Archive for April, 2006

How leaders stay in the game when things go wrong…

TennisServe258h153wTennis has a lot to teach business leaders about focusing on reality under pressure.

A mental game, as much as a physical skill, it is a game where even world-class players “beat themselves” or “psych themselves out” when they get frustrated. A player might miss several shots they think they should have made. They get frustrated. They lose their acute focus on this point, on the ball and on the present. They dwell on what went wrong, and how it should have gone. Almost immediately, they begin to lose, point by point, to an opponent who is no more skilled, but better focused on reality and in the moment of play.

The pattern in business:

• You are focused, working toward a goal: i.e. market dominance.

• Something goes wrong: i.e. The marketing campaign by the new VP you hired, falls flat.

• You get frustrated or angry or scared: i.e. This shouldn’t have happened!

• You go searching for who is at fault for such a major screw-up.

• Your team fears your reactions, so no one is focused on the goal as they lay low. (Market dominance, was it?)

• Work doesn’t get done. Decisions slip. Truth isn’t told. The team focuses inward.

• If your competitors keep their focus, they might just take your customers, one by one, while you are busy looking into the past, or the future.

Should and shouldn’t, along with a sense of frustration or anger or disproportionate fear, are key flags that you are no longer focused in the present, on reality – on the very information that can help you do something useful about the situation. You are focused on the past, and on yourself, or on an imagined negative future.

In our minds, we use should and shouldn’t to cling to what should be happening and avoid dealing with what is actually happening, or what we fear might happen.

Where (and when) is the focus? Is the tennis player focused on himself, and the past of how he or she should have played, the future potential of losing the match, or is he or she focused on the ball, on the match? In business, is a product manager denying that customers simply don’t use her product, even if given it for free? Whether we are in the past or in the future, we are not focusing where we need to – on mastering the situation in the present, and moving toward our larger goal.

How to re-focus:

When angry, frustrated, scared, or using “should” or “shouldn’t”:

• Stop fuming and worrying;

• Drop the expectation; and

• Get curious about the situation.

Here are some good questions to ask:

• What is going on, right here and right now?

• What is going on that I don’t want to see?

• What do I really want, here? What is my bigger goal?

• What is my plan? What actions will move me closer to my goal?

On the tennis court, the players who keep their focus in the moment and on the ball, take the match. In business, the game will go to the leaders who can discipline themselves, even in the face of bad news and setbacks, to focus on reality, and on the goal.

Game on!

© 2006 Gary Ralston. All Rights Reserved.

About the Author: Ann and Gary Ralston founded Ralston Consulting Inc. in 1997 to help business owners and leaders accelerate profitable growth in their organizations. They serve emerging and middle market companies across North America, from divisions of Fortune 500 firms, to start-ups and family-owned businesses. Gary can be reached at, 614-761-1841, or

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