Performance Blog

Finding The Persistence For Success

Posted by in Performance Blog | August 5, 2016

michael-phelps-medals-wallpaperLater today Michael Phelps, the most successful Olympic athlete in history, will lead the American team into Maracana Stadium to begin the 2016 Olympic Games.  In the days that will follow, Phelps will step onto the starting blocks and attempt to add to his unprecedented collection of 22 Olympic medals.  When asked how he came to be so successful, Phelps replied, “If you want to be the best, you have to do things other people aren’t willing to do.”

Our aspirations to achieve something significant often demand that we persevere on challenging, distasteful tasks that are, nonetheless, important for us to realize success. A recent study tested this belief.  Specifically, Critcher and Ferguson (2016) conducted a series of experiments to see that if goal importance could predict people’s persistence and ultimate success.

The research discovered that, indeed, the level of goal importance was highly correlated with an individual’s self-regulation of the efforts and activities to achieve success.  For example, if better grades were deemed important, more studying and practice were put forth. In particular, those for whom tasks were most taxing were those who most benefitted from the association between importance and effort. Interestingly, when participants were reminded of recent self-regulatory failure that they believed could be overcome through hard work, persistence and commitment toward goal success increased. Consistent with this, increased reminders of the importance of the outcomes increased both self-discipline and commitment toward the activities perceived most necessary for successful goal attainment.  This perhaps explains why last Christmas, Michael Phelps was in the pool and training hard.

The lesson for leaders and those who aspire to high achievement is this: focus on the importance of the outcome.  Keeping in mind the importance of a successful outcome will cause one to put forth the sustained effort and resources necessary to achieve your greatest goals.


Critcher, C. R., & Ferguson, M. J. (2016). ‘Whether I like it or not, it’s important’: Implicit importance of means predicts self-regulatory persistence and success. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 110(6), 818-839.


The Nature of Your Creativity

Posted by in Performance Blog | July 28, 2016

creativityTo support efforts in identifying, stimulating, and promoting creativity, the question has long been asked: “Where does creativity come from?”  Recently published research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has provided some much-needed clarity on the subject.

First, they confirmed previous research that there appears to be two types of creativity: a) everyday creative thinking and behavior (people who demonstrate originality in everyday tasks, thoughts, and actions), and b) creative task performance (people who create creative products).  While there appears overlap between the two, one can have one type of creativity without the other.

Second, they measured the influence of personality, genetics, and environment on the two types of creativity.  Here is what they found:

1.  Personality Traits:

a.  Everyday creative thinking: open to new experiences, extraverted

b.  Creative product producers: open to new experiences, intelligence

2.  Genetics:

a.  Everyday creative thinking: no influence

b.  Creative product producers: intelligence

3.  Environment (autonomy of decision, innovation climate, social support, reward, absence of social control or evaluative threat):

a.  Everyday creative thinking: positive influence

b.  Creative product producers: high positive influence

Of the factors studied, personality traits, cognitive abilities and environmental factors were far more influential than genetics in accounting for our creativity.  Our creative nature is, consequently, largely determined by who we are and the environment in which we live and work.


Kandler, C., Riemann, R., Angleitner, A., Spinath, F. M., Borkenau, P., & Penke, L. (2016). The nature of creativity: The roles of genetic factors, personality traits, cognitive abilities, and environmental sources. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 111(2), 230-249

© 2016 Dr. Paul Schempp is an award-winning researcher, keynote speaker, consultant and recognized authority on developing expertise and performance improvement. As a research professor at the University of Georgia he studies how individuals and organizations increase personal and professional performance in competitive environments. Schempp has authored seven books, including The 5 Steps to Expert: How to Go from Business Novice to Elite Performer (January 18, 2016). His clients include BASF, Delta Air Lines, Conde Nast, General Electric, Golf Digest, National Institute of Education in Singapore, Nix Health Care Systems, PGA of America, Swedish Sports Federation, Taiwan Olympic Committee, and Vistage. To have Paul speak at your next event, call 800-277-1783, DM him at @DrSchempp or visit his website

The Role of Opportunity in Developing Expertise

Posted by in Performance Blog | July 13, 2016

parent-1290002Understanding why some people are so much more successful than others remains one of psychology’s oldest debates. The debate picked up considerable steam over 20 years ago when Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Römer (1993) concluded that individual differences in performance were dependent upon the accumulated hours of “deliberate practice.”  Their study became the dominant foundation of expertise development and was fueled into popular opinion through books such as Malcolm Gladwell’s (2008) Outliers and Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code. But is ‘practice’ alone sufficient to propel one to outstanding performance on a continuing basis?

