What does the company look like today, and what will it look like in two, three, or four years time?
  • What is the company’s medium to long term strategy?
  • What sort of people will it need to succeed in that strategy? Same as today or very different talent?
  • What sort of roles will be most critical in the future? And how much market demand will there be for those people?
  • What aptitudes will it take to operate in these future positions?

Are the people who are making recruitment decisions and identifying talent sufficiently aware of the future strategic plans for the business? Or are they blindly cultivating talent based on a model of today’s business? Continue reading

Don’t give me bad news

Nancy Kline in her superb book Time to Think describes a conversation with a senior civil servant whose department was going through wave after wave of changes to the way work was done and how things were structured. When asked how his managers were coping  with all of this, he responded, ‘I have no idea.  I don’t ask them.’  When asked ‘Why?’, he said, ‘They might tell me. We couldn’t have that.’  As Nancy goes on to explain, what he was really saying was thathe couldn’t handle that”.

How common is it for managers to shy away from facing up to the reality of what is going on around them, particularly when it might involve a face-to-face conversation with someone?  Very common, in my experience.   Confronting bad news, delivering home truths, providing feedback on performance, addressing inappropriate behaviour, or challenging resistance to change.  All of these scenarios present managers with situations which they either feel ill-equipped to handle effectively, or they ignore.

When managers fail to recognise an under-performing member of their team, there can be any number of underlying thinking errors or limiting beliefs at play.

For example:

  • They don’t want to admit they have someone under-performing as it may reflect badly on them
  • They don’t want to face the issue directly (it’s not in their nature), and they’re worried about handling any conflict that facing up to it might cause
  • The work is getting done to an ‘adequate enough’ level. Even though the individual is not adding as much as they potentially could, everyone’s reasonably happy – so why rock the boat?  (I dealt with this specific case in more detail in a previous post called Are you prepared to upset the Apple Cart?)
  • The individual is reasonably effective in some areas, so why not overlook or downplay issues in other areas where things could be better?
  • It is just a fact of life that some individuals are weak in certain skills or habits. We can’t change that.
  • The manager has been ‘friends’ with the individual and they’ve worked together a long time. They find it hard to confront them with hard messages.
  • The individual is a “nice” person, and it would hurt them to come down too hard on them
  • The individual is “slick” in that they always have a reason/response to issues raised with them, it’s just not worth the hassle of bringing up problems. After all, we’ve always managed to work round them in the past

Holding back, and not acting with complete honesty or sincerity does not create or encourage learning and improvement?  It does not prepare people for the future and help them adapt to change.

Fundamentally the approach to overcoming this type of ‘limiting thinking’ is simple….. Continue reading

When conflict works

It seems to me, from reflecting on the Olympics, that truly great performances benefit from having someone else to ‘bounce off’. On occasions this can be achieved by colleagues in the same team pushing each other to ever higher levels, as evidenced by the Jamaican sprinters, Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. It may also be achieved by fierce but respectful rivalry, where the standards of excellence set by one player forces the other to have to raise their game to heights they would not otherwise have to. The phenomenal standards of performance displayed by the world’s top tennis players is evidence of this. It is debatable whether Nadal would ever have reached the level of peak performance he has, if he was not asked some extraordinary questions on the tennis court by Federer. Djokovic has since had to take his game to even greater heights to become World number one. Whether friendly or fierce rivalry, in elite sport, the tensions, pressures, and challenges set, help motivate participants to keep raising their game.

But it is not only sport that can benefit from rivalry, conflict and challenge. Used effectively, disagreements and tensions can be hugely important in driving up standards in all walks of life.

This is illustrated most powerfully in this short clip of Margaret Heffernan, describing the inspiring story of Alice Stewart, an epidemiologist who struggled against the medical establishment to prove that x-rays on pregnant mothers were responsible for childhood cancers. During a long, and often lonely battle, to prove her case, Alice relied heavily upon a colleague, who was quite the opposite from Alice in many ways. His job, as a statistician and as a friend, was simple. To try to prove Alice’s data and results wrong. His job was to create conflict around her theories. Subjecting her work to this level of challenge and scrutiny, provided Alice with greater confidence about the validity of her theory, and helped her to find the energy to persist against formidable opposition.

So, how willing are we in the business world to be so open to this level of ‘voluntary’ challenge and conflict? To what extent are we willing to invite disagreement in the interest of true collaboration?  Continue reading

Winning margins

Rebecca Adlington, the darling of British swimming, put in a faster time this week to win Olympic bronze in the 400m Freestyle than the time she clocked to win gold in the same event four years ago in Beijing.  This simple fact, whether surprising or not, encapsulates the essence of high performance sport. The margins between top performers are ever-decreasing, and every athlete is seeking that special something that might just give them the vital edge that will make the difference on the day.

People sometimes ask why people like Usain Bolt, Roger Federer or Tiger Woods need coaches. After all, when athletes have already become the best in the world, what more coaching do they need, and who is ‘qualified’ to coach someone who is the best?  The answer is simple. They want to remain the best, and only being as good as you are now is not going to achieve that.

I am fascinated by the variety of ways that performers seek to gain that vital edge over the competition. Swimmers, for example, are increasingly engaging in an intriguing mixture of cross-over training. Rock-climbing, pilates and ballet are just three unlikely activities that are being incorporated into their already punishing schedule. This is not just to generate variety and ease boredom from swimming lengths, although the value of that is not to be under-estimated, nor is it just because they are proven for building exceptional core strength, something that is vital for top swimmers. The additional benefits gained relate to developing an increased sense of overall body awareness. Having spatial awareness of hands and feet is very important to swimmers, especially in those micro-seconds and vital millimetres when a wall touch needs to be timed to perfection.  One swimming coach this week stated that “…..he and his swimmers will leave no stone unturned to find that extra ingredient that might just make the vital difference, and if that means tapping in to other disciplines then great”.

I referred in my last post to the importance of ‘Learning from the Outside’.  This can be thought of on different levels, whether as an individual or as an organisation. In any walk of life, whether athletics or business, any fresh and innovative ideas that can be drawn upon to enrich training methods, and ultimately produce peak performance are to be welcomed. Business leaders have been slower than their counterparts in the athletic world to adopt this ‘leave no stone unturned’ mindset, and to tap in to other disciplines to help create the winning edge. (See Why aren’t Business Leaders more like Athletes?)

Of course, this focus on sport and winning, raises another dilemma for many people. Some argue that competition can be harmful and unhealthy, and actually brings out the worst in people.  After all, not everyone can win the gold medal, and doesn’t competitive sport result in more disappointment and failure than anything else?  Well, I like the treatment this subject gets from Tim Gallwey in his book the Inner Game of Tennis.  “Winning is overcoming obstacles to reach a goal, but the value of winning is only as great as the value of the goal reached.”   In other words,  the essence of competition  is all about the challenge and obstacles to be overcome.  In a game of tennis, the opponent provides the obstacles required to allow a player to reach and experience their own peak performance.  To that end, when an opponent Continue reading