Friday 23 August 2019

Seven steps to developing a high-performance mindset

Olympic champion rower Paul O'Donovan
Olympic champion rower Paul O'Donovan

Gina London

Which would you rather have: talent or drive? Ability or ambition? These questions were part of the running theme from last week's Cork University Business School (CUBS) 'Leading the Way' conference that I was privileged to facilitate along with fellow journalist Matt Cooper.

Before a crowd of undergrad, grad and transition-year students at Cork's Opera House, a wide array of business professionals shared their experience.

From Bank of Ireland chairman Patrick Kennedy to Deloitte partner Honor Moore to Dell Technologies VP and general manager Aisling Keegan and many more, their personal stories emphasised the importance of communications, courage, resilience and teamwork. That's why I call them 'critical skills', not 'soft skills', folks.

Let me bring you a bit from the final session of the day, a panel discussion on how to create and develop a high-performance mindset.

I was joined onstage by numerous notable figures. Olympic champion rower Paul O'Donovan, former Munster Rugby wing and current Deloitte audit director John Kelly, chair of Sport Ireland's High-Performance Committee and Bank of Ireland provincial director Liam Sheedy, and former Cork City footballer turned JW O'Donovan solicitor Neal Horgan.

As each person described what having a high-performance mindset meant to them, leading performance psychologist Caroline Currid rounded out the panel by providing important contextual science.

Caroline outlined seven necessary elements to achieving and executing a high-performance mindset. But first, she stated - and perhaps answered my pondering opening questions in this column - that the latest research places the balance between 'nature or nurture' at about 50/50.

Based on that research, then, it suggests we have a lot of opportunity to influence ourselves toward higher performance. Essentially, we can nurture our own nature.

How to do that? Let's turn back to Caroline. Her seven fundamental steps of high-performance mindset - with some examples from the male panellists - is the following:

1 Identify a Purpose

Before you can reach a goal, you must identify it. Share it aloud with others. Write it down in a diary or journal, but make it tangible. For instance, John recalled back when he played rugby, a fellow player used to announce to his teammates how many attacks he aimed to achieve. By declaring it, he made it more concrete in his mind.

2 Chart a Process

This may seem obvious, because of course if you aim to move toward a goal, you need to take a procession of steps. But, like announcing your goal, laying out the precise path you plan to take, should also be made formally. Write how many hours you will practice - in sports, drafting your book, lifting weights, whatever puts you closer to your goal - and follow your process.

3 Overcome Limiting Beliefs

Along with identifying your goal and process, it's essential to understand how you may be holding yourself back. You don't have to do this alone. Neal explained that a sports psychologist had successfully counselled him to help improve his awareness about his own negative thoughts.

4 Set High Standards

Paul and his brother Gary exemplified setting a high bar. "We said we wanted to win an Olympic gold medal," Paul said. They rowed to silver in 2016, but their eyes are back on the glimmer of gold for 2020. There's a lovely saying: 'Aim for the stars. If you miss, you'll reach the moon." Aim high.

5 Train Hard

The high-performance mindset keeps up the drive. Liam revealed that when he coached a team in Tipperary, he made sure each player committed equally to training. "Everyone had to push themselves."

6 Communicate Honestly

If, as Liam related, a team member was not carrying his load, he had to be told. Paul explained that he and his brother did not always train together - but they always communicate their activities with a strong level of trust. Be direct and open with others - and yourself.

7 Value Yourself

According to Caroline, this final step in developing a high-performance mindset underpins everything. Train hard, but don't be too hard on yourself emotionally.

A Tip of The Communicator Cap

After the conference, CUBS finance professor Mark Mulcahy made a special point to find me and tell me his recently departed mother had "been a huge fan" of mine. "Before she died, she regularly cut out the column like a proper Irish mammy for me to read. I've found many tips helpful."

What a touching story. Thank you to Mark for making the effort to let me know. And thanks even more to his thoughtful mammy for making the effort to clip articles for her son. I've had many people tell me their mothers have given them copies of my column. You wonderful clipping-sharers are multiplying the positive power. But as my Editor would likely say: "It's even better if they buy a copy of the Sunday Independent for themselves!"

Like the speakers who shared their stories at the CUBS conference this past week, sharing experiences and approaches to help us connect better with other people - and ourselves - is what I'm all about.

  • With corporate clients on five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon

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