As I was following a van on a four-lane highway, a car traveling in the opposite direction abruptly crossed the paved median, turning into our lanes of traffic. Not anticipating this, I was startled and distracted from my focus on the van that had properly stopped to avoid the collision. Unfortunately, my eyes were not as focused as the van driver, resulting in my car bumping the rear of the van. No one was hurt and the damage was minor, but my precious car now had an ugly cracked smile in its grill. To my benefit, the van driver eloquently described to the police how a crazed car had unpredictably veered in front us, and hence, I was not cited. The reality is that I let myself become distracted from my focus.
After witnessing days of intense concentration by Olympians, what can we learn about focus, for driving or for our jobs? While the magnitudes of Olympian pressures are hard to relate to, many focus principles and practices apply:
- Preparation: Olympians work long and hard, perfecting technical and mental skills, studying the competition, and learning how to focus. When it’s time to produce, they must bring it all together.
- You can see the intense focus in their eyes, even before they begin, as they give their full attention to their environment, competitors, and details, while tuning out distractions.
- Clear out the clutter, physical and mental: Olympians listening to music on iPods before the event aren’t doing it for entertainment but getting their mind completely on the job at hand.
- Break the action down into steps. What’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.? Mentally rehearse the production.
- Plan your contingencies: “Stuff happens.” Anticipate problems and how to roll with the punches.
- The coach must be on the frontline during the production, encouraging, teaching, adjusting, and ensuring discipline to the basics. The coach cannot be off in a strategy meeting somewhere.
Is your team ready to produce? This week, coach them to focus on consistently and safely delivering high volumes of high-quality products. You can see the focus in their eyes!
… And Pass It On!
Quote from former Costco CEO Jim Sinegal: “Doing the little things right over and over again makes for success.”
“Exhilarating” can describe watching Olympians push the limits of physics and the artistic abilities of the human body. One feels like you are a part of it and it’s a part of you. Focus is a fundamental component of their successful execution. Conversely, failure to focus causes failed execution.
Every person and organization face challenges today that are more complex, intractable, dynamic, and ambiguous than ever before. Mix all of this with the onslaught of interruptions, information overload, and downsizing, the risks of distracting the focus are dramatically amplified. Today more than ever, a key role of any leader is to keep the team focused.
So, with the endless distractions and pressures, what can we learn from the Olympics to help us focus? We can gain some insights from the sportscasters’ commentaries of the Sochi events:
- “Their focus is completely in the here and now, of this moment.”
- “They focus intensely on the quality of each element.”
- “The performance was strategically well-designed and perfectly executed.”
- “OK, Focus! Go hard or go home!”
- “The entire team is functioning as one unit!”
- “They must have a plan going into the games on how they will focus, how they will pace themselves, and what are the contingencies.”
- “All you need to do is look at her face to see her concentration.”
- “An Olympian must know how they will mentally and physically prepare for their shift of competition to execute the plan, focusing completely on the task at hand, blocking out the external pressures.”
- “They are so focused, they don’t even hear the crowd.”
- “Stumbled a bit but their focus allowed a nice recovery.”
- “It’s unusual for him to miss that but his focus kept him from being distracted.”
- “They must battle nerves, endure failures, learn how to concentrate, and get back up after each fall.”
A key focus of a leader is to focus the team, constantly engaging everyonel on elements of the job at hand, perfecting skills, performance, and results. Exhilarating!
Watch and enjoy the focus of the Olympians as well as the focus of the coaches.
…And Pass It On!
Quote from Snowboarding Olympian Shaun White when asked what he is thinking at the top of a halfpipe: “At that point you’re not really thinking, you’re just letting it happen. It’s a mixture of being completely focused, then slightly not caring.”