The research evidence clearly and consistently demonstrates that deliberate practice is a required pillar in peak performance, but it does not seem to account for all of the pieces of the expert performance puzzle. A recently published essay in Psychology of Learning and Motivation offers an intriguing and insightful new perspective to the expert equation (Hambrick, et al., 2016).  They termed this new element “Opportunity Factors.” The premise of ‘opportunity factors’ is that people who have a greater opportunity to train in certain areas will have an advantage over those who have less opportunity. They cite three examples.

Locality.  There are currently over 300 major league baseball players from the Dominican Republic—more than any other country except the United States. Haiti, which borders the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola, has none. The authors suggest the difference is opportunity: baseball is a local priority in the Dominican Republic, but not in Haiti. Locality impacts expertise indirectly through greater opportunities for deliberate practice and other forms of available training.

Parental Influence. The authors cite a study in which highly accomplished musicians, artists, athletes, and academics were interviewed to better understand the origins of their success. The researchers concluded, “no matter what the initial characteristics (or gifts) of the individuals, unless there is a long and intensive process of encouragement, nurturance, education, and training, the individuals will not attain extreme levels of capability in these particular fields.”  In other words, parents and social support have much to do with the success of many.

Timing.  Birth date was identified as another example of an opportunity factor. Here a study of hockey players was used as evidence.  This study found that individuals born early in the year had a greater chance of reaching the professional ranks than individuals born later in the year.  It was speculated that the relative age effect was due to players being born near the eligibility cutoff for participation at a given age level being older and physically more mature and capable than players with a later birth date.  These players were thus labeled “talented” and given more opportunities to train, play and acquire expertise than the less physically developed, slightly younger children.  In other words, it was the timing of their birth that created greater opportunity rather than innate or long-term physical characteristics.  By the time those with later birthdates physically caught up to those with earlier birthdates, the opportunities for additional training, support, and playing time had evaporated.

The authors make a convincing case that “Opportunity Factors” play a role in expertise development and performance level.  It makes one wonder had Steve Job’s adoptive parents moved to Midland, Texas would we have improved oil drilling equipment rather than technological innovations, or if John Lennon’s mother had been a painter rather than a musician would we have had an English equivalent of Picasso?  The ‘opportunity factor’ theory, while having empirical support, is still largely unproven.  But it does offer those concerned with talent identification and development some fresh perspectives and possible insights.  Perhaps there is value in looking for new talent in old talent wells, or structuring opportunities for extended practice and training when people show strong interest and motivation in an endeavor.  The expert performance puzzle is hardly solved, but new and important pieces seem to now be on the table.


Coyle, D.  (2009). The Talent Code.  New York: Bantam.

Ericsson, K., Krampe, R., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993).  The role of deliberate practice   in the acquisition of expert performance.  Psychological Review, 100, 363-406.

Gladwell, M. (2008).  Outliers: The story of success.  New York: Little, Brown, and Co.

Hambrick, D., MacNamara, B., Campitelli, G., Ullen, F. & Mosing, M. (2016).  Beyond born versus made: A New Look at Expertise.  Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 64, 1-55.




How Charismatic Leaders Escalate Team Commitment & Performance

Posted by in Performance Blog | July 8, 2016

MLKRonald Regan believed “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”  A recent study revealed just how charismatic leaders do that—get their people to do the greatest things (Wan-I, Chun-Chi, & Chien-Cheng, 2015).  Specifically, the researchers found four traits that led employees to identify their leaders as charismatic. More importantly, these four traits inspired employees to greater organizational commitment and work-related performance.  The good news is these four traits are adoptable and applicable for any leader.  They included:

1. Self-monitoring.  Leaders who scrupulously self-critique and adjust can more easily identify needs, values, and preferences within themselves and others in the organization.  They can, subsequently, better accommodate the identified values and preferences into plans and actions.

2. Faith and belief.  Charismatic leaders display confidence in their decisions and actions. Consequently, team members echo the leader’s belief and faith as they come to trust their leaders. Team members embrace the belief that they are pursuing a proper path and have faith that things will work out for the best.

3. Innovative. Enterprises must constantly innovate to gain competitive advantage. Charismatic leaders model a willingness to accept new knowledge and skills.  They also lead and encourage team members to pursue new strategies and actions.

4.  Adventurous spirit and clear ambition.  Even when faced with difficulties and unstable, unpredictable situations, charismatic leaders exhibit positive thinking and the ability to adapt well. Their excitement for change, opportunity, growth and the future is contagious.

