Gavin Freeman - Your Coach to Building an Olympian Mindset

Create a plan for yourself and consider how you will evaluate it along the way - don't be scared to film yourself giving that next presentation and then asking a graduate to provide you with some feedback -I dare you.
- Gavin Freeman

Gavin Freeman is a renowned author, keynote presenter, a leadership coach and the Director of the Business Olympian Group, a consulting firm. He works on helping organizations and sports personalities in improving their performance and building teams through executive coaching and a variety of workshops on team building, change leadership, and performance mastery.

He has worked as the team coach for the Olympic team in 2006 and the team at Sydney Paralympic Games 2000. Gavin has also served as the team psychologist for the Olympic Archery team at the 2000 Sydney Games and for the team that participated in the 2003 Rugby World Cup. He has worked with some of the high performing teams and sports persons globally. Working closely with these sportspersons has given him tremendous insights into what makes a winner and how can others train themselves to become one. He has collated all his learnings in his book - The Business Olympian.

Gavin will be sharing his knowledge and insights on how to cultivate an Olympian mindset and create a high performing culture at the SHRM India Annual Conference on 29th-30th September, 2016, in Delhi.

Olympics 2016 has just concluded and it gave us a lot of brilliant sporting moments, what were your favorite moments and which sports-people stood out for you and why?

As a performance psychologist I often look for performances which are underpinned by the athlete achieving an outcome which even by their standards was a step up. That doesn't mean they won a medal or even made it to the finals, but one in which they demonstrated pure competitiveness and a will to achieve greatness. For me Chloe Esposito (Australian who won the Modern Pentathlon - from 7th position) embodied everything we should aspire to be. She performed above even her own expectations, she never gave up and most importantly demonstrated impeccable sportsmanship and humility in her comments post-race.

Do you think winning such global competitions is purely based on skills, talent, and practice or does the sportsperson's attitude play a great part in his/her win?

Absolutely not - in fact I believe at the elite level the difference between good and great has nothing to do with skill or talent. Obviously you have to have a certain level of capability to make it to the event, but its what you do at the event and how you handle the pressure which defines greatness. I have a very simple statement -

"The difference between good and great is simply the ability to perform consistently under pressure."

Which according to you is a must-have attitude that all of us can emulate from the world champions? How can one go about cultivating that attitude?

From my perspective the greatness is the ability to perform consistently under pressure - within that statement there are 4 key variables which I believe are essential. They are in no particular order but you need to have all of them to be successful; they are: Resilience - the relentless persistence to continue; Sustained appropriate focus - the ability to block out distractions and stick to your goals; Discipline - both internal and external, do what you say you are going to do even when no one is observing and finally the Motivation to Succeed - where failure is seen as a stepping stone to future success.

What according to you are the common traits between top athletes and business leaders? Can one benefit from the experience of the other? Are there any similarities between sports and business?

Absolutely, if you consider my high performing model described in the question before you will notice that none of the variables are exclusive to the sporting arena. In fact, businesses and business leaders utilize the same insights and have to perform in a similar arena - they just don't have to do it in lycra. The challenge for most business leaders is that unlike athletes they are not required to demonstrate these skills till much later in life (when they become a leader) but more challenging is that they are often not given the training to develop these skills. In the corporate world we place significantly more emphasis on developing capability and hope that the mental toughness skills are developed in vitro - unfortunately this is rarely the case and this is evident by the amount of training / coaching that occurs when individuals are promoted to positions of leadership.

In your book "Performing under pressure - building an Olympian Mindset" you talk about building a "Business Olympian Mindset", what exactly is it and how can employees cultivate it?

Stop reading about the concept and start challenging yourself in real time. Experiential learning is essential in developing a Business Olympian Mindset - we need to understand the variables that impact it and then start putting them into practice. The key here is to not be scared of failing - but more on that later.

  • Start by asking yourself a simple question - "Why should anyone be led by me" really focus on the why and not how you operate as a leader or what you do.
  • Ask your team why they think you are leader and what you can do to ensure they are successful.
  • Challenge yourself to consider if you are comfortable with your people standing on your shoulders or do you need them to prop up your goals.
  • Identify your strength and magnify them - then surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and make them look great.
  • Create a plan for yourself and consider how you will evaluate along the way - don't be scared to film yourself giving that next presentation and then asking a graduate to provide you with some feedback - I dare you.

What would your advice be to the younger generation just entering the workforce? What are the must-have traits to be successful in the workplace of the future?

Don't specialize too early in your career - unless you are hell bent on being a neuro surgeon but even then you need to become a doctor first. Having a broad skill set and being able to articulate how you can add value to an organization outside your direct area of responsibility will go a long way in ensuring a long and enjoyable career.

Find organizations that will allow you to fail fast and fail quickly, but encourage you to learn through the process.

Find a mentor who can provide you with some wisdom and guidance, but who does not have a vested interest in your career

Ask to be challenged, you may not always get the opportunity but a t-shirt I once owned summed it up perfectly, "you miss a 100% of the shots you don't take"

Your latest book "Just stop motivating me" talks about creating an environment or culture where employees can motivate themselves. What would you suggest to organizations that are suffering from a low employee morale? How can organizations build a culture of self-motivation?

Organizations need to recognize how they impact on the motivational mindset of their staff. In my book I have codified it in a simple and elegant continuum. I believe that people are always motivated, it is the type/style of motivation which alters depending on the situation. That being said, the same activity, when the environment is changed can elicit a different motivational mindset.

The continuum extends from being motivated to succeed to being motivated to avoid failure - in both mindsets you are motivated. It is driver of the motivation which identifies our behaviors. When we are successful it can be difficult to determine which mindset a person is in, but when failure is imminent the differences are palatable. The motivation to succeed mindset elicits behaviors designed to return the individual to a "success state" as soon as possible - this includes: redirection of effort and intensity, reframing the failure as a stepping stone to future success and a heightened sense of teaming. While the motivation to avoid failure mindset reacts in almost the complete opposite way - when faced with failure you tend to blame, justify defend and deny all in attempt to deflect the failure and assume the position of "it wasn't my fault". We see an increase in cheating behavior and unfortunately a decrease in teaming. The goal in this mindset is to protect the psyche and deflect the negative interpretation.

Organizations which understand this process can very easily tweak their systems and procedures to create an environment in which staff are encouraged to be motivated to succeed and a solid performance management process will weed out those who choose not to participate.

To know more about the Olympian Mindset and how it can help take your organization further, join us in the discussion with Gavin Freeman at SHRM India Annual Conference and Exposition.


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