The Winning Factor: Inspire Gold-Medal Performance in Your Employees
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The Winning Factor: Inspire Gold-Medal Performance in Your Employees

by Peter Jensen

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Olympic athletes donÆt get to the top simply because of athletic genes (nature) or determined parents (nurture). Like all performers in pressure situations, their exceptional drive comes from a third factor: an inner desire to be the best they can be. The Winning Factor reveals how to ignite the passion and the resolve required to succeed. As someone who has


Olympic athletes donÆt get to the top simply because of athletic genes (nature) or determined parents (nurture). Like all performers in pressure situations, their exceptional drive comes from a third factor: an inner desire to be the best they can be. The Winning Factor reveals how to ignite the passion and the resolve required to succeed. As someone who has trained both Olympic athletes and Fortune 500 executives, Peter Jensen knows how to translate the best practices of world-class coaches into the everyday business realm. Readers will discover: ò Five key practices of medal-winning coaches: managing themselves, building trust, using imagery, overcoming blocks, and embracing adversity ò The secrets behind great communication and truly effective feedback ò Insights on leader ship from six Olympic coachesùwith guidelines for applying these lessons to the workplace Packed with engaging stories and enlightening examples, The Winning Factor teaches managers everywhere how to inspire standout performance from their employees.

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The Winning Factor

Inspire Gold-Medal Performance in Your Employees
By Peter Jensen


Copyright © 2012 Peter Jensen
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8144-3175-7

Chapter One

Developing a Developmental Bias, or a 3 a.m. Wake-Up Call

You could have cut the tension with a knife. The finalists for the 100-meter hurdles at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens were in the blocks. The world champion and gold medal favorite, Perdita Felicien, was in lane 5, and the hopes of a nation were riding on her. The gun sounded, and Perdita shot out of the blocks toward the first hurdle. She hit the hurdle, went down onto the track—and in a second her dream was shattered, along with the dream of the woman in the next lane, who fell over her.

I was asleep in my bed in the Olympic village by the time my roommate, Gary Winckler, returned from the track events of the evening. He tried not to wake me as he fumbled around in the dark, but I rolled over and muttered, "What a bummer, Gary."

"Yes," came the reply. "But it will make us stronger." Gary was Perdita's coach.

In my role as a sport psychologist, I have worked with and coached hundreds of coaches. Gary, who is also the head coach for women's track and field at the University of Illinois, is an example of one of the exceptional ones. A scant few hours after what could have been a career-defining disappointment, he had already reframed the situation and was laying the necessary groundwork for recovery. His strong developmental bias—evident in his quest to ferret out the possibilities for growth in a bleak situation—was already in play.

Coaches come in all shapes and sizes, and with a range of personalities. But what the good ones all have in common is that they operate on a similar set of beliefs and principles. Beneath the different personalities and the widely varying situations in which they work, the five characteristics of a developmental bias are very much in action. The same is true of exceptional business leaders and parents. A strong developmental bias underscores everything these people do. Their view of the concept of performance is much broader than athletic prowess, quarterly sales figures, or good grades. It is concerned with the whole person and that individual's development as a human being.

I first heard this "bias" expressed by the famous UCLA basketball coach John Wooden at a seminar I attended in 1971, when I was a university basketball coach. Over the years, Wooden's teams at UCLA won ten national championships—seven in a row at one point. (No one else has come close; the next highest is two in a row.) Yet despite his brilliant successes, Coach Wooden always maintained he would not know how good a coach he had been until at least twenty years after his last player graduated and he was able to see what they had done with their lives.

Let's further expand on exactly what I mean by a strong developmental bias so you can begin to see how you could tap into the Third Factor of the performers in your world.

Developmental bias is a new term that juxtaposes what is often perceived as a negative term—bias—with a decidedly positive one—development. But one can be biased in a positive sense, as in, "He had a bias toward always being honest, no matter what the circumstance." I could just as easily have used the phrase developmental prejudice, but the word prejudice has even more baggage attached to it. To be prejudiced toward a person's growth, success, well-being, or development is a very good thing for any manager to have, but I settled on the word bias because it suggests a kind of listing in a certain direction, like a car with steering that pulls slightly one way.

Good leaders are always skewed to the developmental side even while trying to produce "straightforward" results. They get the results, but they develop the person in the process, so that the achievement of those results—or even higher results next week, next month, or next year—is possible.

Managers with a strong developmental bias are not mean or dictatorial. They are just passionate about their people using all their talents and abilities. They hate to see talent go to waste. They are like my high school English teacher, Mrs. Lockyer. She knew what you were capable of and insisted on holding you to that standard. This is the essence of the developmental bias. And in exceptional coaches, it's like gravity—always there, exerting a pull, influencing everything a coach does. In good coaches, developmental bias supersedes everything.