Charismatic leadership has extraordinary influence on the team members’ effort, motivation and performance—more so than any other forms of leadership (Choi, 2006). Try incorporating these traits in your leadership, and see the difference it makes in your team.


Choi J. (2006). A motivational theory of charismatic leadership: envisioning, empathy, and empowerment. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 13(1), 24 -43.

Wan-I, L., Chun-Chi, C., & Chien-Cheng, L. (2015). The relationship between internal marketing orientation, employee commitment, charismatic leadership, and performance. International Journal Of Organizational Innovation8(2), 67-78.


“Being the Eye of the Storm”: Strategies for Being a Calm, Competent Leader in Chaotic Times

Posted by in Performance Blog | June 30, 2016

ty2Napoleon noted, “The battlefield is a scene of constant chaos. The winner will be the one who controls that chaos, both his own and the enemies.”  Leaders often find the scenes they witness bear remarkable resemblance to battlefield chaos.  The challenge then becomes providing functional leadership in unsteady situations steeped in stress and pressure.

A recent study of elite coaches examined the elements influencing their stress management that allowed them to continue being productive under high-pressure circumstances.  The researchers found that these successful and world-class coaches had a strong ability to cope with intense pressure.  Here are the five strategies these coaches used to ‘control the chaos, both his own and the enemies.”

1.  Be prepared for everything.  Not surprising, these coaches were extensive planners, and would attempt to envision every scenario possible and then prepare for it.  They, however, remained flexible in order to overcome unanticipated problems.

2.  See and seize opportunities.  When stresses of the situational demands of elite level competition became oppressive, these coaches viewed them as manageable challenges rather than threats and as opportunities to thrive, to improve, and to capitalize on the events and tasks at hand.

3.  Anticipate the unexpected.  Regardless of how thorough they prepared, the coaches knew there was a strong likelihood they would be caught by surprise from something unexpected.  When it did happen, the coaches would first try to learn all they could from the experience so they could be better prepared in the future.  Second, they would maintain flexibility as they searched for appropriate actions to counter the unexpected.

4. Exude Confidences and Composure.  Panic and loss of emotional control never lead to a satisfying result.  Consequently, no matter what happened, these coaches would make every effort to appear confident that things will turn out for the best and maintain their composure.  Despite the extreme stress, crushing pressure and out of control chaos roiling around them, they fight to remain, in the words of one coach, “the eye of the storm for their athletes.”

5.  Reflect.  Time is regularly and systematically given to recall and re-examine significant experiences.  Reflection is used to improve the quality of preparation and learn from recent challenges in order to better solve future problems.


Chroni, S., Abrahamsen, F., & Hemmestad, L. (2016). To Be the Eye Within the Storm, I Am Challenged Not Stressed. Journal Of Applied Sport Psychology28(3), 257-273.

© 2016 Dr. Paul Schempp is an award-winning researcher, keynote speaker, author, consultant and recognized authority on developing expertise and performance improvement. He is a professor at the University of Georgia and the president of Performance Matters, Inc., a company dedicated to helping individuals and organizations increase personal and professional performance in competitive environments. Schempp has authored seven books, including The 5 Steps to Expert: How to Go from Business Novice to Elite Performer (January 18, 2016). Schempp’s clients include BASF, Delta Air Lines, Conde Nast, General Electric, Golf Digest, National Institute of Education in Singapore, Nix Health Care Systems, PGA of America, Swedish Sport Federation, Taiwan Olympic Committee, and Vistage. To have Paul speak at your next event, call 800-277-1783 or visit his website



The 7 Strategies of Strategic Thinkers

Posted by in Performance Blog | June 22, 2016

chess-boardThe ability to think strategically is a must critical for making long-term, powerful, purposeful, and permanent decisions.  Too often decisions are made expediently to appease a near-term emergency and the solutions are, consequently, neither satisfying nor satisfactory.  Strategic decisions, in contrast, are intended to achieve an intentional and thoughtful outcome to a situation, competition or enterprise.  Strategic thinking is valuable for achieving both personal and professional success.

Recent research has clearly identified the individual dimensions of strategic thinking used by successful managers and business leaders (Kalal, Momeni, & Heydari, 2015). The data came from interviews with board of director members and Chief Executive Officers of large corporations. The study found that strategic thinkers engage one or more of the following strategies when making decisions.

1.  Vision.  They have a desired future end point in mind.

2.  Analyze.  Break the issues down into critical details and study them meticulously.

3.  Relationships.  Take a holistic view of the decision by seeing the network of relationships among the components of the problem.  They realize a single decision has multiple implications.

