Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes it as being ‘in the flow’. He said in his Ted talk, “There’s this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other… Sense of time disappears. You forget yourself. You feel part of something larger.”
Too many managers are frantic, anxious, unsure, even full of fear. Their actions instill doubt, worry and ambiguity in their teams. Extraordinary leaders find “the zone” as well. When they do their work, it is excellent but done seemingly naturally and effortlessly. It inspires their teams to reach a new level of performance.
Two Ingredients to be in “The Zone” as Leader
Relentless preparation is the key to be able to do anything like it’s a natural talent.
Geoff Colvin shares his insights on this in his book, Talent is Overrated. Great talent still takes hard work. Great leadership, then, does also. An Olympic athlete puts in 10,000 hours of practice to be an elite competitor. Stars in any field diligently and deliberate apply themselves. They learn new techniques, study them and practice them. They attend training, get coached, and consciously and subconsciously work at getting better. This is above and beyond just doing the job. Colvin feels 10+ years of this kind of effort is required. Yet, it’s a lifetime endeavor for any professional.
Research shows that most managers receive less than one day of training per year. That’s why research likewise shows that 82% of managers aren’t fit for their job. Other studies show failure rates of 50-67%. Now, where do you want to be? The standard for excellence comes from the best companies in the world who provide 58-65 hours of training and education a year to each employee. In addition, to reach an elite level of leadership take on dedicated reading, experience reviews, online training, and video-based training every day and every week.
Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? That’s what it takes to learn something so well that you perform as a leader exceptionally well, naturally, even without thinking about it. Concert pianists, professional ballad dancers and Oscar winning entertainers make this kind of effort routine. Why not you? In time daily experiences and thoughtful learning become a seamless entity in the leader’s mind that reaches for outstanding results in every experience.
Think about this. In my consulting business, our projects or coaching assignments most often involve a company or executive’s under-performance, or a desire to reach significantly higher goals. Inevitably, what the company and its management team couldn’t achieve in 1-4 years of effort we begin changing in 1-4 months. Why? Preparation, of course, but also excellent execution. A leader that does this understands how to motivate a team, and bring it together quickly while hitting on all cylinders. At our organization we teach and apply the High-Performance Formula. It involves using well-prepared skills in the right areas and at the right timing. Here it is:
Any manager can do this if they have honed their skills and knowledge time over time. When the pressure is on, conflict arises, or problems escalate, you execute a plan of resolution, brilliantly considering the above. Each area requires certain knowledge and skills. Essentially you communicate with and involve the team positively each step of the way. You don’t worry about it. You aren’t desperate. You calmly and fearlessly deal with the whirlwind of issues through your team–effortlessly. You are in “the zone” and it transforms your team and results.
Pulling this all Together
A friend of mine named Rick worked for same retail outfit for pretty much his whole career. Rick was studious about everything. (Most of the other managers act that way, they just did their jobs.) He was always learning about his product, marketing programs, leadership and customer service. Then he took action on things. He first worked for the company as a sales employee and quickly moved his way up to store manager. He was so good that they made him a troubleshooter. Why? Because he took positive action that energized his team. He did it time and again. The company would put him in low performing stores and within a few months they started making money again. Soon they wanted to promote him to the corporate headquarters to run a region. He turned them down so he didn’t have to move, and could be close to home and help raise his three boys. Instead, he bought one of their franchises and started his own business.
I remember him calling his employees to a meeting early on. He said, “I can treat you as hired hands, or professionals. Hired hands punch in and out on a clock and are only paid an hourly rate. Professionals do what has to be done and share in the success of the business. Which way do you want me to treat you?”
His employee engagement was sky high, and he dominated his market. Rick was in the army reserves and was called to active duty for Operation Desert Storm. He was gone almost a year. His team was so well-prepared by then, they executed brilliantly and profitably grew the business. Most small businesses go into an immediate tailspin if the owner is gone. They had no doubts about what needed to be done. They did it naturally and effortlessly, just like he trained them.
This is “the zone” of leadership–confidence and effectiveness. You know what you need to know and aren’t phased by what you don’t know or what inevitably may happen. You and your team breakthrough to reach or exceed your goals anyway.
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