Some mental traumas play out in front of our very eyes. I’ve seen business leaders lose it on the ‘shop floor’, to everyone’s horror. And the individual concerned has been completely unaware of the impact of their behaviour on employees.
Take the Australian tennis player, Nick Kyrgios, 21 who was roundly condemned after he threw one of his matches in front of an expectant crowd. It really was an act of childish petulance, which was comical to watch (albeit I hadn’t paid good money to be entertained). He was sending over school boy serves; walking off court before his opponent had returned the ball; arguing with a spectator and swearing a lot throughout the match.
I watched his press conference afterwards when he said he didn’t owe anyone anything and if people liked tennis why weren’t they on court playing rather than sitting and watching him. That sounded like someone feeling the pressure to me; ‘if you think this is easy, you give it a go and let’s see if you can do any better’.
Like many things, success at sport happens mostly between the ears; and I often used to wonder if Andy Murray would ever be able to get through matches against the top players, without letting his head drop and ultimately beating himself on the court. It’s wonderful now to see him debut as world number one; the first British singles player to hold top spot since computerised rankings began in 1973.
Of interest in this context was Murray’s reaction to Kyrgios’ antics. He acknowledged that professional athletes are in a privileged position and are lucky to be doing what they’re doing, but said there is also a lot of pressure and it’s not always that easy to deal with. He believes the more people can speak up about their issues and their problems, the better, but said there’s not really ever been a culture of that in sport before. In reality, everything is kept under wraps and you’re not supposed to say anything about it.
If athletes are supposed to be mentally strong then so are business leaders. Their antics may not be televised but they are witnessed by employees. I know many managers who believe that owning their emotions and talking about them is weak. And what they fail to recognise is that power lies within vulnerability. Knowing enough without professing to know it all is authentic leadership behaviour. And that has a direct impact on employee productivity.