Performance Blog

How To Thrive Under Pressure

Posted by in Performance Blog | February 15, 2017

StockSnap_29QMPSYCT2 copyFew people find pressure comfortable.  But a recent study discovered that top performers rise to the occasion and thrive in pressure situations (Hodge & Smith, 2014).  In analyzing the remarkably successful All Blacks rugby team out of New Zealand, the researchers found that the coaches actively encouraged athletes to adopt the mindset that intense pressure should be welcomed, embraced, and treated as a sign of respect–a privilege.

When viewed in this light, pressure became a source of motivation and energy that enhanced and extended the athletes’ performance.  It seems that seeing pressure as positive does not detract from your ability to reach a successful outcome, even in the face of difficult and daunting circumstances.  When a tight situation is viewed as a challenge rather than a liability it helps rather than hinders your ability to give your best and have that effort make a significant contribution to your success.

Pressure, in this perspective, is savored because it only comes when something important is at stake—and you are the person in the position to get it done when it matters most. When failure, or the avoidance of failure, is the goal survival rather than success comes to mind.  Even if success is not the ultimate outcome for every situation, you will know that at the end of the race you gave it your very best in the toughest of times.  And no one can ask any more of themselves than that. Let stressful situations blossom into opportunities for uncommon rewards and success.  See stress, not an obstacle or unwanted intrusion, but rather as a signal that it is time to get serious about your success.  Viewed as such, there is a far greater chance of achievement because you have learned to thrive under pressure.  Bring it on!


Hodge, K., & Smith, W. (2014).  Public expectation, pressure, and avoiding the choke: A case study from elite sport.  The Sport Psychologist, 28, 375-389

How Successful Leaders Create the Vision to Build Winning Teams

Posted by in Performance Blog | February 9, 2017

adamson-headerResearch finds that a leader’s vision is an indisputable and essential element in the DNA of successful organizations. Interestingly, a recent study found that vision originated in the leader’s mind immediately, or shortly after, their appointment as team leader (Vallee & Bloom, 2005). Early on, leaders worked to change past philosophies, set higher standards and goals, and lead the team in a new direction.

A second critical element in creating an empowering vision is that all team members buy into the vision.  Member buy-in is foundational to achieving team success.  No buy-in, no success.

To gain buy-in, leaders first assessed each team member’s potential and then created a mental model for individual and collective accomplishment. On winning teams, every member feels they play an important role and make a meaningful contribution to team culture and achievement.

The mental model constructed on member attributes and potential is influenced, in part, by the leader’s personal characteristics. An influential leader’s vision is shaped by their personal characteristics, which then guides the individual development and contribution of team members. The leader’s qualities blend with the members’ attributes to determine precisely how the vision is created, presented, organized, and sold to the team members. The research found that team members commit to the vision when they identify with their role in the vision and believed in and trusted their leader.


Valle, C., & Bloom, G. (2005).  Building a successful University program: Key and common elements of expert coachesJournal Of Applied Sport Psychology, 17: 179–196.

Cashing In The Value From Your Wealth of Experience

Posted by in Performance Blog | January 24, 2017


ExperienceThe famed sculptor, Auguste Rodin said “Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.”  Your accumulated experiences offer a deep well of valuable information.  The greater the depth and diversity of your experiences, the greater the benefit available from those experiences.  Different people, places and events all represent unique learning and growth opportunities.

It is important to note that experience alone, however, will neither increase expertise nor improve performance.  There are many people who have been doing the same thing for decades and are no better today than they were years ago.  So what makes the difference?  How do you cash in the value from your wealth of experience?

Peak performers are masters at mining the greatest wealth from their experiences.  They do this simply by asking three questions after every important experience:

1. What did I do well? It is important to know your strengths so you can use them strategically and capitalize on them.

2. What can I improve? If you want to be better tomorrow than you are today, something needs to change.  Answering this question identifies precisely what needs to change.

3.  How do I improve?  Improvements come only when you take informed actions on things needing to change.  Answering this question illuminates those necessary actions.

This is not a complicated formula, and if you undertake this exercise honestly and objectively after important events, you will discover a clear path to improved performance.

