Six simple steps to overcome the greatest challenge

The Rio Olympics are just around the corner, so athletes from all over the world are making their final preparations to take on the greatest challenges of their lives. Their superhuman standards seem near impossible for any normal mortal to attain and so we sit back and marvel at the dedication, skill, focus and hunger on display.

Despite these athletes being a ‘class apart’ from normal human beings, greater challenges seem to be all around us these days. The need to keep up with an ever increasing pace of work and life. Greater and greater workloads being placed on us. And the really meaty ‘one off’ challenges that seem to come along with increasing frequency – a special project, dealing with a tough target, a need to go ‘above and beyond’ in any way.

At Strengths Partnership, a couple of the team decided to undertake a personal challenge last month – to travel the 100 kilometres from Richmond Park in London to Brighton racecourse on the South coast in a single day, on foot. Well we managed the task, in 20 hours, and felt that we should share our recommended 6 steps to successfully taking on any major challenge, whether personal or work-related, that came from our reflections in the days after the event.

1. Have a realistic plan and measure yourself against it.

Although we didn’t meet our expected time plan, we did have a plan, and we checked ourselves against it regularly to see how we were doing. This helped us to see that we were making progress, even when progress seemed slow and difficult.

Tip: make sure your plan is realistic rather than too optimistic – the second half of our challenge took twice as long as we had expected!

2. What truly motivates you?

We ran a route which was for both of us home to home; London where we work and Brighton where our families are. This, as well as the glass of champagne awaiting us at the finish line, was a huge internal driver for us. That said, during those tough moments it wouldn’t have been enough…we needed a deep understanding what motivates us individually and together as a team to reach our goal. We needed to understand what our strengths meant to us, what our combination of strengths meant to each other and an awareness of how and when to dial-up/ dial-down and stretch our individual strengths to bring the best out of each other as a team. This over 20 hours is as essential as food and water, no doubt.

3. Get amazing support.

During our training and on the day of the challenge itself, we had incredible support from friends, family and the team at Strengths Partnership. We got a near continuous stream of motivational messages and videos from our support team through WhatsApp which really helped to keep our spirits up throughout.

Tip: actually ask for help and support and people will be delighted to give it.

4. Practice shared leadership.

It’s widely known in research that the best leaders understand how to call on others to reach objectives – Lincoln talked about a team of rivals, Jobs talked about sharing the stage. These are very different examples but both highlight the need over a long-term goal to draw on the strengths of those around you and share the load. During the uphill battles the leader with longer strides drives ahead, drawing on collaboration strengths to share motivational messages and create a vision at the top of the hill for others to follow. Then at the top, encouraging another leader to step forward to navigate through different terrain which better plays to their strengths. Awareness of this allowed performance to remain consistently high (measured in this case by steps & miles!) and ultimately a team goal to be reached more effectively.

5. Celebrate successes along the way.

100km is a long way, 20 hours on your feet is a long time, and it’s hard to stay motivated if you’re only focused on the final finish line as the point where you can celebrate success. From a few km into the challenge we got into the habit of whooping each time we passed a km marker which chunked up the challenge into smaller, more achievable targets.

Tip: don’t miss obvious opportunities to celebrate small successes along the way.

6. Keep a positive mindset – to cope with the unexpected.

Enthusiasm and optimism – bringing the buzz to a team, making the dream seem real, motivating through tough times, smiling even though your brain (and everyone around you!) is telling you you’re mad. Unrealistic optimism is what drives revolutions, renaissances and it’s essential to any team who wishes to achieve what they didn’t think possible. Equally important though, is allowing people the space to feel negative and to feel despondent. This might sound odd but it is imperative to support them, understand why they feel this way and pull (NOT push!) them back by chunking challenges into realistic bites which they can quickly achieve to feel back on the path of possibility!

We have covered some essential points here (which can be seen in further detail in our recent publication Optimize Your Strengths) to help individuals, teams and Olympic athletes alike achieve what they honestly didn’t think possible. Sharing a Vision: setting yourself/ your team that stretched picture of success, plan it but be realistic! Sparking Engagement: bringing people along with you on the journey, getting people behind you and giving you that extra push to lift and carry you at those moments you need them the most. Skilfully Executing: ensuring you have awareness of everything you need to make your picture of success a reality. We’ve spoken a lot about motivation, strengths and vision so for all of you with common sense/ initiative/ efficiency strengths the practical what do we need to get us there is equally important! Head torches for example are not to be forgotten… Finally, to Sustain Progress over time you have to share that stage, grow leaders around you, keep a positive mindset, create a culture where it’s okay to be you and to voice that when things get tough and equally celebrate every success along the way. Why? Because it’s fun, it’s positive and we know positive people perform at their best!

Paul Brewerton, Managing Director and Anthony Fitton, Business Development Manager, Strengthscope