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What I’ve Learned: Gary Keegan, Irish Institute of Sport on what makes a winning coach and Rio Olympics 2016

Gary Keegan is the Director of the Irish Institute of Sport which delivers support to high performance athletes, coaches and leaders.   IMI recently contributed to the enhancement of their Pursuit of Excellence Programme – a development programme for elite Irish sports coaches in the run up to the Rio Olympics.  The programme was launched at IMI this week. Gary was previously Performance Director for the Irish Amateur Boxing Association and is an alumnus of the Advanced Development Programme at the IMI. 

Achieving great performance is all about people.    It sounds a bit of a cliché but it's true – it was true when I worked in boxing and it’s true now in a multi-sport environment.  It’s true in business also.  What we are all really doing as managers, leaders or coaches is shaping people and organisational performance.  We celebrate great sports-people as icons  – but I've met some extraordinary people in business.  Leaders who have taken big risks to grow their organisation calculated of course but not overly so. We operate in competitive environments that are both complex and dynamic.  In these environments if you're not taking risks you're not achieving at the higher end of your potential.

I've been extremely lucky.   If I look back honestly I think I got things right in terms of focus on the right stuff but without knowing they were right until we saw the improvements in performance!  I now know that what makes the difference is the ability to be clear on where you want to get to .. and focusing on the things that will make the difference.  When I was with the Irish Amateur Boxing Association I felt a very strong draw towards being clear about our ambitions in other word what we were here to achieve.  It wasn't pulled out of a management book – it just felt right.  I knew we had to focus on our ambitions and engage around that vision and that purpose that dialog draws people to want to battle with themselves and together to grow to achieve something wider than just results.  It drives your attention to the right place.  Of course it's always in the context of the bottom line – for business or sport that’s about results.  But it's important not to get distracted!  If you get stuck on the details then you can lose sight of the vision both things are interrelated and there needs to be an ongoing interplay between both.

You can be promoted as a manager but it is followers that make a leader.   The manager role is something your organisation promotes you into, becoming a coach or a leader is something that you have to earn – you have to have given that position by those who choose to follow you.  The key thing is that it is a relationship, it is a partnership and it is built on credibility and trust – it is built on expertise and it requires your bringing something to the table that enhances people and their performance.

We need to pay as much attention to our coaches as to our performers..  One mistake I regularly see is an over-focus on the talent – when what matters is the growth potential and drawing that out.   For the Olympics in Rio in 2016 I want us to go into it with the recognition that the coaches themselves are also performers – and that they are also expected to deliver.  We are sending these people into a complex, "edge of chaos" scenario in terms of what they have to manage. There are multiple complex parts and multiple relationships that they have to take into account.  What we are trying to do with our Pursuit of Excellence Programme is to prepare and support coaches to deliver their performance and to be aware of what they are being held accountable for.  We want them to know, it's not going to be easy – you're going to fall on your face, get hurt mentally and emotionally, just as you might expect.  If we' are looking to compete on the global stage we really have to stretch ourselves and our coaches need to be supported and managed to take those risks.  If we can see past the challenges and focus on the potential we will achieve big things.

Gary Keegan spoke to Eva Maguire.

The Pursuit of Excellence Programme for the Rio Olympics 2016 luanched this week.  For more information on the programme see http://www.irishsportscouncil.ie/Institute-of-Sport/

IMI will be holding an IMI Leadership Masterclass: Building Blocks for Emotionally Intelligent Leadership with – Dr Martyn Newman with Dr. Martyn Newman on 25th Feburary.

IMI run a Diploma in Executive Coaching which combines modern coaching techniques for high performance with a thorough grounding in modern organisational realities which is part of the IMI Master of Business,  a flexible Masters framework for professionals.

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