One additional tip for gaining value from experience—borrow from the experiences of others.  Top performers devote great attention to learning from the experiences of their peers, competitors and mentors.  They build large networks and seek opportunities to talk and—more importantly—listen when others share their experiences.  Every experience, whether it be yours or someone else’s, is a wonderful opportunity to become enriched. Perhaps it was Albert Einstein who put it best: “The only source of knowledge is experience.”

Doing More With Less

Posted by in Performance Blog | January 13, 2017


winter-hike-1796562_1920“What is the greatest challenge facing your team?” I asked Matt.  Matt was the national team leader for the regional finance mangers of a very large multi-national corporation.  He first described the reduction in resources that hit his department from the corporate office, and the corporate office simultaneously increased their performance expectations of him and his team.  As we pondered our program preparation notes, Matt looked up in desperation and asked “can you help us to do more with less?”

I wasn’t sure I could, but I could try. My strategy was to scan the research literature for empirically sound practices for achieving more with reduced resources.  After two weeks of review, the conclusion was clear: You can’t do more with less–at least not in any sustainable fashion. While simply giving someone resources does not guarantee their success, taking resources away and expecting greater results is a recipe that will most likely end in disaster.

But that answer would not serve Matt, his team, or his organization. So I took a different spin on the problem: How do high achievers accomplish more, reserving resources and still gain better results?  Here I found a different answer. Research on the practices of high achievers finds four actions that help them be successful with minimum resource expenditure.

1.  Goals & Priorities.  This might sound like old news, but it works. Knowing what you want to achieve makes it easier to understand how and what you need to do. A good question to ask at the start of the day is “At the end of this day, what do I want to have accomplished?”  The answer to that question should form the priorities and subsequent tasks for the day.  In other words, knowing what needs your attention today, and equally important–what does not need your attention today–represents your priorities. To do more with less requires a greater focus on what really needs to be achieved, and what needs to be let go. Consequently, you will not waste precious resources on things that do not matter.

2.  Routines.  This is simple, yet often overlooked.  Creating routines that minimize time devoted to mundane, repetitive, everyday tasks pays enormous dividends in terms of reacquiring your most precious resource: time. Having routines for simple, repetitive tasks like getting a workday started, setting and monitoring daily goals, responding to email, reviewing documents, and the like can drastically reduce the time devoted to these tasks. Good routines allow you to handle these mundane tasks efficiently, giving you more time and energy for the really important things you do. Unfortunately, we also tend to develop routines that result in unproductive outcomes—gossiping, mindlessly surfing the internet, dwelling on events and circumstances beyond our control.  Those kinds of routines need to go. Aim to develop routines that efficiently and effectively get things done while saving time and energy.

3.  Organization.  The third key to doing more with less is organization. That is, develop a plan for your time and other resources, and be committed to executing your plan. To get more accomplished with fewer resources means that you must extract maximum use from the resources available.  For some, a “To Do” list is helpful, while others are equally successful keeping the plan for the day in their head. Maximize the use of your resources by wisely and judiciously organizing them to achieve your goals.

4.  Get in the Zone.  Everyone has a period, or periods of time, during the day when they get maximum productivity with minimum energy.  Mornings are when a majority of people feel most rested and ready for tough challenges.  Others seem to get a charge late in the day or in the evening.  It is important, therefore, that you identify your most productive time, and insure you don’t waste your peak performance time checking email or returning phone calls.  The same task tackled in your ‘productive’ zone may take half the time it would if done in ‘unproductive’ times—and the results will be superior.  The key here is to align your most important and challenging tasks with those periods in the day when you have the greatest resources to take them on.

Optimism & Innovation

Posted by in Performance Blog | January 4, 2017

SkyYesterday, as I took my seat on a flight from Boston to Atlanta, Delta’s Sky magazine caught my eye.  Driving Innovation was boldly broadcasted on the cover.  Perhaps I was still feeling the effects of New Year reflections, but my thought was “will this be a trend in 2017?”  Of course it will. Without innovation, there are no trends.  So if innovation leads to trends, what leads to innovation?

From that question I recalled a recently read study.  This study found a convincing link between innovation and optimism.  Specifically, the researchers found people “who hold optimistic attitudes have an increased sense of creative self-efficacy, which, in turn, increases their innovative behaviors” (Li & Wu, 2011, p. 126).  In other words, when we are optimistic, we tend to be more creative, and that leads us to be more innovative.

