Do you perform well when it counts the most?

Game 1 of the first week of the 2016 AFL finals kicked off in exciting fashion with the Western Bulldogs upsetting the West Coast Eagles. Game 2 was even more thrilling with a kick after the siren deciding the outcome of the Geelong and Hawthorn game. Coaches say there’s greater intensity in finals and it’s always interesting to see storylines unfold and how players and teams perform at the most important part of the season.  

At work there can be times where the pressure is more intense and like the players and teams in sport, the workers and organisations are either not bothered by it, challenged by it or excel with it.

After seeing situations recently play out at multiple workplaces, it got me thinking about the question: Do you perform well when it counts? Are your techniques and confidence robust enough or do they fail you when it matters most?

What best describes you. Do you:

Wilt under pressure

This can happen to anyone, even the best in the world.

Tennis player John McEnroe and winner of 77 titles (including 7 Grand Slams) hadn’t lost a match all year up to the 1984 French Open and made it through to the final where he easily won the first 2 sets 6-3 and 6-2 against Ivan Lendl. With the scored tied 1 a piece in the third set, McEnroe lost his cool over how distracting noise was from a cameraman's headset. In what was seen as a massive upset, McEnroe lost the final 3 sets and the match.

Reflecting later on McEnroe once said "We all choke, winners know how to handle choking better than losers." 

There are many lessons for the workplace here. Anyone who has ever presented publicly in their job probably has a not so flattering story they can share. Take on whatever learnings you can regardless of whatever it was that you didn’t perform well in the workplace. We all have strengths and weaknesses and sometimes we need to prepare more for or seek additional help for the areas we’re not particularly strong in. 

Make a cameo performance

Why is it some people can be brilliant for a moment or even a period of time but are unable to sustain the level of performance over the longer term?

In 2012 National Basketball Association (NBA) player Jeremy Lin went from being undrafted, cut by multiple teams, to getting a non-guaranteed contract with the New York Knicks where he was so unsure at how long he’d be kept by the team that he didn’t get his own lodgings and slept on a couch at a friend’s house. Lin had only played 55 minutes during the Knicks initial 23 games but due to injuries and the team’s poor form Lin’s name was called upon to play a large portion of a game where he made a significant contribution. Lin then got to play major minutes in each game and went on a magical run for 50 days where Linsanity became a cultural phenomenon. At the end of the season Lin signed a 4 year $28.8 million USD contract with another team. The magic didn’t last though because Lin’s now with his fourth team since the Linsanity run and has never quite been the same player again.

Strong cameo’s performances at work identify the person has talent but can’t sustain it due to a lack of work ethic, disorganisation or poor planning and prioritisation. The key to improving is to understand the conditions that enabled the cameo and then try to reproduce them consistently.

Business as usual

The consistently high level of performance was very similar for cricketer Sir Donald Bradman whether playing for his state in First Class matches or representing Australia in Test matches.

The Don’s First Class career included 338 innings, 117 centuries and a batting average of 95.14. In Test matches Bradman played in 80 innings for 29 centuries and a batting average of 99.94.

In the workplace, if you’re like The Don then you will be meticulous in your preparation and execution. Consistent results will continue to follow.

Love the big stage

NBA basketballer Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest player ever. When finals came Air Jordan was even more effective by posting better statistics than his regular season record. On 6 occasions Jordan’s Chicago Bulls team made it to the Grand Final best of 7 series. The Bulls won all 6 titles with Jordan winning MVP of the finals series each time. 

Leaders and the best performers at work come to the fore when it matters most. If you’re not in this category, then learn what you can from those who are and get to know who they are so you can go to them when you need help the most.

The pressure at work can come from a variety of places. Internally it could be self-inflicted because we have fallen behind schedule, made an error or not taken action when we should have. It could be applied from our manager or from external parties like customers, vendors, competitors etc.

Those who perform well are able to develop a rhythm of work to relieve pressure and deliver outcomes. How well do your techniques and confidence stack up? If they don’t then maybe it’s time to do something about it.