“Can you perform under pressure?”

imgresHere is a brief excerpt from an article by Kate Kane for Fast Company magazine. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

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Question: What do the navy Seals, the U.S. Ski Team, and the Tucson Police Department have in common?

Answer: More than you might think.

Every day, members of these organizations make critical decisions under pressure with less information than they’d like. And ultimately, not everyone makes the grade. Which is why all three organizations have turned to the same expert to help select people who can handle the strain, help coach people who can’t, and otherwise improve personal and group performance.

Robert Nideffer is CEO of Enhanced Performance Systems in San Diego. He rose to prominence as a sports psychologist two decades ago after his book, The Inner Athlete, became a sensation.

These days, more and more of Nideffer’s clients are companies struggling to master the new realities of business competition. But whether the playing field is sports or business, his diagnostic tool is the same: a 144-item questionnaire called The Attentional and Interpersonal Style (TAIS) inventory. There are no right or wrong answers on TAIS. But the logic of the test incorporates Nideffer’s worldview: the difference between who wins and who loses has less to do with technical skills than with mental toughness. It’s about how well people can focus their minds and manage their emotions under stress.

Nideffer is not shy about his claims for the test. “With the information from TAIS and a one-hour interview,” he says, “I can tell you more about the conditions under which your people will succeed or fail than you’d know by working with them on a daily basis for a year.” Lots of companies, including Nabisco, Harley-Davidson, and Citibank, seem to agree. They’ve all used TAIS as part of their selection and training processes.

We asked Nideffer to advise Fast Company readers on performing under pressure — to identify the new rules that separate winners from losers.

[Here is the first of four.]

Rule #1: There Is No Second Place

When the best sprinters in the world lined up to run the 100-meter dash in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, each had the physical, technical, and tactical skills needed to win a gold medal. They had spent four years preparing for a race that would last 10 seconds. They understood the tremendous emotional and economic differences between first and second place. In situations where there are no clear technical advantages and where everyone is motivated, psychological factors — like the ability to concentrate and control your emotions — determine who wins. Is business all that different from sports? As business becomes more complex, you have to take bigger risks to win. And the consequences of failure are more severe than ever. That means individual performance is more visible than ever. There’s no substitute for putting the right people in the right positions at the right time.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Robert M. Nideffer received his Ph.D. in clinical and experimental psychology from Vanderbilt University. He has been an associate professor in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Rochester, a professor at the California School of Professional Psychology, and a part time professor in the departments of physical education and psychology at San Diego State University. In 1985, he was a visiting fellow in the department of biological sciences at Cumberland College of Health Sciences in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of Enhanced Performance Systems.

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