I know that it was teachers like Mrs. Lockyer, who had a strong developmental bias, who had the most influence on where I am now and what I am able to do. I can also list with ease the bosses and coaches I've had since my high school days who exhibited this bias: they are those who have had the biggest impact on my abilities and beliefs. They are the ones who ignited my Third Factor, my desire to be more or better or different than I was.

In talking to and working with other exceptional coaches, I became more and more aware that this strong developmental bias was a major undercurrent in each and every one of them. It also became clear to me that there were five main principles at work in the service of developing their athletes.

In Search of the Developmental Bias

I can honestly say that until that 3 a.m. conversation with Gary, I really hadn't given any thought to writing another book. But in the ensuing days, as the Olympics progressed, the outline for what you will read here slowly emerged. It was clear to me that there are some exceptional coaches, and that leaders of all types—managers, parents, other coaches—could learn a great deal from them.

This wasn't a new idea; I've been teaching coaching skills for years. What Gary triggered in me was the desire to go beyond the obvious, to get beneath the surface and uncover what the coaches did. What was it about them or their style that made them so good for the people they coached, and so successful? Given all the experiences I have been fortunate enough to be part of—including seven Olympic Games and numerous world championships—I felt I was in a unique position to identify and convey those lessons.

I also have one other advantage. As an instructor in the executive development programs at Queen's School of Business in Kingston, Ontario, and as a trainer with my own company, Performance Coaching, I spend much of my time working with leaders in organizations. It has given me a clear understanding of the demands placed on everyday leaders. I could easily see that the leadership lessons from this "performance laboratory" called the Olympics also applied in the so-called "real" world.

In the process of writing this book, I first laid out the five characteristics of a strong developmental bias that I had observed in great coaches, that is, the five sets of behaviors they used to translate their developmental bias into results. Then I interviewed Olympic coaches and got them to comment on the principles and give their views. The coaches I selected were recommended to me by a few for whom I have had tremendous respect over the years. You'll get to meet these men and women in the main body of this work.

Once I had collected the data from the coaches, I put together a presentation on the five principles and took it on the road to corporate audiences to get feedback on the applicability of the concepts for everyday leaders. This book is the result of that feedback.

What follows is a summary of each of the five characteristics of a developmental bias to whet your appetite for what's to come. Over numerous presentations, I have arrived at the "five rings" diagram, which I find appropriate since so much of the wisdom contained in these pages comes from Olympic coaches and athletes (see Figure 1-1).

Manage Yourself

People cannot move to high performance if they have to spend time and energy adjusting to you. Coaches are human. Even those with a strong developmental bias and the best intentions can sometimes get in their own way when they are coaching and developing others. In Chapter 3, "Manage Yourself," we talk about the tools you can use to be a more effective leader at critical times. Being skilled at managing yourself is a precondition to being able to access your developmental bias. This is especially true when you're under pressure, feeling rushed, or uncertain—which pretty much describes the work world every day!

Build Trust

Here is what Olympic decathlon coach Andy Higgins had to say about building trust: "Robert Frost said it better than I can.... It's putting our belief into them so that they can have a belief they can use until they acquire their own." Wow. I had to read that several times to get the full impact of it. There are many other aspects to trust, of course, including competence. No matter how nice someone may be, or how much a person says he or she believes in you, you will not trust that person if you don't feel he or she is knowledgeable or competent enough about the area you are engaged in to give that kind of reassurance. We cover this in much more detail in Chapter 4.

Encourage and Use Imagery

Chapter 5 outlines one of the most powerful tools great coaches use: the language of imagery to create clear pictures for their performers. Imagery is the language of performance. People can't do things they can't imagine. The potential for development here is huge.

Uncover and Work Through Blocks

The fourth characteristic is all about dealing with the blocks that inevitably come up when developing others. When you are trying to get better at something, you are going to run into blocks. In Chapter 6 we discuss how to uncover the blocks in the first place and then build the performer's commitment to deal with them.

Embrace Adversity

In Chapter 7 we look at how exceptional leaders and Olympic coaches take an active role in situations of adversity to ensure that the adversity is channeled in a developmental way. When you have prepared for adversity, you're able to deal with it when it arrives—as it surely will. Choosing to be in the competitive arena in any endeavor means that sooner or later you will face adversity. It's the nature of the game. In today's business climate, for example, with its frequent and fast-paced changes, mergers and downsizings, and unexpected setbacks, learning to turn adversity to advantage and ride the waves in a storm is an essential survival skill.

