By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service
At IFS UNLEASED in Miami a couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear from the most successful and most decorated Olympian of all time with a total of 28 medals, Michael Phelps. While I’m not a swimmer and have never followed the sport, I was very interested to hear from a household name like Michael and understand more about the person behind the achievements. His session did not disappoint!
I’ve talked often about how much I value authenticity. It’s a trait that I always aim for and appreciate when others do the same – it’s also a trait I believe is in high demand from leaders today. Michael oozed authenticity – he showed up with no false pretenses, no ego, no need to be anything but 100% himself. I respected and enjoyed that so much and believe the entire audience benefited from his willingness to be open and transparent.
As he shared stories from the span of his career, he retold experiences through a lens of self-reflection that not only illustrated how much he’s grown and evolved as a person but also made his journey relatable even for those of us who will never take part in an Olympics.
I wanted to share with you all a few of the points from Michael’s session that really resonated with me and reflect on how they relate to some of the topics that are top of mind within service today:
- Whether you fail or succeed, keep right on going. Michael said, “The day after I set the World Record, I got right back in the water to train.” He didn’t take time off, whether he was working to improve or working to maintain success. This is the idea of continuous improvement, and with the pace of change in service today, we must keep on swimming – whether we have far to go or are working to maintain a competitive pace.
- You get the results you deserve. “I got the results I deserved every single Olympics,” Michael said. Facing nerves at his first Olympics, he took it as a learning experience to help prepare for the next race. He discussed how you cannot expect to get the results you want if you are not willing to do what is needed to prepare – and I think this parallels the concept I wrote about here that some companies claim to want the benefits of transformation but aren’t willing to do the work it takes to achieve those benefits. Your results are reflective of your effort.
- The small things matter. Michael shared a couple of stories about how much the details come into play in races as close as an Olympic swim. In one story, he discussed how his goggles filled with water during a race which made it impossible for him to see. If he’d have taken even the briefest pause to clear his goggles, he’d have lost – but with the amount of preparation he’d put in and the level of detail he included in that preparation, he knew exactly how many strokes it took him to get from one end of the pool to the next. So, without being able to see, he was able to win by counting his strokes. “The small things matter, and they show up in the most pressured situations when they matter the very most,” Michael said. “I’d spent six straight years of every single day in the pool, so I had more feel for the water than anyone and relied on that when I needed.” This is a great example of the power of details and a great reminder that sometimes the smallest things can present the biggest challenges – make sure as you plan for change or growth, you consider what small things will play a big role.
- We must break the stigma around mental health. Michael asked for a show of hands from the audience of who had struggled with feelings of loneliness during the pandemic, and a sea of hands raised with mumbles of appreciation for such an honest question. He shared a personal story of being a young child struggling with ADHD who was told by a teacher he’d never amount to anything because he couldn’t sit still, and of battling thoughts of ending his life after his DUI. Michael had the strength to ask for help and to learn how to live with his ADHD, depression, an anxiety and urges others to do the same. He began the Michael Phelps Foundation to help children avoid some of the struggles he faced. “I feel lucky every day waking up to make a difference in people’s mental health,” he says. “Communication is the key to breaking the stigma around mental health.” We know that better addressing mental health in the workplace is a huge area of concern and focus – it was great to see someone with the fame of Michael speaking about the topic so openly on stage.
- The importance of communication can’t be overemphasized. Michael talked about how since his career started in childhood and was maintained into adulthood, communication with his coach was imperative – what he needed at the beginning of their relationship was far different than what he needed later in his life. In any form of change, we need to remember the critical importance communication plays – it is one of those seemingly “small” things that can truly make or break the relationship you have with your employees (or customers) and their engagement and satisfaction.
- Goals motivate people. “What are you directed towards? Goals motivate me,” said Phelps. “If you’re not challenging yourself, you’re cheating yourself.” It’s hard for most people to harness motivation if they don’t have something specific to direct it toward. This is important to remember in terms of considering how you motivate the different personality and skill types within your workforce – the goals they have will be different, but no one thrives in ambiguity and having something specific and agreed to work toward will help your teams achieve more.
- The great do things the good won’t. “No one feels 100% every day, some days you have to fight through that,” acknowledged Michael. “But if your goal matters to you, you get up and go. The different between being great and good is that great do things the good won’t – they’re ok getting uncomfortable.” While you can’t expect all your talent to fall into the “great” category, this point does beg the question of how you will work to acknowledge, appreciate, and reward those who are willing to go above and beyond.