There were just a few seconds left, and the opponent was on the verge of scoring to win one of the biggest sporting events of the year. The end seemed inevitable. The crowd knew exactly what was about to happen. The millions watching at home knew it, too. Everyone expected the game to come to an end on the next play. They just didn’t see this coming…
Every day, leaders in business are put under pressure to win just like leaders on the sports field. There are deadlines to meet and goals to achieve if they expect the company to be a winner. Just like in sports, business leaders have to manage complex plays by their competitors and stakeholders in order to stay ahead. Emerging leaders show a knack for getting things done. The most productive employees are often the ones that get the most opportunities to advance. Chances are that you’ve seen the golden child of the organization… the one that rises quickly from one rank to the next because they can produce at a high level. But being a great doer only gets you a chance to be in the spotlight. You still have to execute under pressure.
The offense lined up with the ball in a formation that Malcolm had seen before. In fact, he had practiced defending a play that looked like this countless times… and was burned every time. He knew in his heart what was coming next and wasn’t about to be burned this time, even though millions of people watching were expecting it. Nerves can stop anyone’s body from performing the way they expect. Would the spotlight be too much for this rookie?
What separates great leaders from great doers is competitive calm – the ability to stay calm and perform under pressure. Stress and pressure on your body makes it go into a flight-or-flight mode. Extra testosterone and adrenaline shoots through our bodies and activates certain biological responses that help us in times of need. Picture the caveman being chased by the saber-tooth tiger – every little boost was needed. That caveman (or cavewoman) still lives in you today!
Competitive calm comes from preparation, experience, and focus.
Preparation allows you to anticipate what’s next and helps you to keep the situation in perspective. This new perspective calms us in times of stress. Athletes practice plays over and over again so they can overcome that fight-or-flight mode even when the spotlight is on. Being confident in what is coming next helps reduce the stress that the body is feeling. When the spotlight is on you, do you get nervous, or does your performance suffer or reach another level?
When the ball was snapped, Malcolm was calm because he thought he knew what was coming next. He sprinted to the spot where he had practiced for the last few days. If he was right, he might have a shot at stopping what seemed to be an inevitable touchdown. A few steps into his sprint, he wasn’t surprised when the ball was fired right to where he was going. He leapt into the air and felt the ball hit his chest. He held on for dear life as he was hit immediately. He hoped he could just hang on…
Preparation is a critical component to competitive calm, but it’s not the only one. Next week, we’ll look at the importance that experience and focus had on Malcolm’s play. Understanding it could just be the difference between you getting that promotion or being stuck in the same position.
In the meantime, ask yourself:
- Am I fully prepared to reach my next goal?
- Do I know exactly what is needed in order to reach that goal?
- Have I anticipated what could go wrong in pursuing that goal?
- If you have a major presentation coming, have you rehearsed it for at least 5 time the length of the presentation? For example, if you have a 10 minute time spot, have you prepped for at least 50 minutes? It may seem like overkill, but this is the type of preparation that separates great leaders from great doers.