Interrelationships Among the Five Characteristics

We're going to talk about each of these characteristics separately, but in reality they are intertwined. They are like the ingredients in a cake: they combine in interesting ways that change them and make them into something more than they could ever be as separate entities. You can't effectively extend trust, for example, until you learn to manage yourself (and particularly your ego). It won't be possible to allow people to do things their way unless you are prepared to let go of the conviction that only you know how things ought to be done.

The Tough Lab of Sport

Sir John Whitmore made some interesting comments on sport as a "developmental" laboratory. "Because sport is compressed in terms of time, the emotions involved are much more intense, so life after a time in sport is actually easier because you have been there before; it's familiar territory. I never experienced an extreme of emotion in life, in terms of highs and lows—that has been new to me. I experienced all of them in sport." He goes on to point out, as Dabrowski did, the importance of emotion in development and what we are calling the Third Factor. "I feel some people go through life cushioning themselves from their emotions, and I think they miss something. It is the extremes of emotion that give you your deepest experiences in life, and sport did that for me" (p. xi, Sporting Excellence, David Hemery).

In Paradise Lost, John Milton argues that virtue is not virtue until it is tested. How well things work when under fire is a test of their value. It is hard enough to succeed in the everyday world, but in the competitive arena both coach and athlete are on display before large audiences, exposed to scrutiny, their performance continually analyzed, evaluated, and critiqued. The more important the event is perceived to be (the Olympics especially), the greater the impact on both performer and coach. But even at a minor sporting event one can see how competition brings out the worst in many people. That's why the five characteristics discussed here are so important: great coaches and performers have demonstrated that they hold true even under fire. And if they work so well in the heat of competition, just imagine how effective these fundamentals will be when applied on a daily basis.

In some organizations, particularly those where there are engineers, high-tech people, and others who pride themselves on being practical and task-oriented and on "getting things done," there is a stigma attached to the so-called soft skills. Developing others, coaching, and other such activities are seen as "fluff"—not really connected to getting the job done, hitting the numbers, or bringing things in on schedule. This is a misguided view. It's the so-called soft skills that produce the "hard" results.

The coaches I interviewed for Igniting the Third Factor were united in their view that their role was to develop those under their tutelage to the best of their ability, using all of each person's potential. But sometimes the developmental requirement calls for the equivalent of a kick in the pants. I am not talking about being vindictive, but of being willing to have that "difficult conversation" even when you'd prefer to bail. Confrontation is difficult for most of us, but the ability to face it and use it effectively is an essential skill in developing others. We will cover that skill in Chapter 7, "Embrace Adversity," but it is also outlined in detail, for those who are interested, in Appendix B, "When All Else Fails."

Unfortunately, too many leaders focus on the end goal, and more particularly on what it will do for them. For such people it is certainly not about developing anyone. It's only about getting results. In most environments these leaders and coaches have a very short shelf life. I say in most environments because in a few situations, such as college sport, for example, the performers are forced to adjust their game to fit the predetermined designs, plans, and idiosyncrasies of their authoritarian coaches. Winning coaches in these situations are tolerated even if they are not developmental. They get to replace 30 to 35 percent of their "workforce" every year. Try that in your workplace!

Commitment and the Developmental Bias

There are other ways of talking about developmental bias. In his excellent book Coaching for Commitment, Dennis Kinlaw emphasizes that almost everything a coach does should be in the service of developing commitment in the performer, the person being coached. He is not talking about commitment to the organization, but about building in people a commitment to themselves—a commitment to develop their own talents and skills to the highest level possible, and to work for continuous improvement.

In her book Leadership and the New Science, renowned systems analyst and consultant Margaret Wheatley helps us see a broader and more comprehensive meaning of commitment. She talks about people in dysfunctional organizations, organizations that have been tipped into chaos by leveraged buyouts or dramatic downsizings. She points out that about 25 percent of people continue to work to a high standard, care about their results, and bring creativity and enthusiasm to their daily work. At first she thought these people were simply denying reality, pretending everything was going to be okay three months down the road even though they had no guarantee of employment. When she interviewed them, however, she discovered that something else was going on. These were the people who had taken the time to create a sense of purpose and meaning for themselves in their work and in their lives, so that even if the organization didn't make sense, they did. They were performing this way, to this level, because it was part of who they were as human beings.


Excerpted from The Winning Factor by Peter Jensen Copyright © 2012 by Peter Jensen. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

PETER JENSEN, PH.D. is founder of Performance Coaching Inc., one of CanadaÆs premiere management training companies. He has attended seven Olympic Games as a member of the Canadian team and worked with over 60 medal-winning athletes and their coaches as a sports psychology consultant. He is also a top-rated instructor at Queen's School of Business.

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