Human performance: the fuel on the pitch and the boardroom

Written by
Peter Lowe

03 Mar 2016

03 Mar 2016 • by Peter Lowe

In human performance every second counts

Football and business are both very demanding high-pressure environments, where human performance is at the crux of success or failure. 

Every second counts in ‘the beautiful game’ and the clock is ticking as soon as the half-time whistle is blown. In reality, this leaves the coaching staff with only 13 minutes to prepare their team for the next critical period of play, once you’ve allowed time for them to return to the training room. There are few business environments that only afford such a short window of opportunity to influence performance. The half-time period in a football match is a pivotal time - it is an opportunity to ensure that players and staff are prepared mentally for the second half and a chance to reflect on performance. 

There are real synergies with the work environment, where the boardroom is the equivalent of the dressing room. The context may be different but similar principles apply. So how do you get the best from your team when you are against the clock? What are the key things you need to bear in mind as a leader?

Your team are your greatest asset how well do you know them?

Performance is underpinned by our make-up as people – understanding what motivates someone and what makes them tick is critical. It’s important to have a grasp of your team’s ability to manage the pressure of a meeting, which could put them under severe scrutiny. I always considered it my job to know as much about the players as possible. Being curious about your team will arm you with insights that can help you to deal with an array of situations that may crop up. It also gives you clarity on what you can ask of them.


Learning points from the dressing room to apply to the boardroom

1.    Being clear and decisive is critical, whether that’s to change performance or maintain it. Your emotional state can affect your ability to deliver information and influence the performance of those around you. If you are a person who finds it difficult to regulate emotions then it is critical to understand how negatively this can impact upon the very people you are wishing to communicate with. Arsene Wenger reiterates this in his comment: “The problem with anger is that you can create some damage that you cannot repair”. Your people have a right to work with a leader who they can rely on at critical moments - someone who is capable of preparing them for the next chapter. 

The half-time period is shorter than you think and being clear on your intentions is mandatory.  If the game hasn’t gone your way or, in the context of business, you lost an account, it’s particularly important as a leader to have real clarity on your intentions prior to addressing your team. The ability to have perspective and not have a knee-jerk reaction is key. It’s important you:

•    Are very clear on the messages you want to communicate

•    Know how you can influence your team without your actions getting in the way of this

•    Recognise that if you wish to leave responsibility and choice with individuals, then be clear on how your actions and communication can influence this

2.    What you communicate to your team is important, but how you do it carries equal weight. Information overload, even when delivered thoughtfully, is not appropriate. A monologue of criticism delivered with frustration and anger hardly bodes well for raising confidence and instilling a desire to work hard. Good leadership is about adapting styles to take into account immediate needs with regard to your team and what you can expect of them. In my latter years as a coach I wanted to listen to players more than giving information. I asked questions of them to seek their knowledge, rather than tell all the time. I now favour the “feed forward” communication style more than “feed back”. If this doesn’t come naturally than look to develop it, as it’s extremely powerful. A good leader must always be prepared to listen. It’s not always the spoken word that gives away the signals - body language often relays messages that, if acknowledged, could prevent a lot of damage and destruction. Pass messages that instil confidence, because the four most powerful words for any team members to hear from their leader are “I believe in you.”

3.    Give real considered thought to any agenda before you send your team back into the pressure cauldron. Understand what has happened and be able to act on it effectively, being the same person under pressure as you are when you are not. That is not easy, particularly when your frustrations and anxieties are rising. 

Find a way to manage your emotions and remember the impact of your words and actions. Your people’s ability to work together as a team and constantly raise their game comes first and foremost from you, their leader.