This is a response and reflection on @carminegallo post in Forbes : http://www.forbes.com/sites/carminegallo/2016/05/24/3-daily-habits-of-peak-performers-according-to-michael-phelps-coach/#12338f6c194a
Bob Bowman is one of the greatest coaches of modern sport and guided Micheal Phelps to an unprecedented medal haul in both World and Olympic competition. It would be easy to attribute this success to raw talent, natural ability or a meticulously periodised training programme but when you scratch a little deeper, you will see it comes down to the practice of three daily habits to achieve excellence which can be equally as powerful to us a school leaders.
Habit No1: Vision
Bowman reflects that not one of his athletes had any lack of clarity about ‘why’ they’re in the pool and the focus for that day – micro-periodisation is a feature of elite training but linked with ‘why’ and I am hearing Simon Sinek running through my head adding brevity and significance to what each daily focus is. Bowman’s focus is to enable every swimmer to swim a medal winning time and to encourage athletes to focus on the process not the outcome.
Process not outcome is something that is hard for leaders to comprehend. In high stakes accountability of education it surely makes moral sense. If the processes are right the outcomes will surely follow? In Bowmans case it links to ‘controlling the controllables’ – his athlete’s may well swim medal winning times in training, heats and finals but may not end up with a medal. The medal isn’t the ‘why’, it is being fast enough – if you get that right process, the outcome will take care of itself! The same can be true for the relationship betweem the classroom and results. If the classroom is purposeful, engaging, challenging and with high expectations, surely the results will take care of themselves? In theory anyway!
This links directly to our previous post on ‘Better’ and creating an environment that enables everyone to succeed and feel valued in the organization. As Bowman says, ‘it’s more important to pursue excellence every day' and to remind yourself of the ‘why’ and ultimate vision to ensure sustainable greatness happens.
Habit No2: Mental Rehearsal
Bowman reflects on Michael Phelps’ ability to visualize himself and mentally rehearse every aspect of what he is going to achieve. What makes Phelps so good at this, according to Bowman, is that he is able to perceive every aspect of his performance, even to the point of sitting in the stand, overcoming barriers, running through different race scenarios, watching his race unfold.
Now how many times a day, a week, a half-term, a term, do we as leaders take an opportunity to deeply reflect on where we are and where we want to get to?
Bowman believes that the ‘brain is unable to distinguish between something that’s vividly imagined and something that’s real’ – this is a key concept in achieveing and believing we can achieve what we set out to do each day.
How much time do we focus on where we are rather than picturing and rehearsing the steps that will enable us to get to where we want to be? The reflections on the Relentless Optimism are just that in our desire to have maximum impact on the lives of the young people we serve and stepping-stones to doing it – be it seeking Headship, being the best leaders we can be or making the most impact on our young peoples lives.
Bowman says ‘If you can form a strong mental picture and visualize yourself doing it, your brain will immediately find ways to get you there’. This surely has to be something we adopt as school leaders into our day? - thinking through and ‘feeling‘ the steps that are going to lead us to where we want to get to.
Habit No3: Practice
It isn’t surprising that practice features as a key component to Phelps sporting success and is much talked about in Mathew Syeds’ Bounce and has lead to a greater understanding of Mastery and the golden 10,000hrs to become expert. But does this work in a leadership context?
Bowman reflects that Phelps trained for 365 days a year for 6 years in preparation for the 2004 Olympic games. School improvement would struggle to be allowed such a length of time but even so, clarity around the vision, coupled with mental rehearsal and practicing the right things undoubtably has impact.
The challenge is that excellent performers make it look easy. They are deceptive in how they make it look. Excellent leaders are no different but underneath this lies hours of practice that goes unseen. With authentic leaders the practice is discreet and it is the fundamental desire to get it right drives them. Bowman notes that ‘the wonderful result of practice is that you have literally programmed the brain for peak performance’.
So, what do we know now that we didn’t at the start of this post?
Vision is king – know where it is you are going but more importantly ensure every member of the organisiation lives and breathes the ‘why’ you are doing it.
Mentally rehearse the steps you are going to take to ensure the organization delivers the vision for your young people and colleagues. Mentally walk through the successes and barriers that you will potentially encounter so that they don’t hold you up and you can anticipate them.
Practice, practice, reflect and refine and practice! This is true to all aspects of your role as a leader. Mentally rehearse the difficult conversation, practice presentations so they look smooth and seemless, anticipate the curve ball questions with pre-thought out responses.
And don’t doubt ‘why’ we do it! To be relentlessly optimistic for the young people we serve and to make sure every single member of the organization feels valued in pursuit of doing it ‘better’!