Sarah MacDonald, Founder of The Leadership High (TLH), recently spent time speaking to TLH Belief Partner, Mel Marshall MBE, to find out what enables her to lead on another level. Mel is a world class, award winning elite coach – she is the National Lead Coach for British Swimming and coaches the fastest human on the planet at breaststroke, Olympian Adam Peaty OBE.
What does confidence mean to you?
Three key things come to mind when I think about confidence.
Belief in your authenticity. Your ability to be yourself. Embrace if you’re different, if you have quirks; embrace the way that you go about your business. Authenticity for me is closely linked to confidence.
Working in your grow zone. Even though I’m quite a direct person, when I’ve got really close relationships with people and need to give feedback that I know either hurts them or challenges them, I find that piece very difficult as I am very empathetic. Confidence shows up when I am willing to do something I’m uncomfortable with – when I am in my grow zone.
Owning your state. You can’t fake body language because you can’t just walk in and pretend you’ve got broad shoulders, you really have to feel confident. Confidence comes from things you’ve either worked on or an ultimate belief in your own skill set. When I’m in a confident space, I’m appearing busy, I’m appearing light, I’m appearing humorous. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what it is for everybody else. Other people’s confidence might be a calming presence, a decisive presence, a relaxed presence.
What fuels your confidence?
Space is important to me. My main priority in my role as Head Coach is ensuring I make creative sessions for my athletes. I’m a creative thinker and, when I get bogged down with all the administration, I don’t deliver my best work. So now I organize my week. I have my on-the-ground days on Monday and Tuesday where I can be in my creative space. I have my email-reply days and all of my admin on the Wednesday and Friday afternoon. That way, I can really get the space I need to do the things that I need to do. My role is very diverse – I have to work with the athletes, then I’m in leadership meetings where I have to influence and make decisions. For me to be creative and to feel I’m delivering my best, I need that space, that’s really important.
People – I get fuel from the people around me. I like to have conversations, those ‘corridor conversations’, those connection platforms where creative thinking can happen. For me, putting people before performance is key – if you do that, then the results follow.
Progress is another great fuel for me; when I can see we are making progress or we can win certain situations, or we’re moving towards our goal and we’re on a path that allows us to really get to our goals. Big challenges, but also small process goals along the way are fuel for me.
And walking the dog of course!
Can you share one of your own leadership highs?
One of my leadership highs was seeing my team come together in a planning meeting in 2019 before the Olympics, before the pandemic started. As a staff network, we had all changed in 2016, everybody had new roles, new responsibilities, and it was a really unsettling time. We put real effort into creating an environment where we could all thrive in a constantly changing landscape. Collective confidence really showed up in this planning meeting in 2019, we invited an illustrator who captured our thoughts within a Stop, Start, Continue framework. Everyone’s voice was heard, everyone contributed, everyone felt part of the team. Looking back, this was a critical springboard for our success in the Tokyo Olympics.