4.  Question the Status Quo.  They critique the ‘taken-for-granted assumptions’ and do not simply repeat the past.  They are forward thinkers.

5.  Creative.  They combine solutions and make connections between seemingly unrelated factors. For example, they may connect personnel, resources, and innovative technology.

6.  Synergy.  They can combine elements of a decision to make the whole solution greater than the sum of its’ parts.

7.  Seize Advantage.  They seek to maximize opportunities with the decisions they make.


Seyed Kalali, N., Momeni, M., & Heydari, E. (2015). Key Elements of Thinking Strategically.International Journal Of Management, Accounting & Economics2(8), 801-809.

Characteristics Top Companies Use to Identify Potential High Performing Leaders

Posted by in Performance Blog | June 15, 2016


In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins noted “those who build great companies understand that the ultimate throttle on growth for any great company is not markets, or technology, or competition, or products. It is one thing above all others: the ability to get and keep enough of the right people.” The struggle in meeting this demand by finding new talent, developing current talent and planning for succession has organizations placing talent identification on their top priority lists.

A recent study published by a group of researchers from PepsiCo in Purchase, NY offers instructive insight from 80 top leadership development companies on the characteristics used in identifying individuals with high potential leadership abilities.  88% of the organizations were public companies, 93% had more than 10,000 employees, represented 16 different industry groups, and had an average annual revenue of $42.8 billion.  In other words, major players in the business world.

What do these organizations look for when attempting to identify potentially high performing leaders?  The study found the characteristics could be grouped into three areas: (a) Foundational: personality & cognitive skills, (b) Growth: learning ability and motivation, and (c) Career: leadership and functional capabilities. The specific characteristics are listed below along with the percentage of companies using these qualities to predict high performance leadership potential.

  • Leadership Competencies  75%
  • Learning Ability 56%
  • Self-Awareness 52%
  • Motivation/Ambition 52%
  • Cognitive Skills 52%
  • Personality Characteristics 50%
  • Values 44%
  • Communication Skills 40%
  • Functional/Technical Skills 31%
  • Resilience 27%
  • Engagement 27%
  • Executive Presence 27%
  • Other 10%

In assessing these qualities, organizations use a variety of techniques such as surveys, observations, task completion tests, and interviews.  What is the magic blend of qualities that accurately predicts high performance leadership potential?  That is yet to be determined.  But from this list, one can see the depth of qualities currently being used and perhaps in that, we can see our personal potential, as well as the potential in others.


Collins, J.  (2001).  Good to great:  Why some companies make the leap and others don’t.  New York: Harper Business.

Church, A. H., Rotolo, C. T., Ginther, N. M., & Levine, R. (2015). How Are Top Companies Designing And Managing Their High-Potential Programs? A Follow-Up Talent Management Benchmark Study. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice & Research67(1), 17-47.



A Simple Technique For Igniting Innovation In Your Workplace.

Posted by in Performance Blog | June 8, 2016

innovationSteve Jobs believed “innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”  The challenge for many is how do we stimulate innovative thinking and behavior in the workplace.  A research experiment conducted in Germany shines some fascinating light on this cloudy concern.

The aim of the study was to investigate the role of reflection as a preparatory mechanism for employees’ engagement in innovative work behavior. Participating in the study were 67 employees at Germany’s highest level of secondary education. The researchers studied people who reflected on work tasks (how they completed everyday activities), the social context (i.e., the influence of those tasks on those around them) and their work performance (i.e., the quality of the outcomes of those tasks).

Those who reflected frequently and deeply were more engaged in the exploration of opportunities for innovation as well as the generation, promotion and realization of innovative ideas. Reflection allowed these employees to clarify and process experiences with work tasks and use this information to increase the flexibility of their work performance.  The flexibility, in turn, allowed them to effectively deal with novel, unfamiliar, unexpected or ambiguous situations, tasks and outcomes by changing goals, routines, and introducing new ideas into the workplace.

Innovative work behavior was most strongly dependent on their performance-related reflection. That is, they reflected on the quality of their results and outcomes.  It was also found that reflecting on work tasks and the social context affected teachers’ innovative behavior indirectly by benefitting their performance-related reflection.

If your innovative workplace behavior is something you wish to increase, try reflecting on what you do, how you do it, how well you do it, and the influence it has on those around you.  In the process, you will discover new ways of doing what you do, and that is the path to efficient, successful and innovative outcomes.

