If there is one quality that companies seek for themselves and their employees, it is sustained high performance in the face of market and stakeholder pressures. Unfortunately, most of the management and leadership literature is filled with canned productivity approaches that focus mostly on cognitive ability and emotional intelligence, both of which are important, but not enough to sustain high performance long term.
Over the years, I have learned that elite athletic and business performance are not as unrelated as you might think. The following 7 habits are lessons I have learned – from more than a decade of endurance sport training and Ironman racing – to be essential to high performance in on the race course and the workplace.
- They set goals and assess performance continuously using quantitative and qualitative data.
No athlete or business executive can achieve success without setting long-term goals, along with smaller, short-term goals that help them advance closer to their longer-term goal over time. For example, athletes wishing to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, as a long-term goal, will need several years of preparation and shorter-term process goals to help them progress closer towards their vision. During this time, elite athletes will consistently assess their performance to see if they are on track. They invest and utlize technology (e.g., Garmin, Strava, Zwift, TrainingPeaks, etc.) to obtain quantitative information on prescribed workouts and also to assess health status to determine if they are obtaining the right “training dose” and avoiding overtraining and over-reaching, both of which are unhealthy for athletes who wish to compete for many years.
- They are motivated with a strong commitment to excellence.
Throughout your journey, you will undoubtedly encounter successes and failures. High performers are motivated to endure through short-term failures and use early successes as fuel to stay motivated. They strive to the best version of themselves, even if it means getting up at 5:00am to exercise before work or spend less time watching TV in the evening to get in a workout.
- They are passionate and possess strong achievement drive.
Effort is more important than talent and even if you follow your coach’s plan, it still requires passionate pursuit of the goal. Passion is a necessary ingredient to bring enjoyment to the journey. It is also a force multiplier and the “secret sauce” that spills over to other important relationships is your life.
- They are resilient and learn from experience.
Elite athletes do not panic when things do not go according to plan. Under stressful situations, they remain solutions-based and focus on those variables they can control. We learn more from failure than successes – but only if we are open and willing to learn from them.
- They are consistent and patient with the process.
Elite athletes understand that the journey to excellence does not happen overnight. They are patient as they follow their path of progression over multiple seasons.
- They plan their days, weeks, and months and allow plenty of time to recover and adapt.
As mentioned earlier, elite athletes build annual training plans which are then broken down into shorter training cycles such as base building, strength focus, build phase, peak phase, taper phase, and racing. The very best understand that they need to allow ample rest and recovery (yes, that means also getting enough sleep) to allow adequate time for the body to adapt to the training stress. This is essential to help prevent injury and stay healthy to make way for massive gains in performance along the way!
- They build great teams of support.
Elite athletes do not try to have every answer themselves. They will surround themselves with strength, and swimming, biking, running coaches as well as massage therapists, physical therapists, nutritionists and registered dieticians. Don’t be afraid to look outside and find guidance and support as you work towards your goals at work or in life.
Tying it all together: Insights to Action
Most of us will not be CEO’s or elite athletes, but we can all learn from those who have reached the top of their profession to apply those lessons in our own lives so that we can achieve our professional and personal health and wellness goals.