Feedback: The Key to Performing At Your Best

What’s your favourite event of the Olympic Games?

Swimming?

Football?

Gymnastics?

For the last 15 years, can you guess the primary focus of every Olympic athlete, regardless of sport?

Practise? Wrong.

Well… partially wrong. It’s actually ‘deliberate practise’.

There’s a mistaken idea that practice makes perfect. It doesn’t. Perfect practice makes perfect.

The Importance of Feedback

Can you imagine an Olympic athlete hiring a coach with the following admonition: “I only want you to tell me the good things I’m doing. I don’t want opportunities for improvement. I don’t want corrections. Just reinforce the good things.”

Is that reasonable? Of course not!

The reality is, great athletes do something many of us don’t even think about. They intentionally seek, get, and use feedback.

Instead of seeking feedback, most of us wait until someone gives it to us. And then many of us don’t use the feedback once we have it.

So how can we learn from these world-class athletes?

In 1927, Wheaties coined the phrase, “Breakfast of Champions.” Since then, they’ve featured numerous athletes from Lou Gehrig to Mary Lou Retton to Michael Phelps on the box. And while nutrition is undeniably valuable, something beyond nutrition is at work in these athletes. They use feedback to become their best.

Every Olympic athlete knows that feedback is the breakfast of champions. (It’s usually the lunch and dinner too.)  Each constructive piece of information matters.

They think, “If you tell me to lower my centre of gravity and tuck my elbow in, I may take a thousandth of a second off my time. That could be the difference in standing on the podium with a medal and going home empty-handed.”

Olympians understand that every piece of feedback is valuable.

That’s not just true in the world of sports. It’s also true in the corporate world.

Several years ago, I received a phone call from the CEO of a hospital that had been voted the “hospital of the decade.” What an honour!

Their patient satisfaction and employee engagement scores were off the charts. They were clearly successful, but the CEO told me, “While we have accomplished incredible things, there is nothing that fails like success. I’d like you to spend a day teaching my team to understand how to give and receive feedback.”

Those are two separate skills.

  1. How do you give feedback?
  2. How do you receive feedback?

Both are crucial. When you withhold feedback from others, you are withholding their future. And when you fail to use the feedback given to you, you fail to be your best.

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