For leaders, encouraging and empowering people in your organization to reflect on their workplace activities and experiences is a research-supported strategy for increasing innovation and stimulating greater workplace performance. Therefore, create room and occasions for reflection such as regular meetings that provide a safe space for exchanging experiences and discussing critical incidents. Recognize reflective activities as a crucial component of organizational practice that enhances employees’ capability of dealing with critical situations and errors and, thus, their ongoing development as a professional.


Messmann, G., & Mulder, R. H. (2015). Reflection as a facilitator of teachers’ innovative work behaviour. International Journal Of Training And Development, 19(2), 125-137

How Your Thinking Style Influences the Quality of Your Decisions

Posted by in Performance Blog | June 1, 2016

decisionPsychologists and neuroscientists believe an individual’s thinking style gravitates to either of two types of decision-making behaviors: a) intuitive processing that is automatic, fast, preconscious, associative, autonomous and requires little or no memory or b) reflective processing that is relatively slow, effortful, conscious, analytical, rule-based, and requires memory.  Intuitive thinkers are fast and frugal in their decision making while reflective thinkers are slow and systematic.  There is compelling experimental and neuroscientific evidence suggesting that the cognitive process for each thinking pattern is unique.  Put another way, we have two distinct ways of thinking and each has a different neurological processing pattern in the brain (De Neys, 2006).

While everyone has and uses both ways of thinking, most people are predisposed or make a habit of preferring one style of thinking to the other.  Some, however, use a balanced approach in their decision-making, but these people are a minority.  Your preference is determined in part by experience, in part by personality, in part by your training, in part by the decision itself, and in part by the context.

If you are:

a.  low intuitive/low reflective, you are pretty much disengaged from decision-making.  You can’t or don’t want to make a decision. 

b.  high intuitive/low reflective,  you are fairly experiential in your decisions.  You go with what feels right at the time and don’t waste time taking action on your decisions. 

c.  high intuitive/high reflective, you are dual preference. You generally use both thinking styles tending to apply reflective, rather than intuitive, processing to decisions regarding information analysis.

d.  low intuitive/high reflective, you are a rational thinker.  You take your time to gather and analyze available information before making a decision. 

So how does your thinking style influence the quality of your decisions?  If you are a reflective thinker, you are better at analytic decisions.  If you are an intuitive thinker, you are better at time-pressured decisions.  If you use both thinking styles, you likely excel in a variety of decision-making situations. Most often people will use their preferred thinking style, regardless of the type of decision to be made. If you want to improve the quality of the decisions you make, determine the type of decisions you have to make, and engage the appropriate thinking style.


De Neys, W. (2006). Automatic-heuristic and executive-analytic processing during reasoning: Chronometric and dual-task considerations. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Experimental Psychology, 59, 1070 –1100.

Phillips, W. J., Fletcher, J. M., Marks, A. G., & Hine, D. W. (2016). Thinking styles and decision-making: A meta-analysis.Psychological Bulletin142(3), 260-290.

Busting Ours to Kick Yours: How a Rivalry Changes Competitive Goals and Strategy

Posted by in Performance Blog | May 25, 2016


jimmy-connorsThere are competitions, and then there are rivalries—competitions on steroids.  Tennis legend Jimmy Connors described them this way: “I had true rivalries. Not only did I want to beat my opponent, but I didn’t want to let him up. I had a rivalry with Mac, Lendl, Borg. Everybody knew there was tension between us, on court and off. That’s what’s really ingrained in my mind: ‘This is real.’ There were no hugs and kisses.”  In any competition, we want to win, but in a rivalry, we need to win.  A rivalry is personal, has a history and intensely emotional.  It is part of our identity because it can shape who we are and what we do. It is Coke vs. Pepsi, Yale vs. Harvard, Bill Gates vs. Steve Jobs, and my personal favorite: Red Sox vs. Yankees. Damn Yankees.

A recently published series of studies converge to show that prompting people to think about a rival versus a nonrival competitor causes them to view current competitions differently.  Seeing rivalries rather than competitors caused the participants to

1.  see current competitions as connected to past ones

2.  be more concerned with long-term legacy

3.  think about offensive rather than defensive strategies

4.  rely on spontaneous rather than deliberative reasoning

5.  pursue personal goals in a more eager, less cautious manner

There are times when a lot of good can come from a healthy hate.  The research revealed that rivalries influence people’s goals and the strategies they use to pursue them.  If you began to see your competitors as rivals, what changes would be made to your goals and strategies?  And how much satisfaction would you get by beating not just anybody–but your rival?


Converse, B. A., & Reinhard, D. A. (2016). On rivalry and goal pursuit: Shared competitive history, legacy concerns, and strategy selection. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology110(2), 191-213.