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If your friends have always said you were mental, thank them. Especially if your friend is Fran Pirozzolo, who would surely mean that as a compliment. Every year since 1996, Pirozzolo, a sports psychologist, has been recruited by the New York Yankees as a mental skills coach, consulting with manager Joe Torre and meeting one-on-one with the players. Has it helped them? While Pirozzolo gives all the credit to Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, Torre and the players, all we know is the Yankees have won three World Series in a row and, at press time, were aiming for their fourth.
Meanwhile, Pirozzolo is enjoying a streak of his own: He runs a consulting company called Competitive Advantage in The Woodlands, Texas, recently co-authored Multiple Intelligence and Leadership (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates) with Rin Riggio and Susan Murphy and co-wrote an upcoming book on playing better golf. Here, he discusses how mental skills can help entrepreneurs win the game of business.
What are these mental skills you help athletes discover?
Fran Pirozzolo: Concentration, goal setting, relaxation, performance, dedication, the ability to battle adversity, mental toughness, fighter vs. victim mentality, an ability to control emotions to drive behavior. People who use their emotions to their benefit have really mastered their mental skills. But you have to learn how to do things the normal way before you can invent a different way. And a lot of that happens through negative conversion.
Pirozzolo: [I teach people how to] convert negative experiences into energy. Certainly, Joe Torre had an uncommon number of stressful events in his life [around the time of his World Series wins], including his prostate cancer and his father's death in 1999. I help leaders understand that they are emotional contagions. What's so special about Torre is the strength and the peacefulness with which he goes about his work. The number-one problem with business leadership [is that] leaders panic, and they get weak or blame others.
How can an entrepreneur be an effective emotional contagion?
Pirozzolo: One skill an entrepreneur should work on is listening for what the person is really saying. The pitcher might say, "Yeah, I can get this out," but he might say it with his eyes cast down. Leaders have to have a tremendous capacity for focusing on what's really bothering the employee, so they can make the right decision for both the employee and the company.
- Competitive Advantage