Fri | Jul 20, 2018

Trevor E.S. Smith | Bringing lessons from Rio into the workplace

Published:Sunday | August 28, 2016 | 12:33 AM
Usain Bolt trains while coach Glen Mills looks on.

The glory we now enjoy at the Olympic Games wasn’t always like this. In 2004 in Athens, Usain Bolt was eliminated from the first round of the 200m. Four years ago, Elaine Thompson was unheard of. In 2016 she sweep the 100 and 200 metres.

No serious analysis of those outcomes can overlook the definitive role of coaching. The defining impact of Glen Mills and Stephen Francis is indelible.

At the 2015 World Championships, Omar McLeod was separated from his coach, and missed out on a medal. In Rio 2016, he skipped training camp to be with his coach and won gold in the 100 m hurdles.
Athletes constantly point out in interviews the role that coaches have played in their success.

As oorganisations strive for success, are there lessons from Rio that can be transferred to the workplace? Here is one for your consideration -trust


Stephen Francis highlights Elaine Thompson’s willingness to accept and implement his instructions. Bolt refers to Mills for decision making. It is clear that successful athletes trust the advice and guidance that come from their coaches. They believe that their coach has their best interest at heart and knows what’s best for them.

There is a large trust deficit in many organisations. The low employee engagement phenomenon has roots in the fact that some employees do not believe that their leaders have their best interest at heart. They also perceive that there is a disjoint between their goals and objectives, and the goals and objectives of the organisation.

One implication of this trust gap is that communication is distorted. Messages are not received in the way that the leadership intends, and rallying calls are questioned and/or go unheeded.
How can leaders address the trust deficit?

An athlete will listen to advice if they find that it improves performance. Leaders face the challenge of being able to effectively communicate to team members that following the leaders’ game plan improves their lot and moves them closer to achieving their goals.
This is a daunting task when faced with a diverse population with unique and undisclosed goals. Progress starts with communication.

Leaders need to start by working on creating an environment in which relatively transparent conversations can take place.

Fortunately or unfortunately, history plays a significant role is determining the level of ease or difficulty that will be involved in getting those conversations started and sustained.

Active listening
What ever the past, leaders must make a commitment to active listening. They have to demonstrate credibly, that they are ready to listen and not just tell. They also need to establish that they are not listening with the objective of gathering information to be used against team members.

Once again, results are key. Show on a consistent basis that you have listened by acting on what you have heard. “We take your feedback seriously and here are things we are implementing as a result.”

Another hurdle in creating the environment in which meaningful dialogue is possible, is to assure team members that it is safe to share. During the early stages of the 'conversation,' some members will raise general areas of concern. There will usually focus on physical issues, equipment, systems and financial rewards.
Getting employees to feel safe to share is supported by leaders being almost paranoid about confidentiality. Even one perceived breach of confidentiality could scuttle the initiative and drive members back into their shells.

To achieve Bolt/Mills and Thompson/Francis trust and respect, leaders have to credibly demonstrate that they have the best interest of their team at heart — that they have a track record of meeting team member expectations and that they have a safe environment for transparent two-way communication.

Now enrolling for the SHRM-credentialed Certified Behavioural Coach programme.

Trevor E.S. Smith is a behaviour modification coach with the Success with People Academy home of the Certified Behavioural Coach and 3-D Team Leader international certifications.