Dealing with the mental game in the C-suite

Dealing with the mental game in the C-suite
– by Matt English

Golfers will often blame their technique or their clubs when a round of golf does not measure up to expectations. But after some sobering reflection, most will admit that it was really the mind game that beat them as much as the physical aspects. In this regard, we hear the terms mental preparation, mental focus and so on.

But this is relevant not just on the golf course or sporting field. In business, the idea of mental readiness and toughness is just as significant, but often overlooked. Consider the case of a services business which is seeking to win a large deal that will have a major impact on its bottom line and its future. The deal is also high profile and very competitive, and with a large commitment of resources to win the business. In this situation, one would rightly expect a strong focus on the technical quality of the proposal, the nature of the commercials and the value proposition. But three other factors are likely to be at play here for the C-suite executives responsible for winning the business.

The first is simply the amount of pressure on the C-suite executives leading the deal. They will be under major scrutiny from their senior colleagues, and will likely receive significant “therapy” regarding the direction of the deal and its progress. This extra attention can be quite intense and managing it is no trivial matter.

The second is the fear of failure. What if the deal is not successful? What will be the consequences? How can we ensure success? What is the contingency plan? Fear of failure can be a motivator of sorts, but it can also have negative connotations as well.

The third and most important is what might be called the “noise” or distractions around the deal. What is a competitor doing (or purported to be doing)? What view was supposedly expressed by the customer? What is the informal feedback from the customer or from the industry generally?

There are mind games happening with all of the above which threaten winning the business. Doubts or false expectations can arise in the mind of the C-suite and cause a loss of focus, or worse still result in a change of direction that is detrimental. So what can be done?

The most important path for the C-suite is to simulate the above situation and other variations so they can practice and be better prepared for real cases. Airline pilots regularly simulate or practice challenging and difficult scenarios in aviation. How do they respond when confronted with tricky or unusual conditions? In the same way, simulating various business challenges for the C-suite is a key way of shaping not only the right outcome, but also a way of understanding how different executives respond in various situations. Business simulation is not just about case studies, although these are very important. It is about a whole range of tools and techniques that provide real practice around the variability of business deals and the different choices that confront the C-suite, and how effectively they manage the mental game.

Good golfers spend quality time before a big game in preparing themselves mentally. Likewise, executives also should place major emphasis on the mental side of winning business.

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