The study provided further insights worthy of note.  In addition to being more creative and innovative, the research found optimists:

a) expect positive outcomes,

b) confront setbacks with persistence despite the situational difficulties,

c) are cognitively flexible so they interpret undesirable events as promising openings and, thus, maintain positive expectations and confidence,

d) have more confidence and less anxiety when facing negative outcomes,

e) are eager for success.

There are a lot of benefits to being optimistic—a good thing to know in the New Year.


Li, C-H, Wu, J-J. (2011). The structural relationships between optimism and innovative   behavior: Understanding potential antecedents and mediating effects.  Creativity Research     Journal, 23(2), 119–128.


Why Champion Coaches Never Focus on Winning

Posted by in Performance Blog | December 14, 2016

Paul&BobbyHe had just lost to his son’s football team.  We thought he’d be upset and not want to have the Monday morning interview.  In losing Saturday night to Tommy Bowden’s Clemson Univ. Tigers, Bobby Bowden’s Florida State Seminoles lost both their #1 National ranking and their hopes for an undefeated season. But Bobby had committed to the interview so he followed through with his commitment.

The conversation opened with a discussion about winning and losing, for you see at the time Bowden was the winningest Division I college football coach in history. The statement was put to him: “Coach, you must love to win.”  He thought for a moment and replied “No.  It isn’t so much that I like to win.  But I hate to lose.”  When pressed for an explanation, he said,  “When we win, it is the players who win. They score the points. They make the tackles. From the sideline, I can’t gain a single yard.  As coaches, we make the plans, but it is the players who have to execute for us to win.  But when we lose, it means I didn’t have them prepared and that is on me–the coach.”

We often think that the winningest coaches and athletes place an uncompromising focus on winning.  It is also a common myth that champions believe in ‘winning at all costs’.  But the best in the business don’t appear to share this perspective.

As current Univ. of Memphis and former National Championship basketball coach, Tubby Smith, explained to me ‘you can’t control winning. You can’t control who you play or how well they will play.  So you have to focus on what you can control: passing, shooting, defense.  If you get the basics right, the winning will come.  But you can’t make winning your goal because you can’t control that.  Winning isn’t something you do; it is something that comes when you do enough of things under your control right.”

Most recently, the currently #1 ranked Alabama and 5 time National Championship football coach Nick Saban made this statement during a press conference: “So I’d really rather not have any more questions about ‘Is it OK to lose this game?’ It’s never OK to lose a game” (Seattle Times, November 28, 2016).

So what are the take-home lessons here? First, losing stinks, so let’s do everything possible to prevent it from happening.  Second, to prevent losing don’t focus winning, but rather thoroughly prepare the things under your control that will keep you from losing.  Third, when things don’t go as planned and losing happens, look first to yourself and ask yourself ‘what did I miss?’, ‘what could I have done better or more thoroughly?’ and in those answers, you will discover the path to victory.

