But of course there is a darker side. When leaders do not have the personal resources to meet situational demands, they crumble under pressure and wilt when the going gets tough. The body and mind reacts in a panicked and inefficient manner. The mind overthinks, worries, and is unable to function effectively or efficiently. This is when athletes and business professionals ‘choke’. Professional golfer Rory McIlroy’s infamous Master meltdown in 2011 is a perfect example of choking. McIlroy was leading the field when he got to the 10th hole. That’s where, in McIlroy’s words, “things went all pear-shaped” very suddenly, and very badly. He dropped from first place to seventh on one hole. The pressure was too much.
So how can you, as a CEO, develop and maintain your confidence when it matters most and coach your employees to do the same? The answer lies in what we have learned from sport psychology. In the book What Business Can Learn From Sport Psychology (Bennion Kearny, July 2014), this is known as a Threat State. People in this threat state perform poorly under pressure.
DON’T WASTE TIME LOWERING DEMANDS
The business environment is full of demands. Some of these demands are part and parcel of the business culture, but at the same time, some of these demands come from you as a CEO. You have to pressure your staff. You have to place demands on them. This is what helps people to stay motivated and is what pushes people to achieve for your business as well as for their personal growth and development. In other words, demands are not the enemy— don’t waste time lowering demands so that resources can outweigh them. In swimming, for example, a coach does not say, “don’t worry about the race, it will be easy, and no-one cares how you perform.” He says, “This race is crucial, and it will be very tough, but you have the skills and abilities to succeed so focus on what you can do.”
FOCUS ON INCREASING PERSONAL RESOURCES
Like the swimming coach, focus on increasing your personal resources, as well as those of your staff, to meet ever-increasing demands. The most important personal resource is an individual’s self-confidence. A professional with self-confidence can slice through pressure like a diamond cutter. The belief that ‘you can’ is very powerful. As Vince Lombardi, two-time Super Bowl Winning NFL Coach, said: “Confidence is contagious—so is a lack of confidence.” You do not want a lack of confidence to spread through your company.It will inhibit decision-making, negotiations, innovation and risk-taking.