The one where it’s make or break

On Thursday night I was fortunate enough to go the Classic Brits at the Royal Albert Hall as the guest of one of the sponsors (thank you PPL). I must admit I went along for no other reason than not looking a gift horse in the mouth, what reason was there not to? The one negative up front was that Russell Watson was singing… I don’t have a problem with his voice but as a brand he makes my skin crawl I don’t know why. As it turns out he didn’t rock up (no reason given) so my skin was safe. The highlight of the evening turned out to be a 74 year old Welsh woman in the form of Dame Shirley Bassey singing “Goldfinger” in a tribute to sadly departed John Barry – AMAZING! Not just her powerful and distinctive voice but the way she completely owned the stage.

I have been lucky enough to attend some amazing concerts in my time (gigs and concerts) and the common thing is the respect and awe for the people who can stand up there and do that. This could apply to many people from Thursday night but for example, Alison Balsom. She’s a 32 year old British trumpet player. She won female artist of the year. She was appointed Professor of Trumpet at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama at 22!!! (which feels just like showing off). But still she stood there on Thursday night have changed from ‘award winner’ frock into ‘performer’ frock and with only 14 musicians to accompany hear put a trumpet to her mouth and created the most amazing sound. What was going through her mind whilst she did it? How did she deal with her nerves? How did she cope with increased pulse and skin temperature when any affect on her breathing would hinder her performance? What was the psychology of her awesome achievement?

Like many of us, I do a fairly normal job. I go to an office, I go to meetings, I try and not overspend my budget, I write business cases, I talk to my team, I talk to my peers, I make presentations – you know….the usual. My success or failure isn’t defined by 4 minutes stood on a stage, it’s defined in different ways by different people and in some cases through different people. So how would my mind cope with standing on the stage in the Royal Albert Hall for 4 minutes?

When I was a youth I worked in Media Sales, I was one of those people who had to try and reach the decision maker, ask the dopey question and try against all odds to get a meeting to sell an advert. It was the most incredible learning experience and as I sit here now some years later I would rather have hot pokers stuck in my eyes than have to do it again. The MD of the business I worked for was a fan of Brian Tracy and his “Psychology of Achievement” books/tapes/videos/seminars (all available at very high price from etc). Whilst I’m sure Tracy’s methods work for some I personally couldn’t stand and repeat at least 20 times “today I am going to be better than I was yesterday” – it just felt too American (ironically Tracy is Canadian), too false and made my skin responded in exactly the same way it does to Russell Watson…

That being said if you think about Alison Balsom, or Tiger Woods (before his wife hit him with a golf club) or any person stood in front of a pair of rugby posts with the weight of a nation on their shoulders – how do you cope with all of the noise going through your mind? The noise or even worse deathly hush of the crowd? The lack of sleep the night before and the dreams where it all goes wrong? There’s a line in the TV show “The West Wing” where the Chief of Staff says to the President “elections are won or lost on one square foot of real estate”, he then points at his head…

I don’t have the answer and would be really interested to hear people’s views about dealing with anxiety, pressure and that make or break moment, but the thing that Balsom and Woods have in common aside from talent is practice. They do their performance thousands of times before they get anywhere near the stage/fairway and whilst you get better as a professional doing a “normal” job over time is there anything we can learn from these amazing talents that would benefit organisations?

I hope to get some thoughts/challenges/answers to the questions posted above but will leave you to think about that with what to me is a great example of talent+practice+mindset=result

and it’s been bothering me there was no balance. This is not directly related to the post but had to be done, and to quote Max Boyce “I was there”



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3 responses to “The one where it’s make or break

  1. So have just seen the Andy Muray vs Novsk Djokovic semi final match, where they were playing for a place in the final at the Rome Masters against Rafael Nadal. It was an awesome match that captures many elements of what you’re talking about above. How do they do this? How do they play at such. High level, in front of a crowd, watched by live audience, making each other work hard for their points?

    My CEO heard a talk by Sir Clive Woodward in which he talked about how he helped train the England team to win the rugby world cup. Amongst a range of key factors he helped instil in the team, was something he called TCUP – Thinking Correctly Under Pressure.

    This is, I think, the key factor these high performing people have the capability to do, both through training and through natural ability. And that’s also what Sir Clive was getting his team to be – high performing.

    We’ve tried to take that learning and apply it to our Leadership programme. It was hit and miss. Not because it wasn’t applicable, but because we didn’t frame it in the right way nor did we give the right context in which it could be used. I’m still working on that, but it’s certainly an interesting point of view I never considered before.

    • Sukh, continuing the Twitter conversation, I too like Sir Clive’s stuff and have read his book “Winning” and whilst it’s not robust it certainly makes sense to me and I have used some of the structures in team sessions. That said it does concern me a little that he has never been able to repeat this success in 2003 although his role in the 2012 Olympics potentially gives him opportunity to at least try. I am not trying to challenge what he achieved in 2003 but….

      As to the question you raised about “what enabled England to win?” one could argue it was a confluence of events i.e. a group of talented players, the leadership of Martin Johnson on the field, the boot of Jonny Wilkinson, the draw England recieved etc etc etc but I don’t doubt that Woodward’s actions and strategy had a huge impact but I ask myself the question if Jonny had missed the drop goal would his book have sold as many?

      • Karen Bosher

        In response to your relief at not having to tolerate Russell Watson I feel the need to spring to his defence. Many years ago I had a call whilst working for Woolies to say we were going to have a personal appearance at Luton store from an up and coming young tenor. I was very sceptical that a) Woolies would be a target draw for classical opera and b) Luton were ready for even the most lightweight popular opera.
        I had never heard of Russell Watson but due to my decent from a line of opera singers ( My Grandfather and Aunt all sang in the Welsh National Opera) I was mildly interested. When he turned up he was really enthusiastic. He met with all the team and really made an effort – we engaged with him without hearing a note. I seem to remember he had a very irritating manager called Perry – but that was the only fly in the ointment. He changed into the most immaculate suit I have EVER SEEN and we went downstairs – the shop on a wet Weds quite empty apart from the odd old man buying toffee. We put some pallets on the floor to ‘raise him up’ and he started singing – no backing track, no musicians, nothing just him. He was MAGNIFICENT. Within minutes the shop was full of a quiet group who were clearly from very diverse backgrounds. Everyone was mesmerised by his talent, his gift – it really was quite humbling. So in response to your thoughts Mr J I would say great talent and the human touch always win – simple folk, of which I regard myself, always recognise the exceptional – Russell Watson in my experience can join these ranks.

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