What You “Don’t Know” Is Also Your Responsibility
This week, our inspiration takes on a truly collaborative note. One of the most rewarding aspects of our work at Ascent Growth Partners has been the opportunity to collaborate with experts, from around the world. Talent truly knows no borders and involving experts in our engagements has become a practice that we are proud of.
I would therefore like to welcome to our weekly inspiration Adolfo Gómez Sánchez – a global associate, CEO of Gold Results and a true expert in leadership performance – which he applies in business organisations and in coaching Tennis stars and other athletes. Writing from Madrid, as many European countries are heading into a second lockdown, he shares with us his inspiration and insights of how we grow as leaders, and why collaborating with experts is so important.
“I love modelling. Not the kind where someone takes pictures of you, but modelling in the sense of finding the common causal factors (not just correlated ones) that drive results. When you start looking at the world in this way, you find surprisingly consistent principles affecting performance across a very heterogeneous spectrum. So let’s use such principle to explore a common mistake that has impacted government officials (mis)handling of the COVID crisis, the runner up of Roland Garros 2020, and many businesses, as they face growth challenges.
Sofía Kenin, the 21 year old American tennis player, was about to face off against 19 year old Iga Swiatek, in the final of the woman’s singles at Rolland Garros 2020. When the press pointed out that Swiatek’s performance had improved radically after engaging with a mental performance coach/sports psychologist, and asked Kenin whether she also sought out support to develop a similar edge to her match play, Kenin answered ” . . I would rather have, like, a physio, I guess, than a psychologist and everything”. Kenin went on to lose 6-4, 6-1 in the women’s final. You might be thinking “so what? You can’t say that not having a mental performance coach cost her the title”. Well, yes and no.
Although it’s impossible to isolate ONE factor responsible for her loss in the title game at Rolland Garros, Kenin’s words indicate a pattern I’ve seem many times before. Having worked as a performance coach for professional athletes and executives, I have seen first hand the huge impact it can have on performance (just ask Swiatek, who’s name is now engraved on the trophy). However, that’s not what made Kenin’s words stick out for me. It was the lack of interest in knowing about what she doesn’t know. Top performers in all fields have an insatiable hunger to learn more, to tweak any aspect of their skill set, so as to gain those millimetres that separate champions from the rest. And although one aspect can have a profound impact just on its own (see Djokovic’s improvement, when he changed to a gluten-free diet a few years ago), real champions don’t stop there. Instead of being smugly satisfied by whatever change they have achieved, they continue to ask “what else could I be doing, that I currently don’t even have on my radar, that would improve my performance?“. And to identify what you don’t know, and more so – to learn it and integrate it in your performance, you need to rely on experts . You need to have the humility to seek out those who know more than you about that specific subject. That one step, the ability to check your ego at the door and explore new, seemingly unrelated areas to improve performance, is perhaps the single greatest advantage of athletes and executives, who are trying to maximise their potential and elevate their teams.
Speaking of uncontrollable egos leading to significant mistakes makes me think, of course, of governments. Politics provide the ultimate field where unbridled ambition drives people to take on challenges that they have no idea of how to manage, resisting any support or guidance from external experts (unless they are of the same party), despite the potentially disastrous impact it can have on their constituencies. Enter COVID, a case study on how one continues to display staggering ignorance, while the situation gets away from you, costing literally hundred of thousands of lives. With a few notable exceptions (you know who you are New Zealand, South Korea, etc.), governments have not only failed to contain the pandemic, but most are walking around blind as to what measures are needed to save their ailing economies, hardest hit by the epidemic. And what’s the flagrant, overarching theme? Resistance to listen to experts and learn what they don’t know. The most notorious case perhaps being how Trump has consistently ignored his maximum expert on the matter (Dr. Anthony Fauci), but it is by no means the only example. Here in Spain, the government has resisted support from experts outside their “Frankenstein” coalition, resulting not only in the worst infection rates in Europe, but also evidencing how clueless they are, as to how stimulate the economic recovery ( the IMF just estimated Spain’s deficit will reach a whopping 14.1% of GDP – a far cry from the 1.8% estimated pre-pandemic).
So how does all this relate to a company? Well, companies and executives within them are susceptible to the same temptation of relying on their “strengths” and discounting the potential value of honing skills and capabilities currently not within the organisation. In my opinion, this tends to occur when entities lose sight of what Simon Sinek calls their “Why”, or the fundamental reason for their existence. When you know WHY you exist, you will find “whats” (products or services) that bring that mission to life. Most importantly, you will explore any and every avenue to achieve your WHY, which includes losing attachment to WHAT and HOW you have done things traditionally.
What’s the catch that stops most people from following this (seemingly obvious) path? To do so, you need to adopt a beginner’s mindset. Despite what most people claim, and even believe, very few managers are able to do this because they’ve been taught that they need to appear “competent”, and beginners are, well, just that, beginners. So the recommendation is simple: get extremely curious about subjects outside your direct area of knowledge. Don’t try to find a link to your business BEFORE exploring, because often your lack of knowledge makes that impossible to see until you dwell into the new area. We’ve built a large part of our reputation from bringing best practices in Sports to business, with excellent results, however if you’d asked clients beforehand if they thought the lessons and principles from sports would have such a great impact on performance in their organisations, they would have said no.
If you want to accelerate the learning curve, find experts from other industries or areas who can help you innovate laterally into your business. As many great thought leaders and innovators have shown us, the most important asset is to never stop asking “what if…”
Have a good weekend everyone.
Saar Ben-Attar (Chief Instigator)
Adolfo Gómez Sánchez (Leadership & Business Transformation Specialist)
Members of the Growth Collaborative
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