5 Simple Strategies to Overcome Performance Anxiety

Posted by in Performance Blog | December 2, 2016

comic-1296117_1280We all get it.  Usually, it shows up when we least need or want it.  It is that strange feeling that comes over you that brings with it shaky knees, sweaty hands, and that churning feeling in your stomach. And it arrives on cue just before an important meeting or event. Performance anxiety is normally brought on by a feeling of being out of control. Therefore, most solutions to this problem lead to gaining a sense of control over the situation.  Here are several successful strategies for knocking fear to the sidelines. Preparation Because feeling under-prepared leads to an inability to meet performance challenges, thorough preparation is an effective strategy for conquering or at least controlling anxiety.  You can gain a feeling of being prepared comes by extensive planning, practicing essential skills, researching critical knowledge, and gaining experience in situations with lower risks. Confidence As has been found for athletes, self-confidence protects against debilitating performance anxiety.  The advantage of developing high self- confidence is that it leads to feeling in control even as anxiety may increase during a performance.  Confidence comes in believing that your skills and desire to do well will carry you through.  It takes no talent at all to give something your very best, and if you have given something your very best effort you cannot ask any more of yourself.  You’re human.  Realize you will make mistakes, but so does everyone else.  Confidence comes in knowing that even though there may be others with more experience, skill or knowledge, there is no one with more desire to do well in this situation than you. Physical Control It is often difficult to control external factors, such as equipment malfunctioning, people’s feelings or actions, the weather, but it is possible to exercise control over your physical comfort and reactions.  The onset of anxiety usually leads to rapid, shallow breathing. This type of breathing zaps the body of necessary oxygen.  Therefore, seizing control by taking long, slow, deep breaths will not only provided the needed oxygen for optimum performance, but also will reduce anxiety.  Additionally, dressing comfortably and ‘for success’ will contribute to feeling that you are ready to give the situation your very best. Purge Negative Thoughts How often have you found yourself just minutes away from an important event–sales call, walking down the marriage isle, beginning an athletic event or the start of a medical procedure–and negative thoughts flood your brain.  “What if I trip?”  “What if I forget his name?”  Thinking of negative events and outcomes not only increases anxiety, it also leads to the likelihood that those negative events might just happen. An effective anxiety reducing strategy is to purge those thoughts with self-talk.  As they begin to appear, recognize them as negative, and force yourself to talk to yourself about something positive.  Describe yourself being successful, recall a similar situation in which you were successful, or if that is challenging, talk to yourself about something that brings you happiness–a hobby or a loved one–anything that gets those negative thoughts out of your head and makes you relax a bit.  Self-talk is more active than just thinking positive thoughts, and therefore it is more powerful in conquering anxiety. Warm Up Every and any performance can be improved with a warm-up.  Warm-up is not practice to improve performance, but rather an opportunity to engage the skills and knowledge necessary so that when the actual performance begins those skills are ready to provide service.  Musicians, actors, and athletes all warm up before a performance, and so can anyone else.  If your ‘performance’ requires you to speak, as in a job interview or sales call, warm-up by talking as if you were meeting your clients or potential employers.  A good warm-up goes a long way in making you feel ready and in control! You may not be able to purge performance anxiety entirely, but using one or more of these strategies will help you gain the control needed to usher along your success.

3 Confidence Boosting Strategies to Develop High Performing Teams

Posted by in Performance Blog | November 21, 2016

86241-fullConfidence–considered a common and necessary element for success.  We often believe that those who are confident will succeed.  A recent study provides some intriguing insight into just how confidence can contribute to high performing teams.  Two studies were conducted with soccer teams to determine if players’ confidence in either the team’s ability or the game outcome influenced team performance.

While the players’ confidence correlated with the team playing well, it did not necessarily predict the game outcome.  In other words, team members’ confidence had an impact on the quality of their playing performance, but not necessarily on winning.  In part, the researchers believed that confidence influenced individual and team performance, but it could not influence the play of the other team, the referee’s calls, or just plain luck. Put another way, your confidence influences your own actions, but not the actions of others or flukes.

Another important finding was that players’ confidence can change during the game.  The researchers found that if the players gained confidence in the first half of the game, it positively impacted their performance in the second half.

This study offers some great news for managers and leaders.  Based on the findings of this study, three strategies for building team confidence are recommended.

First, when leaders strive to enhance each team member’s confidence in an individualized way, it contributes to the total team confidence.  Attempts to elevate the entire team’s confidence through collective actions such as a motivational speech to the entire group were less effective than coaches’ appeals to the motivating factors of each individual.

Second, bolstering individuals’ confidence in the team strategy was also found more effective than imposing unrealistic expectations on individual and team performance. Focusing on unrealistic overconfidence at the start of a game often led to confidence collapses during the game if the team’s performance falls short. A game plan provides a more stable source of confidence as game plans require time to work out—and they can always be modified or even replaced without shaking the players’ confidence in themselves.

Third, peer leaders within the team played a key role in enhancing the team’s confidence and preventing downward performance spirals. Verbal persuasion was an effective strategy for increasing players’ confidence in the team.  Team confidence building was facilitated if key players used their leader status to affect their teammates’ confidence positively. As such, an important task for managers and coaches is to make peer leaders aware of their potential and responsibility as role models in the team.

Fransen, K., Decroos, S., Vanbeselaere, N., Vande Broek, G., De Cuyper, B., Vanroy, J., & Boen, F. (2015). Is team confidence the key to success? The reciprocal relation between collective efficacy, team outcome confidence, and perceptions of team performance during soccer games.Journal Of Sports Sciences33(3), 219-231.

