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Lessons from Leaders: Leaders Sport Performance Summit, Los Angeles 2018

The key takeaways from the Red Bull Media House in Santa Monica.

It was a jam packed day at Red Bull as we kicked off the 2018 Sport Performance Summit series in style at our third annual event in sunny California.


We’ve already gathered a bunch of lessons from all the sessions to make sure you can implement the learnings back into your organisations, and so you can prove you weren’t just in L.A. for a jolly up, of course.

As ever, all the session videos will be made available on the member’s platform on the Leaders Performance Institute website as early as next week, and there’ll be a variety of supplementary insight – in video, on podcast and through written pieces – to come.

Without further ado, here, in brief, are the standout bits from the sessions of the Leaders Sport Performance Summit, Los Angeles 2018.

Fancy joining us for our next summit in Chicago this July? Click here to find out more about the event, or here to get in touch. 


1. Checkmate: A Masterclass in Evaluating Risk & Trusting Intuition

This was both a verbal and physical masterclass from Hikaru Nakamura, the Red Bull athlete and #1 chess player in the United States. He was honest, open and passionate when speaking of his raw talent as child prodigy-turned world class athlete, all the while he dismantled the ‘amateur’ Steve Gera, moderator and challenger, at numerous games of chess throughout the session. Hikaru was quick to highlight the mental toughness the impact of tech, pattern recognition amongst other factors that have helped him become world class. Oh, and he can play and win matches blindfolded, too. As you do.

Key takeaways:

• Pattern recognition plays a big role in the way Hikaru learns. Not only does it help him memorise hundreds of moves, it also helps to highlight when he isn’t doing things right.
• The hardest match is sometimes when you’re winning. There’s a tendency to get ahead of yourself or even to get complacent. It’s important not to cloud the mind.
• Hikaru tries to work out the style of play and tactical strategy of his opponent in their first few moves. Like many sports, you’re trying to solidify the middle of the ‘board’. Sometimes he can work out the opposition at the start, while sometimes it’s on a move-by-move basis.
• The two most important things during a match: 1. Find the best solutions to your opponents game. 2. Stay calm.
• Hikaru is always looking 5-10 moves down the road, and has a bank of solutions in his head. In a lead up to a tournament he’s practicing 6-7hrs every day for two weeks, so you have to be mentally strong and patient.
• He could play 50-100 boards at a time. Essentially, he could play blindfold for 15-20 boards up to at one time. It all comes down to pattern recognition.
• Body language is important. Being confident certainly plays a role.
• Nobody plays a perfect game. You’re going to make mistakes, so it’s important to then go and work out what you’ve done wrong and how you can combat that.

 

 

2. Showstoppers: The Key to a Blockbuster Performance

With this being our third event in Los Angeles, it seemed about time that we delved tapped up some Tinsel Town royalty to add to the speaker line-up. And Jim Whitaker certainly didn’t disappoint. With films such as Friday Night Lights, Robin Hood, American Gangster and 8 Mile on his résumé, it was no surprise that this interview – led by Dr. Dehra Harris – was nothing short of a blockbuster. Joy and emotion were two words that cropped up time and again, and it was clear that Jim saw his role on set, and as a leader, to maximise the performance of his team and create an environment where award winning performances were possible.

Key takeaways:

• It’s important to talk about the downs as much as the ups. When Friday Night Lights came around, he wanted to make a film that highlighted the importance of knowing and learning how to lose, emotionally – ‘the emotionality of losing’ if you will.
• Before the start of a project, he really works hard to see the movie in his head. As a leader, you need to be clear about the vision for any project. Be protective about holding the vision.
• If you’re a collaborator, which Jim believes is an important trait of a good leader, then you have to have clarity and an open mind. Be clear when you are making a decision, but also be open to other people’s opinions.
• Jim’s philosophy is that he always wants to lead in a way which is joy based, but also civil.
• To achieve the end goal, you need to infuse a sense of privilege and joy, but also say to them that its great to be focused on the end point
• Jim believes in leading from behind. Watch. Pay attention. He wants to create the most open and creative environment for everyone to show up to perform. From food services to electricians, we need everyone to be in a good moment to perform.
• I’m very resistant to strong arming people. My experience is that not one person is always right. There is usually emotional complexity too. Recognise that it’s an emotional venture, you want to create a safe space for everyone.
• The ecosystem of the movie that is good, will be connected to an outcome that has integrity that is good.

