Q3 · 2020A champion’s mindset

Even if the personality traits of top performers and leaders are sometimes very different, there are certain abilities and attitudes they all share no matter what – their overall mindset. For instance, this includes the ability to be mentally and emotionally in control and to stay focused on a goal. It also entails the capability to act with confidence and creativity. And that’s something that can be learned. This has been one of my specialties as an executive and performance coach, since the end of my career as a professional footballer over 20 years ago.

Key advantages

On the one hand, there are some very powerful psychological techniques, which need to be acquired in a highly individualized process, to perform at the highest level. This will result in strength of nerve and mental resilience – key advantages during intense periods and when a person is under maximum pressure to perform.

Mastering the psychological performance techniques is just one piece of the puzzle. What’s equally important is to internalize the related insights, break with existing dysfunctional patterns and make lasting positive changes. You must admit something to yourself: “The way I’ve done things until now won’t take me any further. I have to change something.”

Many leaders (and athletes) are highly aware of the rift between dreams, goals and reality in this regard. They know they must take personal responsibility and rarely need to be reminded of this. The intention to make a change usually doesn’t need any prompting either. What’s much more difficult is the HOW and, specifically, the WHAT? What should I do differently now, and how do I figure this out?

Inspiration and creativity

If you don’t find the answer yourself (which very few people do), this is where inspiration and creativity are needed. During my work with top leaders and world-class athletes, I have noticed a key difference between the good and the best. It lies precisely in understanding that even a formula combining the perceived discrepancy between dreams, goals and reality with the pressure to perform and a roadmap for action will not automatically lead to a change of habits. Rather, it takes another key trait: the desire to systematically build up the mindset of a Champion, with inspiration and creativity.

This is why many clients who find themselves in a challenging situation reach out to collaborate with me. One particular thing I ask them is, “If you look at what has happened so far, and at the current situation, how would a Champion act now?” I encourage them to talk about some of the people they truly respect and admire, who they would call Champions, and have them describe strategies and actions from their perspectives. The impact of this dialogue is very often highly productive, inspiring a completely different mindset. The individual becomes confident, courageous and decisive, and taps into their own sources of motivation. This provides the basis for them to achieve extraordinary performance.

This applies not only for great performers,
but also for outstanding leaders and coaches

While researching one of my recent books “The Melting Point” I asked the opinion of Severin Lüthi, Roger Federer’s longstanding Tennis Coach and Head Coach of the Swiss Davis Cup Team that won the Davis Cup in 2014, with whom I have been collaborating for many years. Severin shared several great insights (which are all in the book, by the way) and here’s how he describes his own mindset as a coaching Champion:

“If you want to make it to the top and stay there, you need to be able to make improvements. You need to reflect about what you can do better because perhaps what is a good solution today is not the right solution in two months or a year. You must always try to approach the problem differently, to not be afraid to adapt even when things have proved to be working in the past. For example, it is very interesting for me to hear what works well in other sports, and to get familiar with different approaches. These ideas are very inspiring.

Personally, I can be strong-willed, and I recognize that I am not always a guy who likes to listen to others. However, I have learned the value of being open to input and criticism. It has helped me to find a very compelling approach towards my work at the highest level: I look at it in a similar way as the players look at playing the game. I realized that with a lot of passion and strong will-power alone, I won’t be a great coach. In order to stay at the top of the game over many years, I had to find my own approach that has similar components as the players at the highest level. So instead of doing the job of a coach, I look at it as ‘playing my best coaching game’. Chris has helped me to develop this attitude.”

Mindset and top performance

As a leader, I encourage you to use your full performance potential and aim for extraordinary achievements. When you do this with a Champion’s mindset, you will be giving yourself the best chance of success. And while doing this, you will automatically become a role model and inspiration for others – when they are in challenging situations and someone asks them what a Champion would do, they will think of you!

All the best – Be a Champion!