I recently wrote this as a guest blogger on the blog: 'A Celebration of Australian Leadership

Australia, with its small population base, continues to be a powerhouse in world sport by nurturing our talent.  Despite what some may think you cannot muscle a good athletic performance.

Athletes often speak about performing at their best with a clear mind. In this “flow state” feel good neurochemicals serotonin and dopamine are released, increasing clarity and focus for smart decision making and a quick reaction time. The baggage that comes from inciting fear and/or anger to get people to behave the way you want, just doesn’t work. These are high energy consuming emotions that produce unhelpful neurochemicals adrenaline and cortisol which tighten the body and cloud the mind. A tight body results in inefficient biomechanics and a clouded mind leads to hesitation or impulsivity, both detract from a good performance.

Good leadership in sport comes down to a multitude of factors that begin with teaching our athletes to be metacognitive – self-aware. This approach allows for autonomous, self-correcting, adaptive and resilient mindsets. Individuals who actively seek to problem solve rather than waiting to be told what to do. These individuals are not driven by fear, but self-belief. They don’t worry about mistakes, rather focus on the learning that comes from less than ideal performances, motivated towards reflecting, analysing, adapting, monitoring and building on their metacognitive self- knowledge. These individuals know how to separate their own bias from truth and fact, and remain open to new ways of doing things.

Good leaders in sport care about what an athlete does off the field because they carry that energy onto the field. They take an interest in the whole person and encourage identity complexity – the more ways we have to define who we are, the less anxious we are when things in life aren’t going exactly how we want them to be. Good sporting leaders are emotionally intelligent – able to read people’s emotions such as eye gaze, a slight tilt of the head or change in body language because it conveys a lot of information and provides opportunities to support or act. In sport it is not enough to be good at numeracy and literacy without emotional intelligence.

Good leadership is nurturing emotional regulation for calm workplace environments to minimise turnover and maximise efficiency. This appears to be particularly true for Australians. In working with one of our men’s national sporting teams the coach summed it up this way. “Eastern Europeans have to be told what to do, other European nations can’t be told what to do, and Australians - they need a cuddle.” 

Our athletes are emotionally intelligent and for most part they are empathetic. They care about others as much as they care about performance outcomes, the two are complementary because when you operate in an environment that is built on trust, collaboration and consultation the ‘love chemical’ oxytocin flows. Oxytocin helps us override fear and encourages selfless acts known in business circles as “discretionary effort’ - when an individual will go that extra mile to help out another with no expectation of personal gain.

Building a collaborative workplace environment whether in sport or business, is a successful workplace environment that requires good leadership, without it you have a group of individuals, hidden agendas and unspoken hierarchies - not a team of players.