3. Be Connected. Be Discovered: How Facebook Continues to Scale its Culture

‘Culture isn’t a given. Everyone owns the culture, not just the leaders’ was the first quote of the session from Amy Hayes of Facebook, and it immediately set the tone. Just like the company’s culture, we felt on-boarded from the get-go. There was a real passion in the way in which Amy described how they develop employees at Facebook, and lessons of transparency, feedback and development were clearly transferable to sport.

Key takeaways:

• At Facebook, they start on-boarding before an employee starts at the company. They let the first day of a new employees career with the company be what they want it to be.
• They used to get the new employees to list what they didn’t like about previous companies – don’t bring that here! ‘This is now your company’ is splatted across the walls of the office.
• Facebook conducted a company-wide study to find its best managers — and 7 behaviours stood out:

1. They care about their team members.
2. They provide opportunities for growth.
3. They set clear expectations and goals.
4. They give frequent, actionable feedback.
5. They provide helpful resources.
6. They hold their team accountable for success.
7. They recognise outstanding work.

• Employees jump in and out of ‘management’, to become ‘individual contributors’ again. Some people get to a point when they are done with management, and they just want to be a contributor again. Facebook commends that.
• There are no ‘masks’ at Facebook – there is no one thing at home, one thing at work. Employees are more open and vulnerable because of this, which is a good thing.
• Facebook are constantly scanning external companies to make sure they have a good scale of culture, best practice etc. If they like something, they take it and make it ‘Facebooky’.
• Post-project analysis – what did we do well? How can we improve? It’s not about blame, it’s about truly learning. It starts with the leader.
• Lack of psychological safety is a big thing when it comes to obstacles to learning. Facebook want to have an attitude that failure is a good thing, as it’s about learning. If there are risks, and they come to be, then they’re able to combat that and use it as a learning.

 

 

4. Improv & Comedy: Lessons from One of the World’s Most Successful Groups

The award for the most entertaining session goes to Brandon, Ari and the Upright Citizens Brigade. No doubt about that. But what was the best thing about the jokes, improv and acting? They clearly annotated the entertainment with lessons that can be aligned with high performance. Not always an easy thing to do. How can you apply improv to sport I hear you ask? Here’s how…

Key takeaways:

• Yes And – Using positive language is a must. As well as this, creating spaces where people feel supported as they are pushing their comfort levels, creating team dynamics where are confident to communicate with one another, sharing ideas, brainstorming, being honest, all while looking to find solutions to problematic scenarios. The ability to listen and observe are big factors.
• Authenticity – Being yourself will lead to more engagement, more trust and being more persuasive. If you have to make a presentation or speech to your team or colleagues, being authentic will make it more dynamic and stimulating. It will also build chemistry with teammates.
• Being Present & Reading the room – You must be ready to adapt, especially when work in a one-to-one or team dynamic, and have the ability to read what they are doing and saying. This can also be applied to when you are trying to read your opposition, which will help you lead your team. The ability to listen and observe are huge factors.
• People come because they want to perform, but also because they want to be positive and in the right frame of mind to work with teams.
• Improv comedy is a fail based act and form of performance. If we fixated on when we didn’t get it right, we’d never achieve anything.
• When you run into a ‘catastrophe’ in improve, you need to realise that although you try and avoid failure, you actually need to use it to spur you on and improve your performance.
• When Upright Citizens Brigade train and perform, they don’t count goals, they count assists. We use everything as a building block rather than a stumbling block.
• As a leader, you should be open to ideas and finding the positive in something that could be negative. Creatively listening to someone’s problem, then spinning it as a positive. Building off each other’s ideas is an important way to share ideas and build upon performance.

