We come from totally different career backgrounds – sport and health versus professional services and corporate strategy. Yet, having performed in high level leadership roles, we both see and bring together the various sport leadership philosophies which apply to creating brilliant corporate leaders. Many lessons learned in sport have long since been gleaned and passed on to corporate leaders, whether it be to remove ego, accept there is no ‘I’ in team or that we are all playing for the same desired outcome.
However, we feel that there is a significant difference between achieving success in sport and corporate leadership roles that needs to be highlighted, because is it so significant that it can transform the great to the brilliant of leaders out there, and it will be the courageous that really go for it. And, that significant difference is, where and when your learning happens.
Athletes have the benefit of separating their learning from their performing to achieve results. Corporate leaders must however integrate learning and performing in order to achieve both personal and business growth. The most successful are those leaders that create the time, space and challenge for the greatest stretch mentally, physically and emotionally.
When and where are you ‘in the zone’?
A phrase you often hear in sport: “He/she/they were in the zone today”, implying that they were operating at their peak and achieving top level performance. What zone are we referring to? Well it’s the Performance Zone.
It’s important to acknowledge the two other zones which are critical to personal development and attainment of goals. These are the Comfort Zone and the Learning Zone. Athletes get to separate their time between these zones, but, corporate leaders need to be self-aware and purposeful about creating these zones if they really want to perform beyond current limits.
The Comfort Zone is an interesting place
Most people hang out in their own version of the Comfort Zone. They enjoy it because it’s safe and predictable leading to low levels of anxiety on a regular basis. This is where work that we already know how to do gets done. It’s the work we’ve done a million times, and we could do it blind folded…with very little risk of failure. But, learning doesn’t happen in the comfort zone.
The Performance Zone makes you feel productive
If you are busy doing, doing, doing – hosting meetings, making calls, writing papers, advising clients, managing teams etc, you are in the Performance Zone and that’s when you are most productive. However, while you will make incremental gains, you are less likely to materially expand your knowledge or acquire new skills, and therefore, learning isn’t maximised in the performance zone.
Make time to purposefully create your Learning Zone
The concept of the Learning Zone was established in connection with Carol Dweck’s work on Growth Mindset. It is the space in which you seek to grow, to improve your strengths and develop yourself in other areas, in a low risk environment, where you can expect to make mistakes with no judgement. If you want to become the most brilliant leader you can be, you will have to make a point of creating and hanging out in your Learning Zone!
You’re a corporate athlete
In sport, we spend most of our time in the Learning Zone (aka training and coaching sessions), enhancing current skills and acquiring new ones, knowing that mistakes will happen and are actually expected. The training field is a safe space to try new things.
As a business leader, you experience the complete opposite. You spend most of your time in the Performance Zone, often with conditions beyond your control, and with very little opportunity to recover, regenerate or grow. You don’t have the luxury of daily designated “training and recovery sessions”.
If you want to achieve maximum impact and influence, you need to consciously switch between your own Performance and Learning Zones and don’t allow yourself to dwell in the Comfort Zone for too long!
How can you switch into your Learning Zone?
Here are three suggestions that you can apply every day:
- Enhance your self-awareness and identify where you are brilliant already and where you want and should amplify your skills and impact. The more courageous leaders out there will be proactively seeking feedback to get real time data at every opportunity.
- Create safe opportunities to improve your performance and accept the learning from every one of these moments or situations. The more courageous leaders out there will seek sponsorship for these opportunities for personal or career growth and empower others in their team to do this too.
- Engage in regular deliberate and focused practice until something that was once difficult becomes an unconscious competence. The more courageous leaders out there will be driven by challenge rather than status.
Find your brilliant
Challenge yourself every day to find learning opportunities. Seek to constantly raise your impact for business performance through personal growth and collective learning with your team. You will generate an empowering culture, inspire others to achieve their potential and add the greatest value to your organisation.