Everyone knows Tom Brady and his incredible success winning championships. But, unless you are a Texas Rangers fan like me, you may not know Colby Lewis. He won Game 2 of the World Series and is set to pitch game 6 on Wednesday night. He was good during the regular season with an ERA of just over 4, but in the post season it drops to 2.2 and he has been amazing.
So far, his performance has been better under playoff pressure. Tom Brady, with three Super Bowl wins and countless come from behind wins, has proven that you can never count him out – especially in big games.
In a recent interview, Colby Lewis said, “You can’t really worry about ‘what if’s…you just focus on the one pitch you have at hand – and do it.” Some comments about Brady include, “he never lets the pressure get to him – he thrives on it’, “he is in the film sessions working like he was a rookie”, or my favorite, “he has the ability to make everyone around him cool.”
I am fascinated at how these athletes achieve great results with intense pressure, high expectations, and yet deliver. No matter your favorite sports team, you can picture the athlete who does well during normal times, but crumbles when the stakes are high. When I see 23 year olds pitch in the World Series, I think that at that young age they have figured some things out that we can learn in our careers & life.
Based on my reading, observations of sports & work, here is my list on the differentiators of leaders who thrive under pressure:
- Laser Focus – There are distractions in high stakes situations. We have our own ‘runners on first’ in our work and we have to keep an eye on risks when we are pitching. But we don’t have to worry about the next challenge or problem. The best follow their game plan which is longer term, but keep their immediate laser focus on what is front of them knowing that if they can make this happen – the next step will be easier.
- Preparation – Tom Brady ‘prepares like a rookie’. So, he doesn’t depend upon just his natural talent to win a game. He knows the defense and their tendencies and has a plan for how to expose their weak spot. Many people who look like they are naturals are usually just really prepared and it shows up in the end result. And, intense preparation makes improvising a lot easier.
- Letting Mistakes Go – As leaders, we often replay or second guess why we made a decision. But, if you watch Colby, Brady, Dirk or Roddick. They let mistakes go and move on – fast. They have to – because when the pressure is on, there is no time to second guess or it will affect the next play.
- Tune out Armchair QBs– I often tell leaders that the reality of leading – whether as a QB, coaching a baseball team or leading a division of your business – you will at times be second guessed. That is the nature of leading. Of course, you need to listen to ideas and input, but if your expectation is that you will never be criticized or challenged, you’ll be disappointed. And, the best players don’t take it personally – it is just part of being on the big stage. Learn from it if you can and move on.
- Believe in Yourself– This is essential. If you are leading a major change, you have to believe that you will use your talents and abilities to make the right decisions & do the right thing. Anything that is hard, won’t have a simple roadmap. It requires judgment as you go so you will have to rely on yourself. Visualize success.
- Stay Cool – Staying cool is not just so you will perform at your best, but also so your team does the same. Anything that is hard is going to have stress. We have all seen pitchers who implode because of their anger over a home run or hit that they tried to avoid. Great leaders are composed, steady and can create great outcomes even when the pressure is on. Know that while things aren’t perfect, the key is finding the way to achieve great results.
So, as you enjoy your favorite sports team, learn what you can from their ability to respond to pressure and maybe pick up a new touchdown dance while you’re at it.