Trying my best to stay cool this morning here in Saudi Arabia, watching Wimbledon in an nice little coffee shop. Two lesser known players are battling it out in the third set of an incredible match. To be honest, it’s not the best tennis, skill-wise, but sitting in observance of their efforts is inspiring.
Watching the two of them resting momentarily between games, a first indicator of their differences is obvious. Although they’re absolutely tied so far, each took a set early and the score in this set is 6-6, their individual demeanors at the moment are polar opposites. One is sipping his sports drink, grabbing bites off a banana, and preparing himself for the next game with deliberate attention to his long-term endurance and sustainability. His opponent is slumped over, shaking his head and cursing himself.
Again, I don’t recognize either of these players, and perhaps one is playing poorly and one superbly. Regardless, with the fate of the match clearly anyone’s for the taking, it strikes me, just based on their attitudes at the moment, I would put my money on the player with the positive attitude.
Just as in sports, attitude drives long-term success or sustained mediocrity in organizations. Oh sure, there’s something to be said for using anger and negativity to drive short-term motivation. And sometimes those focused on negative inspiration do succeed. Long-term growth, however, favors those who control their emotions, even in the face of individual adversity.
How a leader handles himself when situations are going awry, or even when he knows himself to be performing not up to his standards or abilities, sends a strong message to those around him. His attitude can make or break the morale of the entire team.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m as competitive as anyone, perhaps as some have told me, too much so. I grew up playing every sport I could find, and I hate to lose. Hate it. Hate it. Hate it. But you won’t see me letting up at any point, neither in attitude nor effort.
Even at age 41, one of my passions is playing goalie in several ice hockey leagues each week. One of the reasons I love the position is that it DEMANDS even-keeled emotions. Whereas other players can make small mistakes without others noticing, when I make a mistake, more often than not, the puck ends up in the back of the net. I love that pressure, and I love knowing that the instant a goal is scored against me, I have to rebound and play on as though nothing bad happened. The worst thing a goalie can do is to dwell on the previous goal. When that happens, the flood gates are opened, and the game becomes a rout. It’s why you see goalies in college or the NHL pulled after three or four goals so frequently. There’s a huge mental component to the position. I absolutely love that!
The point is….whether and ice hockey goalie, a tennis player at Wimbledon, or a leader in any organization, pay attention to the emotions you’re displaying and how well you’re controlling them. Allow yourself to dwell on the missteps and errors you’ve made, and you’re bound to make more and worse ones. Worse yet, in a team environment, your attitude is contagious. So make it a positive one, and watch those around you lift the entire effort to a higher level. It’s a much better strategy for sustaining long-term success, individually and for your organization.