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It’s been a couple of months since we published our report into high performance and still now I’m blown away when I reflect on what fantastic contribution it contains from our clients. These are busy senior people – and yet they were happy to support us with this, giving their time and insight in bucketloads about what drives high performance in their environments.
As a Leading Edge team, we’re keen on new and exciting thinking as well as things that have worked for years, and how they transfer and translate across the worlds of business and sport.
We felt as though we were in a unique position to be able to produce and share this research and saw it as an opportunity to project more widely into the thinking around high performance.
I’ve already described being blown away, and it’s spot on again here because I’ve been humbled by how so many of our clients have responded to the findings, keen to interact, share their own experiences and validate what we’d put out there. It backed up our thinking that we were playing our part for learning and performance with something helpful and actionable for the times ahead, that we’d done what we set out to do.
Why mental agility is so important
There’ll be a theme in this report that resonates most strongly for everyone who’s contributed to or read it. For me, it’s mental agility. And by that, we mean being able to recognise our own preferences and biases in the way we learn, think, behave and respond in situations. It’s also about being intentional and making choices when we do.
Two projects come to mind when I think about seeing mental agility play out. With Levi’s, I’m supporting this global brand’s main board; with England Rugby, I’m working with the Men’s Under 20s team – both hugely talented groups of people.
The context of what they’re achieving in their individual worlds and the language couldn’t be more different. What links them is what I’m supporting them with – mental agility. It comes back to mental skills: the self-awareness to regulate behaviour, how our actions influence others, how we react under pressure.
When I support a group of young players with mental skills development, I always ask them to think about their sport at the highest level and picture a player who, in their opinion, epitomes someone who’s made it. There’s no right or wrong answer – they just need someone in mind. I then ask them for one word that summarises that player. Every single time I’ve run this activity, without fail, all the words shouted out relate to a mental skill. I hear “determination”, “enthusiasm”, “adaptability”. I hear mental skills. I don’t hear descriptions of technical skills or how many kgs the player can bench-press!
And there’s always that ‘gulp’ moment when I move on to ask them to draw a pie chart showing how much time they spend developing their technical and tactical skills, how much time on strength and conditioning, and how much time is dedicated to their mental skills.
The chart always shows that technical and tactical, and strength and conditioning win – with mental skills getting a much smaller share of their time. So although they recognise that when push comes to shove it’s mental agility that will drive their high performance, it’s often not where their time’s spent.
The difference in an outstanding player or employee is often a mental skill. Whether it’s confidence, resilience or something else, developing an environment where that can thrive is critical for high performance.
Adopting mental agility
Linking back to the report, what was validated through survey responses and insight is how high-performance organisations stand out for adopting a mental agility approach – truly understanding the benefits and placing a proactive focus on ‘performance wellbeing’.
Our perspective at Leading Edge is that ‘performance wellbeing’ is not either-or. Performance and wellbeing are intrinsically linked, and we’ve identified five components of performance wellbeing that help to overcome what the research highlighted as the top five barriers to developing mental agility.
You can work with anyone on mental agility – it’s all about trying to create people who are great at what they do.