At the start of the winter Ramon Zenhäusern was a little known Swiss skier who if he was known at all it was for being too tall to be a good slalom skier. In an event where many of the top competitors are around 1.70m – 1.80m Ramon towers above them at 2.00m.
It can’t be much fun being continually told that you are too tall and for a few years Ramon plied his trade on the European Cup circuit recording quite a few top 10. Occasional World Cup appearances tended to end in underwhelming performances and plenty of DNFs as he battled to get his long frame down the course although a couple of top 10s hinted at some potential.
Then this year everything was turned on its head. Ending his 2016/17 season with a win in the European Cup he backed up that performance with a another win at the start of the 2017/18 winter. A string of strong results followed and returning to World Cup competition at Christmas he produced 3 solid top 20 performances in a row before making a breakthrough with 4th place in Wengen after a few competitors crashed out. Watching his post race interview the self belief was bursting through as he started to tell himself ‘I can do this, I belong here’. (I remember another 2.00m tall sportsman a few years ago being told that he was too tall to run a fast 100m and should stick to the 400m – look what happened to Usain Bolt).
In the weeks that followed, liberated by his new found belief, Ramon would go on to win his first World Cup race, and then win silver and gold medals in the Winter Olympics. That’s quite some turnaround and not one that can be attributed to new physical skills, just the power of the mind. As Henry Ford said "Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
We can all think of situations that have changed our perspective on what we are capable of. As coaches or leaders in business we can encourage those that we develop into situations where they can build their self belief by making the competition/task challenging enough without it being sink or swim.