Building the Most Successful Team of All Time

“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”

—Daniel Goleman, author and psychologist

“Negative emotions like loneliness, envy and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that something needs to change.”

—Gretchen Rubin, author

The New Zealand All Blacks are the most successful rugby team of all time. The All Blacks percentage of wins? 76.4% over 526 tests (1903-2014). Add to that—and because of that—the All Blacks have also been ranked #1 in the World Rugby organization’s rankings for 5 years running.

So, how does one of the most profoundly successful sports teams in the world do it? Is it the training? The teamwork? The plays? Or might it be their world-famous haka dance? (You can watch a video of them performing the haka dance prior to a match by clicking this YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Gbj_ig09WQ.)

Image depicts a graph of the 5 main components of Emotional Intelligence: Empathy, Social Skills, Self-Regulation/Management, Motivation/Passion, and Self-Awareness.
Emotional intelligence involves 5 main components: motivation/passion, self-awareness, empathy, social skills, and self-regulation/management. The All Blacks team concentrated on self-regulation.

Hmm… It’s probably a combination of the above. But, as Daniel Coyle, author of “The Talent Code,” points out, please note: The All Blacks do something the rest of us could and should copy. They take lessons from a sports psychologist to strengthen their emotional intelligence (EI) muscles.

Daniel Goleman, author of mounds of EI work, insists that those with high EI far out perform those lacking EI acumen, trumping IQ and technical skill as drivers of success. Apparently, the All Blacks got the message. So, they solicited the help of a famous sports psychologist to help them with—what is called in the EI lingo—self-regulation. In other words, the All Blacks studied ways to maintain what Hemingway called “grace under pressure.”

Self-regulation. Think of it as managing one’s mood. “Shaking it off” in instances of failure, adversity and setbacks. Finding the lesson in the loss. Refusing to choke when the pressure is on. Managing one’s impulses. Thinking before you simply act and, in doing so, heading off otherwise potentially embarrassing and career-limiting behavior like throwing a temper tantrum, saying what cannot be taken back, pressing the “send” button on that nasty email (oops!), and egging the boss’ car when you think no one is looking.

Positive psychology expert Shawn Achor of The Happiness Advantage fame would say that self-regulation means putting the Thinker (rational brain) in charge of the Jerk (amygdala or reptilian brain). Some would call this “remaining even-keeled” or “keeping a proper grip on things.”

The idea of self-regulation is easy to understand. But how do you do it? The methods are many and varied, but we will cover only one here. We will take a lesson from the repertoire of the All Blacks, learned during their time with the sports psychologist. The technique is called Red Head/Blue Head and anyone can do it.

Like all things that are properly named, Red Head/Blue Head works much like it sounds. Red Head means that the Jerk is in charge and the meter of mood is H.O.T.—that is, hot, overwhelmed and tense. Blue Head means that Thinker has taken back some control and so cool, controlled and grounded prevail. Better decisions can be made and better performance can be accomplished.

To exploit the power of Red Head/Blue Head, one must be able to do the same 3 things the All Blacks learned to do:

  1. Strive to make Blue Head a steady state.
  2. Notice when you are entering Red Head mode.
  3. Employ a physical or mental trigger to move back into Blue Head.

So, become aware of when you are in Blue Head state. As soon as Red Head begins to rear its ugly head, go into action. Breathe deeply. Take a brief walk to shake it off. Visualize a calm and serene place. Make a note in your journal—but for your eyes only.

That’s all there is to it. Above everything else, simply know: To change one’s mind is not only possible, it’s one of the powerful tools you can use to boost performance.

Questions for thought:

  • What emotional responses often get in the way of your best performance?
  • What is your plan to manage those emotions more successfully?
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