Sustainable performance – how to increase the probability of achieving it

When I was facilitating face-to-face leadership programs before the COVID-19 pandemic, sharing the concept of sustainable performance, I would often ask participants if the following scenario resonated.

The scenario: Do you wake up feeling tired? Do you grab breakfast on the run or skip food altogether? Then, arrive at work, smash yourself all day taking no breaks, cramming as much in as possible? Go through to dinner time and start thinking about getting home and connecting with loved ones? You get home tired, not present, connect with those you care about the best you can, deal with bedtime and homework (for those with kids) and then get back on the laptop to catch up on the endless emails and things to do? Go through to midnight, shut the laptop and try to sleep soundly? Wake up many times, sleep poorly and wake up tired (again). And, so the cycle continues?

The common response – ‘Wow, you have just described my life!’

Through working with people and leaders across multiple sectors, there are four factors I continually see that have a negative impact on their health, relationships and work.

These factors are:

  1. Reactivity – people on the ‘hamster wheel’ just trying to keep up. Flooded with information, tasks, complex lives and changing demands.
  2. Inefficiency – through the volume and intensity of demands, people are in a constant state of fast forward where prioritisation seems impossible. They know that a lot is being done, but often question if it is the right work, and whether it will have the impact they desire.
  3. Disconnection (with self and others) – through trying to cram everything in and seemingly never-ending work demands, people are feeling disconnected from themselves, spend minimal quality time with loved ones and are constantly self-sacrificing for others.
  4. Fatigue – nearly everyone is tired! Physically, emotionally, cognitively and perhaps spiritually.

The pursuit of endeavouring to be a high performer should come with a warning label. No matter how high performing you are in one domain, something that you care about will eventually give. Sustainable performance is a hard feat to achieve.

So, how do we increase the probability of achieving sustainable performance and how can we use this time of COVID 19 as an opportunity to recalibrate?

We all want to matter. We all want to feel like we’re effective and have an impact on all we care about. This desire is why we read self-help books, enrole in leadership programs, professional development and the like. The intent is to develop our skills and capability. It’s what I call, our craft. We want to keep sharpening our ability to empower as well as influence and lead others. What is often forgotten is that we first need to master leading ourselves as a foundation to achieving in these other domains. ‘Leading self’ lays a foundation that increases the probability of enjoying sustainable performance. There are 3 critical layers to leading self:

  1. Self-compassion. This is a mindset I have struggled with most of my life. Self-compassion entails being kind to yourself, particularly when experiencing adversity. Being compassionate towards yourself means you acknowledge that you are deserving of good things, that you’re worthy and enough, as you are, and you don’t overly judge and criticise yourself for inadequacies or shortcomings. If we don’t possess self-compassion, our inner critic is often overactive. It becomes the loudest voice. This inner critic is one reason why we self-sabotage. We’re always trying to live-up to expectations and succeed. We must develop our inner coach. If we employed an executive coach or mentor that spoke to us the way we talk to ourselves, we’d fire them.
  2. Purpose. Do you have one? Can you articulate it into a concrete statement? Do you know why you get out of bed each day? Or know your ultimate reason for being? Purpose builds resilience, leads to health and longevity. It can be our North Star that helps us avoid misalignment. Knowing what we care about across all aspects of our life and spending the time to articulate that through a purpose statement can prevent the reactivity that suffocates us. It can help us prioritise and live each day in a manner that honours us and what we care about.
  3. Energy. Do you possess the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual energy to be your best self? Do you strategically recover every day and night? Do you wake up feeling refreshed? Do you exercise regularly and eat well? Do you practice gratitude or mindfulness?

If you’re fatigued, your energy is obviously depleted. Without energy, we cannot function effectively. Our ‘craft’ is impaired. Managing and nurturing our energy must be prioritised. Whilst we know this, we struggle to do it. A lack of self-compassion and not knowing our why (your purpose), are linked to why we don’t. If we want to change behaviour, we need to discover a strong enough motivator to do so. If you want to make change, channel Simon Sinek’s mantra, ‘Start with Why’!

COVID-19 is unprecedented. There are challenges aplenty. However, this is a time where we can recalibrate our minds to absorb not only what’s going on now, but to also protect our future. It’s a valuable time to lead self and become an even better version of our current selves.

Self-compassion, purpose and energy will help us do this.

As a winner of Junior Wimbledon, Queen’s, the Australian Open mixed doubles with Sam Stosur, a regular Davis Cup player and ranked in the top 50 players in the world, Scott Draper boasts a formidable tennis career; add to that a professional golf title and incredible off-court story, he is an experienced high performer. Opinions are his own.


4 thoughts on “Sustainable performance – how to increase the probability of achieving it

  1. Agreed Scott. Often people are busy being busy. They are not stopping and working out what is important for the day. For some that could be sleep, exercise, or time with family. We use a tool called REACH to analyse peoples effectiveness as influential leaders. There are some key skills people need to build to be more agile as a leader and REACH gives you a summary of where you are and how to increase your influence as a leader.

  2. Great article and tips to recalibrate our performance during adversity – leading yourself through self compassion, purpose and energy! Thanks for sharing Scott!

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