A lot of life lessons can be learnt from sport – and team leadership and resiliency are no exception. Dr Dave Alred MBE PhD is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s best high-performance coaches, working with everyone from professional athletes to pilots to optimise their mental and physical performance on the job. The WarriorU Podcast’s Bram Connolly and Trent Burnard recently sat down with Dr Alred to discuss how his experiences coaching professional athletes can be easily applied to the business world.
Here are three ways Dr Alred gets the best from his players – and how you can apply those same leadership techniques to get the best from your people:
1. Let your people fail
Think about the last time you made a mistake. Now, think about what happened after – did you self-assess, pinpoint what you could have done differently, and then move on to your next task with the same (if not more) confidence in your ability? Or, like most of the population, did you ruminate on your errors, and put all of your energy and efforts into avoiding the same mistake?
For Dr Alred, true leadership is about creating resilience in your team. And the definition of resilience is your team’s ability to try again – despite having failed and despite the fear of failing again.
‘While many people go through the motions of learning, their mind is focused on avoiding failure, rather than achieving,’ he says.
‘The best coach creates an environment that allows the player to totally commit to a process and fail with no loss of self-esteem.’
2. Practice empathy
Understanding the thoughts and feelings of your people is crucial to getting more out of them. Whether you’re a business owner, team manager or sports coach, changing or reinforcing behaviour in your team requires an understanding of their world view.
‘If I want to teach you to goal kick, for example, I have to understand your map of reality. Because your map is the only map that counts,’ explains Dr Alred.
‘Without empathy, it’s a bit like going to the doctors with an earache, and so they take my appendix out. He was a really nice guy and I’ve only got a little scar, but I’ve still got an earache.’
Dig down into the thoughts behind your team’s behaviours, and the experiences and environments that have informed those choices. Questions Dr Alred asks his athletes include: ‘how do you think that went?’, ‘What went right in that situation?’, ‘If you had that shot again, what would you do differently?’. Why? Because they not only provide valuable feedback to both player and coach, they also help to squash any feelings of inadequacy during the learning process.
3. Optimise your leadership language
It may seem like an insignificant technicality, but the language you use when talking to your team (and to yourself) matter – particularly when you’re trying to teach a new behaviour or skill.
‘Language is the oil that makes the engine work, and the human brain doesn’t work in deletions,’ explains Dr Alred.
‘If I ask you to not think about the green elephant, you have to remember what not to think about, and therefore you’re thinking about it.
‘If you are trying to correct somebody, rather than saying ‘don’t do that’, say ‘do this instead’.’
In other words, tell people what you do want them to do; rather than what you don’t.
Simple phrases or words can also impact your team’s self-esteem, their satisfaction in their work, and how they think about the limits of their potential.
Dr Alred suggests replacing words such as ‘failure’ with positive phrasing.
‘I ban the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ – there’s no such thing as a good shot and there’s no such thing as a bad shot. Instead, we look at how well the shot matched your intention,’ he says.
This allows the person to 100 per cent commit to changing the behaviour at hand. ‘If they don’t go to the point of no return, they won’t jump far enough,’ adds Dr Alred.
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