Q2 · 2014No margin for errors – where focused precision matters

Hello everyone,

Did you follow this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi? For the first time in history, two women tied for the gold medal in women’s downhill skiing, both crossing the finish line with identical times measured to 1/100 of a second. One of those gold medalists is Dominique Gisin from Switzerland – I have been her performance coach over the past six years.

In alpine skiing, there is absolutely no margin for error. One wrong curve, a slight loss of balance or tiny distraction, and the end result could be a career-ending fall as was almost the case for Dominique four years ago at the Vancouver Olympic Games. 100 yards from the finish line, on the course to win an Olympic medal, she tumbled, crashed, and ended up with a severe concussion. Many thought that her career was over.

The key to Dominique’s comeback and winning the gold medal four years later was developing full precision – in her physical training and daily routines, but more importantly in her mindset and dedication to analyzing and eliminating even the most minuscule errors in her performance.

I see a lot of parallels in the world of business. The competition gets ever more fierce and the stakes are extremely high – every product or service must be consistently of the highest quality, without any margin for error. And all it takes is one wrong move, defect or failure to risk your leadership position or company reputation. So what can you as leaders learn from Dominique?

To unlock your ability to be precise in the way that you execute, you must critically analyze your own performance.

As managers and leaders, you must first identify when it counts the most, when the stakes are at their highest point – and when it is absolutely crucial to perform at the very highest level. Think long and hard about the parts of your work as a leader that truly make a difference. Once you have carefully analyzed these highly-critical areas, you must then develop a focused precision to master them by setting-up and applying good habits to relentlessly improve your performance in these particular areas.

By being precise, you are a role model for your team.

Through your own consistent and focused performance (especially in the areas where it counts the most), you set the standard for achievement that you expect from your team members. You also show them the importance of self-reflection, analysis and continuous improvement. I’m not suggesting that you have to micromanage or be hyper perfectionist with yourself or the people that you lead. You won’t bring about a mindset of excellence by becoming obsessed with nitty-gritty details; you’ll just drive everyone (including yourself) crazy. Instead, show them what focused precision means to you by the way you work and the results that you deliver, and let them know why it matters. Then, set clear expectations, and give them the full trust and all the support that they need to succeed in their own work.

Relaxed precision is another critical component of sustainable high performance.

Believe it or not, not every part of Dominique’s race is a high-precision area. There are also parts of the race where she can dial back the intensity and display relaxed precision. Relaxed precision is needed when she reaches parts of the race that are not as challenging – a gentle slope or an easy turn. Of course, it still requires her to focus, and not to be sloppy and to make a “stupid” move. But these parts of the race do not require the same amount of focus and energy as the steep slopes or heavy turns. Applying this change in precision allows her to save important energy to prepare herself for the high-stakes areas where focused precision will make the critical difference.

How does this Olympic mindset translate into your working world? Applying relaxed precision means nothing more than identifying the areas of your work that do not require your absolute and total focus. Often, when working with corporate leaders, I help them recognize what tasks are weighing them down that could potentially be delegated without compromising quality. Could a team member create the latest slide deck? Can your assistant pre-read and filter your general incoming emails?

Being precise takes time, effort and mental energy.

When you have a lot on your plate, it can be exhausting to be precise in all areas at all times. This is why you will be most successful when you apply focused precision and relaxed precision wisely in a strategic and deliberate way. And remember that only the healthy combination of both enables sustainable high performance in the long haul.



P.S. If you want to learn more about Dominique Gisin, read this great article in the New York Times.