Stay Calm on the Court

Madison Keys.

If you’re a tennis geek like me you know who she is. 21. Rising US tennis star, in spite of a spate of injuries. Had a great 2015 and is having an equally fine 2016. Made it to the final in Rome, the round of 16 at the Paris Open, heading for Wimbledon.

Madison Keys has worked with 4 coaches within the span of a year. That’s a lot of coach-switching. She is thriving with her current coach, Thomas Hogstedt. What insight, you wonder, is Keys gaining from Hogstedt?

The biggest thing isn’t the confidence so much as just being calm on the court, Keys states in the Wall Street Journal (5/27/2016), and knowing that if things aren’t going perfectly I can figure it out. I don’t have to hit 70 winners in order to figure out how to win a match.

The C-Suite Coach in me grins from ear to ear. There are moments when a day at work can feel like a string of hard-hitting volleys, and a win doesn’t look like the sort of win we envisioned.

How DO we win when things aren’t going perfectly? Here’s the wisdom I gleam from Madison Keys.  

  1. Be calm.
    We do it by staying alert to the present moment. Not fueling fear of what has yet to come. Not generating undue mental stress. We do it by proceeding one quick step, one swift decision, at a time.
  1. Dump the perfect-execution-story.
    It is helpful to aim for flawless execution. For an athlete, for a business leader. If you’re a solo performer such as a runner, swimmer, gymnast, perfect execution is attainable. The moment winning involves direct and constant interaction with fellow humans, perfect execution is a pipe dream. Drop it. Perfect execution in business doesn’t exist.
  1. Figure it out.
    Great leaders adjust in the moment. They adjust quickly. Pay attention to cues coming their way. External cues, inner cues. We fail to adjust when we’re attached to our perfect-execution-story. And we only truly adjust when we stay calm.
  1. Mix it up quickly.
    There are two parts to this simple statement. Have the skills to mix it up. In tennis this means excelling at a variety of strokes. In business it means dropping a strategy that doesn’t work, and more importantly perhaps, influencing with skill in every single conversation we have, in a manner which advances that particular conversation. The quick part? Don’t fall asleep at the wheel. Don’t dilly-dally. Mix it up with rigor and commitment. Do it sooner rather than later.

A generation ago Kenneth Blanchard called this Situational Leadership. Let’s keep it simple. Be present. To circumstances. To your thoughts, your emotional response. Wanna win? Notice. Have the courage and skill to mix it up.

It works for Madison Keys. I have a hunch it will work for you and me.

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Achim Nowak is an author, speaker, C-Suite coach, international authority on personal presence. His book “The Moment: A Practical Guide to Creating a Mindful Life in a Distracted World” (New Page Books) has just been published. His previous books have become prized resources for entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 executives around the globe. Achim and his work have been featured on 60 Minutes, Fox News, NPR, in The New York Times and The Miami Herald.