How to Make Great Decisions Under Great Pressure

Posted by in Performance Blog | November 10, 2016

BN-LA614_rugby1_GR_20151101091255We make thousands of decisions every day. Often our most important decisions are made under intense pressure. Little time, no preparation, severe consequences for mistakes, limited information, or reputation at risk can all pressure the decisions we must make. The New Zealand All Blacks rugby team constantly plays under the most intense international competitive pressures, yet they are perennial champions. A study of the team’s preparation for and participation in the 2011 World Rugby Championship (which they won) offers some wonderful insights and proven strategies for making great decisions under great pressure.

Practice and prepare for pressure. Practice coping with pressure will give you greater confidence in the decisions you make. One way to practice is to role play or simulate scenarios prior to important meetings or events. Engage in challenge appraisals. In other words, when you hear or read about a situation you have not experienced but may do so in the future, work out how you would deal with it. If you may have to lay-off employees, present a plan to a board of directors or investors, or land a commercial airliner on the Hudson River, how would you do it—how would you feel, what would you say, what obstacles might you encounter, how would you overcome those obstacles? Practice of this sort leads to positive adaptation and strengthened resilience under pressure.

Clarity of purpose and alignment of actions. The research found the All Blacks performed best under pressure when they had great clarity as to what they were trying to accomplish. This allowed them to both filter out distractions and focus complete attention on the goal at hand. Next, they aligned their actions with their intentions. In other words, they targeted their actions to accomplish their goals. If it wasn’t going to achieve the ends they desired, they didn’t take that action. Also, if an action they were taking was not making sufficient progress toward their goal, they abandoned that action and adopted another that appeared to have greater promise for reaching their goal.

Review the game plan. Those who make great decisions under pressure feel more accountable for solving problems rather than letting someone else solve their problems for them. They, therefore, continually evaluated the quality of their decisions. They were not simply satisfied with a decision that worked.  They wanted to know if another decision might solve the problem better or longer. Regularly evaluating their own decision-making, they checked that they had picked up the right cues and executed the right actions, and if not, a change was made in the action. Their game plan was a guide, not a prescription.

Smith, W., & Hodge, K. (2014). Public Expectation, Pressure, and Avoiding the Choke: A Case Study from Elite Sport. Sport Psychologist, 28(4), 375-389.

What Successful NFL Coaches Can Teach You About Mentoring

Posted by in Performance Blog | November 3, 2016

billbelichickmiketomlinpittsburghsteelersgpbc-ghdylzlThere are 32 teams in the National Football League and each is filled with highly paid, skilled, and motivated players.  With the money invested and a large fan-base, there is low tolerance for failure.  Success is the job description for an NFL coach.

Consequently, it begs the question: where do NFL coaches learn the requisite skills and knowledge to be successful in their craft?  A recent study helped identify one critical learning resource: mentors (McCullick, Elliot, & Schempp, 2016). Using employment histories, win/loss records, championships, and Pro Football Hall of Fame status, the study analyzed the mentoring of 41 NFL coaches and found several distinct patterns. These findings can apply to anyone.  Here is what successful NFL coaches can teach you about mentoring.

1. You need mentors to be successful, but fewer is better

The study found that coaches with 2 or fewer mentors were more successful than coaches with 3 or more mentors.  Of all coaches in the NFL, those with the highest winning percentages and the most championships had only one coach they considered their mentor.

2.  Success Breeds Success

Apprenticeships are best served under established, successful professionals.   From these individuals, you can learn the tactical, professional, and managerial knowledge and appropriate skills needed for success.  Choose a mentor whose achievements and accomplishments you wish to emulate.

3.  Quality is Far More Important than Quantity

Mentors with an abundant production of protégés did not produce the most successful protégés.  With too many protégés to serve, a mentor is unable to meet the needs of all.  Better to be mentored by one with few protégés and subsequently more time, energy and commitment to devote to your professional and personal success.


McCullick, B. A., Elliott, J., & Schempp, P. G. (2016). An analysis of National Football League coaching trees and the network they comprise. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 11(1), 4-15.