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Focussing on Performance

By Katherine Craig

"Focus on your performance and the medals will follow..." Patrick Chan

At the 2010 Canadian Championships, Figure Skater Patrick Chan was nominated to represent Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics, where he placed fifth in the men's event.

On April 27, 2011, Chan set a new world record of 93.02 points for the short program. On April 28, 2011, Chan then set a new world record for his free skate, receiving an overall score of 280.98. In recognition, Chan was named the recipient of the prestigious Lou Marsh Award as Canada's top athlete.

Patrick received a Silver Medal in Menís Figure Skating at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

What are you focused on at work? Are you focused on the day, the moment, the achievement of the day, or are you thinking, "the best is yet to come?" A few months ago I was listening to an interview with Patrick Chan and he was asked about his headspace with respect to the Olympics in Sochi. He noted that to be focused on the medals means that one isn't focused on the performance. I reflected on how true this is with respect to anyone's work.

Robin* knew she was very competitive. In high school and university she found an outlet through participation in swim meets at the local club, and progressed to joining the university swim team. After a particularly good season in university the entire team went out and got matching tattoos. Even though those days are behind her, she has a warm glow of pride when the tattoo catches her eye.

Robin's quiet determination has served her well in the corporate world. She is considered by all to be focused and a top talent. Robin is quite well compensated, especially given her age and tenure. That being said, she regularly expresses dissatisfaction with her career trajectory. This has caused frequent discussion and some concern among her bosses. They would very much like to retain her but are feeling like they're turning themselves inside out for someone they can't seem to satisfy. They feel she has excellent executive potential, but lacks the patience and appreciation for taking time to become well rounded corporately.

Privately, Robin wonders why, when she's working so hard, she's not moving up more quickly. She's mentioned it to superiors at her performance reviews, and to her mentor, but they keep telling her to focus on the present and the future will take care of itself. What drivel! She lies awake at night and imagines herself in the C-suite, and once again plots her map to the coveted office. She feels impatient waiting for her opportunity to move up the ladder.

Robin looks at others and wonders why they don't have the same fire. That is, except for two colleagues who were brought on board the year after she was hired. Bob* and John* are also strong performers, and are the two biggest obstacles between her and the big office. They also put in long hours, attend all the right meetings, and network strategically. She thinks about them a great deal and wonders how she's stacking up.

"I need to keep the focus on myself. ...I don't think about how she's (Kaetlyn Osmond) going to skate. I go to nationals and think about myself. Think about what are my goals and focus on my performance."
Amelie Lacoste ("Skate Canada International" champion)

First off, while Robin is focused on "beating" someone else she is spending valuable time and energy on something she can't control. She would be better off focusing on herself. Think of your time and energy as money and budget accordingly. Pushing yourself to do better is an excellent method to keep your top talent status, within limits. The limit is defined by balance: is your intensity intimidating, scary or off-putting? If so, pull back a little.

There is nothing wrong with having a role model and using this person as a positive example. Positive role models are great to strive to emulate. In fact, this is an excellent way to preserve your "inner GPS" corporately and light the path for your personal development.

Lots of people would like to sit in the Big Chair, if only to be in control of their destiny. And lots of leaders say that's a worthy ambition! However, when your thoughts and wishes move from desire to obsession, or naked ambition, then problems start to occur on a couple of fronts. Firstly, obsession (i.e. singular thinking that precludes balance) is irregular behavior, and irregular behavior makes the people around you anxious. Most people have experienced this type of singular thinking, especially if you cast your mind back to your first love/crush. But it's relatively short-lived and doesn't usually persist into adulthood.

Secondly, leaders conducting succession planning are focused on those who are deliberate about the journey rather than the destination. Manipulating your present to reach a destination in the future speaks to shortsightedness. Leaders are looking for someone who isn't just a master in the field but a leader of people. If people are viewed as hurdles to be jumped it speaks to a lack of leadership presence.

Thirdly, to be so focused on the title may send a message to the leadership that you will go to whoever makes it happen. Most leaders are realists in understanding that, in this day and age, itís unlikely that all employees will stay for life. But they do like to think that if they invest in your leadership development then you won't run off when the first company crooks its finger.

So, like top athletes you must tell yourself to focus on the performance rather than the competitors or the medals. You have no control over the performance of your colleagues, and by looking for the fast track to your ultimate destination youíll diminish the opinion of those who really can speed your journey.

But how can you readjust your focus? It's all about discipline. Use the skills you have developed to overcome other one-track thinking. For instance, if you want to learn how to swim but are afraid of water you will focus on the positives - how the water is shallow so you can stand up, how you will be able to better enjoy time with your children/friends around the water.

Ultimately the purpose is to train yourself to think about the fuller picture rather than the narrow focus of ambition or fear. This technique works well with most singular thinking and with practice you can focus on getting the most out of your journey. Be patient with yourself, this discipline takes time, and even if you are a pro at this stuff you will slip. That's okay, just correct your course and think about your purpose.

It's ironic that the more we want a goal the further it seems to slip from our fingers, when all it really takes to achieve that goal is to be purposeful about the journey.

*fictional names

Katherine Craig is the founder & CEO of Spearhead Executive Coaching, a dynamic organization dedicated to helping individuals and companies achieve greater success through the delivery of high-performance coaching programs. To comment on her story, send a message to Katherine@spearheadexecutivecoaching.com.