Success Builders Inc. Article of The Month
November, 2000

The Formulas for Success
By Barbara Poole, MCC

If you're a tennis player who's been around for a while, you may recall a book from the late 60's called "The Inner Game of Tennis." (Of course, there are those people who will say that if you remember the 60's, you weren't really there, but then, that's another article…..).

"The Inner Game", as it has come to be known for its generic applications, was written by Tim Gallwey, who was a tennis pro and tennis coach during that period of his life. For the past twenty years, he has made a living by coaching and consulting to corporations and non-profit organizations. A while back I had the privilege of hearing Gallwey speak at a conference for coaches (make that business and personal coaches, not tennis coaches). In his presentation, Gallwey shared several formulas for success that have universal applicability, regardless of whether your focus is business success, athletic success or personal success.

Gallwey's central premise is that we learn from our experience. Take the example of learning to ride a bike. People can tell you how to focus on the road ahead, get a feel for what balance is all about, and try out your brakes on a hard stop. But it is when you actually climb on the bike, fall down a few times, and begin to get a feel for how to balance and stay upright, that you really learn how to ride a bike. In essence, the bike, and your experience with it, teach you how to ride. Gallwey makes the same point with learning to play tennis. In the final analysis, he says, you learn from the ball, not from the well-intended constructive criticism you get from the instructor, the people on the sidelines, or yourself.

This central idea of learning from experience leads to the first success formula, which is:

Performance = Potential - Interference

The basic notion here is that when we're in a situation where we have the aptitude and the potential to perform, what gets in the way is interference, both internal and external. If we're talking about an employee's performance in a business for example, what gets in way externally may be limited resources, or inadequate information, or a boss who is constantly criticizing the employee's shortfalls. What gets in the way internally, is the self-doubt, performance anxiety, fears associated with job security and all the other things that go on in the employees head, where the "inner game" is played. So the job of good managers and coaches is to remove as much of the interference as possible, to enable employees to learn from experience and develop their potential.

Thinking along these lines, it's one thing to talk about removing external interference. Get your rising star a new computer and quit breathing down his neck and you may just be able to take care of that one. But what about the internal interference, the negative self-talk and second-guessing that goes on within the employee?

In addressing inner game challenges, Gallwey identifies two factors that are essential in a healthy learning environment: safety and challenge. The formulas for these components are:

Too much challenge + too little safety = fear

Too much safety + too little challenge = complacency

So the trick here is to be sensitive to the balance of safety and challenge employees are experiencing -- to provide an environment which is safe enough to foster risk taking, and challenging enough to be motivating yet not overwhelming.

This model of coaching for success is a far cry from the traditional management model of telling people what to do, and then giving them tons of feedback when they do it wrong. It presumes that people are inherently talented, and our job as managers and coaches is to create a conducive environment, provide basic guidance, support and encouragement, and then let people learn from their experience. How refreshing! Where do I sign up?


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