5. Leading the Lakers: The Methodologies of One of Sport’s Brightest Coaches

We were joined by one of the brightest of young coaches in not only in the NBA, but the whole of sport. Two seasons in at the Lakers, the former player, now coach who comes from a family background of basketball is undertaking a rebuilding project with one of the sport’s biggest franchises. No pressure…

His task is to return the Lakers to the dominating times of the ‘50s, ‘80s and ‘00s, as well as stamping his own brand of basketball upon the franchise. He was clearly passionate, enthused and dedicated to the job at hand, and doing things the right way – his way, and the Lakers way.

Key takeaways:

• It’s important not to focus on the result of winning and losing. Finding the joy within the parts of the game as they try to build that culture out is imperative. If the players win but in the wrong way, he’ll come down on the team hard. If they lose but the right way, he’ll say good job. Habits are important, as they’re rebuilding something.
• It starts by the way in which they come into work. “I came from Golden State. Best team. On top. Loose environment. I liked the way that felt. We weren’t ready to do that when we got to LA. So, we stripped it back, and asked what we need to do?”
• “We have a young team, so we can embed things within them and their habit as they won’t know any different. We are on them as a coaching staff, every day in training.”
• “If we’re doing the same thing now as we were 30 games ago, then we are failing the players. We want to be a championship team, so we need to inbed the qualities that we want in our culture.”
• Luke voiced the need for patience. Nearly two seasons in and they’re still at the beginning phases of it. “It’s the identity of how we play. Where are we now? Where were we at the start of the season?”
• Luke puts some of the recent successes down to continuing to build respect with his group, and knows it takes time to get athletes to commit completely. Something they have worked hard on.
• Core to Luke’s leadership style is the ability to understand and work with people. He’s creating a family environment, not purely centred on the business. Top coaches teach you more about life than basketball, and Luke makes sure his door is always open.
• Respect comes above friendship. Yes, Luke wants every to get along, but having respect for one another is the most important thing. “Be a good teammate. “
• Luke wants his staff to be creative in their approach. Create a culture and environment where you are evaluating, analysing and critiquing everything.
• “Part of it is being who I am, being true to who we are.”

 

 

6. Making the Right Call: Evaluating and Implementing New Technologies for a Competitive Advantage

Jeanne has one of the most impressive résumé of any speaker we’ve had on stage at Leaders. She’s currently the Deputy CIO, Asst. GM and Senior Tech Advisor to the Mayor of Los Angeles – a mouthful itself – but with roles with NASA and President Obama on her CV, she knows what she’s talking about when it comes to advising on tech. Investing and implementing new innovations is a constant deliberating in sport, with so many new companies pushing the envelope. Jeanne shared her experience on what to look for making the right decisions, and how to tell if your organisation is ready for tech.

Key takeaways:

• The biggest challenge is understanding what will give an organization a competitive advantage. The most important focuses are evaluation of potential new technologies, and consequently efficient processes for implementation.
• Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) are a type of measurement used to assess the maturity level of a particular technology.
• At NASA, Jeanne was head of the team responsible for evaluating the technology, and used a rating system that helped them decide on tech from project to project. It was called the TRL (Technology Readiness Levels) with 1 being the lowest, and 9 being the highest. See below:

NASA’s Steps to Technological Readiness:

1. Basic principles observed & reported
2. Technology concept and/or application formulated
3. Analytical and experimental critical function and/or characteristic proof-of concept
4. Component and/or breadboard validation in laboratory environment
5. Component and/or breadboard validation in relevant environment
6. System / subsystem model or prototype demonstration in a relevant environment
7. System prototype demonstration in a space environment
8. Actual system completed and ‘flight qualified’ through test and demonstration
9. Actual system ‘flight’ proven through successful mission operations

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