Long-term success is what separates the champions from the legends. It takes a certain culture, a high-performance culture, to make continued success possible so you can win time and time again. Culture precedes success and that is exactly what good leaders do; they create an environment that breeds success.
Charles van Commenee is the former UK Athletics Head Coach and the man behind the most successful moment in British Olympic sports history; Super Saturday at the London 2012 games. Charles reminds us, from his perspective, what a high-performance culture looks like.
Never expect anything less than 100%. If we don’t have high expectations of each other, others will and they will achieve better results because in the competitive worlds of business and sport, the margins are often very small. The best athletes usually win their races with a margin of less than 0.0005%. To become a sporting legend because they do the right thing for a long time, in the right culture with the right people around them, where the expectations of each other are 100% every single day.
Accountability is crucial to a high-performance culture. The official target given to the British Athletics at the Olympic Games in 2012 was five medals. Charles raised the bar to eight medals including one gold. Although Team GB won six medals including four golds, Charles resigned as Head Coach of UK Athletics. Staying would have been against the very culture he had worked to establish. The culture should always be bigger that the interest of the individual and Charles practised what he preached.
Success has to feel possible. The philosopher Karl Popper once said, ‘optimism is a moral duty.’ Do you think the best high jumpers in the world jump a foot higher than your front door when the whole world is watching, with a voice inside their heads telling them they won’t make it? Successful athletes enter a stadium with the belief that they are invincible and that the winning spirit is always on their side.
The Right People
Selection can be a painful process but it is vital when striving to achieve excellence. Every contender should make a positive contribution to the team culture. Ensure that once you find the right people they are able to work together and truly understand what behaviours come with team values. Diversity should not just be tolerated, it should be embraced because complementary qualities increase a team’s potential.
Coach More, Manage Less
Successful coaches have an ability to understand people and their coaching needs. Knowledge doesn’t win but the ability to connect, understand and demonstrate does; great coaches need to be adaptable so they’re able to work with different teams and individuals at different times. Always be suspicious of a coach who says ‘my method’ – that’s management, not coaching.
The Three D’s
Talent alone is not a definitive path to success, it takes desire, dedication and determination. It’s important to know the difference between being involved and being committed to your dream; the question is, how dedicated are you to your desire?
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