How do you create an environment for the team — and the individuals within it — to perform at their best?

Over recent years, sports teams and organisations have increasingly seen the competitive advantage of investing more in their high performance teams. Clearly, high performance leadership is always importance, but the term ‘high performance thinking’ has become more frequently used in the industry today. However, being in a high performance role doesn’t necessarily mean that you practice high performance thinking. So what does it actually mean, and what’s the framework for this thinking?

To understand the thinking, we need to delve into how the best leaders in high performance operate on the ground. The best focus on the process to get to the outcome, not just the outcome or result itself. There are some natural tensions within an environment that the best leaders recognise, and some principles that underpin how the best lead.

The leadership challenge

We have worked with some of the best leaders in Olympic and professional team sport, and a common challenge we’ve seen is that people are wanting advice on ‘how to act’ and ‘how to learn from the best’. It is natural to want to learn best practice and get inspiration from others, but the insight we’ve derived is that there are no templates for the best leaders. You can’t follow other people, you have to forge your own path and be yourself. The more authentic you are, the quicker you can gain trust. And the more competent you are, the quicker you can gain that trust.

The beauty of high performance thinking, and what gives us all grounds for optimism, is that most people can develop leadership skills to be the best version of themselves, and not try to be anybody else.

Differentiating great from good

At the top level of sport, there is what appears like extreme pressure. The skill that differentiates the best teams and leaders, is how they deal with that pressure organisationally. Yes, you have to be laser-focused on the dealing with that moment and achieving victory on the field, but that’s a mental skill. Internally, the key is to make consistent decisions based on key principles, and to be aligned and consistent throughout an establishment. Where we see problems is when an organisation appears to have a good purpose or principles, but if they don’t align those with the decisions being made, then they won’t be consistently successful.

Strategy and culture working together

Great leaders have frameworks they work within that gives them the structure and stability to operate in an unpredictable world. Any good organisation will have a vision that recognises what success looks like for them. Most will have a plan or strategy to get there and a culture that creates an environment to succeed. The old saying goes that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ – but we don’t believe that; we visualise it as strategy and culture being the two intertwined strands of DNA of successful organisations. When pressure gets applied, the bonds weaken and misalignment happens. Great leadership is the key to keeping this alignment and clarity when pressure arises.

If you’d like to boost your team with high performance thinkers or would like to know more, get in touch.