Performance | Apr 8, 2021
A summary of key learnings from Leaders Performance Institute members across the month of March.

With the first quarter of 2021 coming to a close, it was another fruitful month of learning across the Leaders Performance Institute.

By Luke Whitworth

Once again it was full on across our Communities of Practice, Virtual Roundtables and network connections, which have driven both challenging and stimulating conversation.

As always, with these varieties of learning opportunities, interactions and conversations brought together practitioners from across high performance to discuss their current challenges, immediate priorities through a number of different learning environments.

So what really stood out to us in March? What resonated? What key themes came through strongly? Here, we outline the key takeaways.

Community Group Calls:

Across our Community Group conversations – which bring together Leaders Performance Institute Members with similar job functions and challenges – three areas came through strongly:

Psychological safety in coaching

Psychological safety was the focus of the Institute’s Special Report last month, but it was also a major part of other conversations, notably across those individuals leading coach development practice. There was a common agreement that the coach of the future has to be adept at creating psychological safety for their athletes.

Another interesting thread that alluded to the importance of other practitioners influencing psychological safety and not just performance psychologists: ‘the overall concept of psychological safety sits in that person-first area – one of the dangers is that psychological safety as a concept can drift into the psychology and the mental skills side, but we have to be careful as it is really the social side of the person’.

There was also some other good considerations for all practitioners: perception of risk – what is the individual’s perception? If you understand individual perception of safety, then how do you use professional judgement to adapt and flex your style to create an appropriate amount of support and challenge in a developmental sense? Finally, it goes without saying feedback is a critical piece, but it’s the consistency of that feedback that has the ability to really influence psychological safety: if we are encouraging risk taking, making mistakes and learning through experiences, you can’t harass someone for making a mistake as you’re creating that inconsistency and anxiety around what the person is really being asked to do.

Creating genuinely individualised performance pathway programmes

This month also saw the first Leaders Performance Institute webinar of the year, in which we focused our attention on ‘The Effectiveness of Performance Pathways for Nurturing Young Talent’. Across one of the Communities of Practice, we used this webinar as a conversation starter to explore more specific questioning. One of those questions was: how feasible is it to create a genuinely individualised programme?

So, what was the thinking? There was acknowledgement that we can think quite structurally about the pathway but the reality is that every individual athlete is going on their own pathway. The group also identified the importance of individual experiences and how sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking that an individualised programme is very different and bespoke; but if you assess the needs of everyone across a programme, there will be more commonality in what they need than difference. Therefore, we need to think about the things that we really need to explore to identify the difference. A parting comment alluded to the question of: who facilitates conversations about individualising a programme – we probably all have a different perspective on this whether these should be coach-led, independently led or through the multi-disciplinary team? It’s a good question to ask ourselves.

Strategic thinking and planning

I think it’s fair to say this is one of the most challenging threads to talk about for high performance leaders and teams at the moment. We need to have that strategic thinking occurring to stay abreast of performance, but with obvious challenges like the pandemic and the ambiguity it brings, our thinking is clouded.

So what resonated? Strategically speaking, if there isn’t enough information it’s OK to just wait and make the decision when we’ve got what we need. With this mode of thinking, we are more likely to get a right decision. Continuing to chase what may not eventuate is not efficient use of time. Being patient is a simple takeaway – delay doesn’t mean denial. We can choose to wait because it’s a decision, we’re choosing to be decisive with by saying we’re going to hold.

Finally, clarity of message. A lot can be pointed back to how we communicate, what we communicate and what message we send to our athletes and people we are dealing with around the strategy we want to put in place.  Are we really clear, honest and upfront about it?

Virtual Roundtables:

In March, over 50 of our members participated in three Virtual Roundtables, which featured two topic-led discussions (Training for Pressure Situations and Keys to Cultural Evolution) and our second Leadership Skills Session which focused on the relationship between psychological safety and providing difficult feedback. Here’s some of what resonated with the participants.

Training for pressure situations

In a calendar year full of major competition, the ability to perform under pressure will be more important than ever, so we explored what some of the current challenges and thinking was around this topic. There we three key stages that were outlined:

1. If you are going to apply pressure to younger talent, it’s crucial there is trust between athlete and coach – there needs to be a collective understanding that the pressure is about learning for the coach and for you.

2. Elevating pressure across the week – it follows an inverted ‘U’ as you go throughout the week. Earlier in the week when you are learning you’re not increasing pressure as much as we are focused on checking for understanding, in the middle of the week you put it under pressure and test it, but a key thing is to taper off at the end of the week to allow for execution and reinforcement to be done well.

3. One of the most important skills to have as a coach is the ability to check for understanding. How do you follow up and see that they have actually taken something away from the situation? We would ask ourselves questions who are we going to follow up with and what are we going to look for? You can never create a perfect game-like scenario, but you have to make sure you follow up to see if the messages have landed around what you’ve tried to put in place.

Providing difficult feedback

Within our second Leadership Skills Series session of 2021, we explored the ability to open up and have honest conversations about opportunities for improvement or issues, and how fundamental this is for high performance. A model for consideration is Skilled Candour, a concept built on some of the work from Kim Scott around Radical Candour.

The key insight here is looking at two skills for giving difficult feedback: the first skill is to create psychological safety in the context of that conversation and the second skill is to speak directly – saying exactly what needs to be said. So what are the four quadrants that make up a model of being able to create safety and speak directly?


1. Skilled Candour: is when you combine psychological safety with direct feedback. People hear a clear message, while feeling both unjudged and supported.

2. Ruinous Empathy: this is where we see an opportunity for somebody to be better, but we hold back from offering that feedback because we don’t want to hurt their feelings.

3. Aggression: where we do speak directly but we don’t create sufficient psychological safety?

4. Insincerity: this is where we avoid the direct feedback, not out of empathy, but out of concern for ourselves e.g. when we don’t speak truth to power because we want to preserve our role. Passive aggressive behaviour which is neither caring nor clear also fits into this box.

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