Saturday, January 3, 2009

How To Be Your Best

I am indebted to Brett Steenbarger for linking a classic, and outstanding article by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz from the Harvard Business Review. The title: "The Corporate Athlete." Link here.

The article offers the best and most comprehensive overview of the basics of executive coaching.

Its basic concept is simple and Aristotelian: it is not enough to overcome bad habits. You must also develop and sustain good ones. The authors, as Aristotle, aim at excellence.

They emphasize that no one can perform consistently as a great executive without having balance in his or her life. Hard work matter. Cognitive skills and social skills matter. But if that is all you have, then you will end up spinning your wheels.

As Loehr and Schwartz put it: no one can focus on business all the time. Success comes to those who can control the oscillation between the stress that distracts and the routines that restore focus.

The right balance includes: a consistent exercise routine, proper nutrition, meditation, stable and fulfilling personal relationships, and a sense of purpose that goes beyond the bottom line.

One point deserves special emphasis. To function well on the job you need stable, predictable, and harmonious relationships.

No executive is going to have stable personal relationships without participating actively in his or her private life. Surely, extra effort matters in business, but it also matters in choosing the right gift for a birthday or planning a weekend getaway or calling home to say that you will be late for dinner.

No executive is too important to spend time with the children. And no executive can function well on the job is his or her home life is in constant turmoil.

An executive who refuses to commit time and energy to a marriage, for example, will discover that his or her spouse will extract the proper attention by creating drama.

But the most interesting and original point in the article concerns something very small: a tennis player tweaking the strings of his racket in the fifteen second interval between points.

Loehr and Schwartz observed that great players all have similar rituals, like assuming a confident posture and making it a mental habit to visualize the way they want the next point to go.

By performing these small rituals great players recover quickly from the stress of the last point and bring an undivided focus to the next point. The rituals help to overcome distraction, forget the past, and concentrate on the task at hand.

Loehr and Schwartz argue correctly that if a player does not perform these small rituals he will become mired in stress and eventually will be defeated by it.

This is a wonderful example of applied Confucianism. Your ability to function in a competitive environment involves the smallest rituals, not the greatest insights.

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