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4D Leadership

4D Leadership – Competitive Advantage Through Vertical Leadership Development

Twenty years ago the accumulation of skills, knowledge and experience (‘horizontal development’) was sufficient for business success. Today, it’s not. 4D Leadership – Competitive Advantage Through Vertical Leadership Development, offers a new approach of ‘vertical development’.

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When it all comes down to one minute of perfect performance… 


In the fast changing modern business and sporting worlds, the margins between success and failure are often very small. The difference between Gold and no medal at all in the 5,000m at the Olympics in 2012 was just 1.33 seconds. Years and years of training, you’ve been running around the track for more than 13 minutes and it all comes down to 1.33 seconds. That’s less than 0.1% of the time the athlete has been running in that Olympic final.

Athletes train for four years to compete at the Olympics and the actual moment of competition may be incredibly brief. In business too, people work for years to get to the C-suite and their ability to stay there may hang on their interactions with other senior players in just two or three meetings per year. In both cases the cost of anything less than perfect performance can be high.

The question is: How do you make sure you deliver your absolute best effort even when the moment of critical performance may only last a few seconds?

The key thing is that we need to think about performance in a slightly different way. While those moments of intense pressure are critical to performance they are just the tip of a much bigger iceberg. If we give excessive focus to those critical moments, we increase the likelihood of failure. Carl Lewis once said: “It’s all about the journey, not the outcome.”

What we really need to do is see such critical moments as the outcome of building a system that really works.   Rather than making those moments ‘the prize’, they are simply the consequence of building a system properly. Focus on all the different things you need to put in place in order to become world class rather than those pinnacle moments of three strategic meetings or a 5,000m final. You are much more likely to succeed if you focus on building the system. Rather than Roy Hodgson focus on the three matches that England have in the World Cup – he focuses on building the system of England football and the way they pass, play and train. If he gets that ‘journey’ right, then the results will be more likely to follow.

It’s the same in business. Focus on the different aspects of the system; day-to-day performance, what will differentiate your business in the future, how to transform the capability and culture of your people and how every member of your team can become brilliant every day. If you work on all of those dimensions and understand how they interrelate, then you will build a system that can succeed.

I’m not saying it’s easy to address all of these aspects of the system. Understandably, most business or sporting leaders take a partial or incomplete view of the system. For example, they either focus on people OR the short term results. In fact very few coaches or leaders have the capability to not only address all aspects of the system, but also understand how the aspects of the system interact. The handful of coaches that understand all dimensions of the system and how they interact really are world class. The good news is that if you do take a much more systemic view, you’re much more likely to succeed. The principles of brilliant performance are true whether it’s a squad of athletes or a cadre of leaders.

So, don’t focus on the minute, focus on the system. Brilliance in that one minute is built by paying attention to the million other minutes. It is the hours and hours of work on a multitude of things that make you brilliant on the day.

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Dr Alan Watkins

Alan is recognised as an international expert on leadership and human performance. He has a broad mix of commercial, academic, scientific and technological abilities.

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