Every now and then when I’m reading a book or watching a movie, I hear a phrase or notice the way something is framed and I think, I must write that down. Well, grab your notepad, open notes, or do whatever you do to document reminders about tips and techniques that you can use, because this is one of those moments.
Delivering and meeting expectations while you are out of your comfort zone is definitely tough and taxing; but doing exactly this has formed a solid base of first-hand knowledge and practical experience that a Mental Performance Consultant, Nikola Milinkovic, develops into effective performance strategies. Working with his clients in a one-on-one or team capacity, Nikola aims to impact the way they lean into their strengths to maximize performance and helps them close the gaps with adaptations and coping strategies.
“Frequently, we think about our areas of improvement and limitations – we are always trying to get better, faster, stronger, but we don’t think enough about the positives that we have already developed. We don’t think about honing-in on them, and developing them even more, they’re two sides of the same coin.”
When reflecting on his own path to where he is today, most often found teaching mental skills to high-performance Juniors, ATP, and WTA players in both classroom and applied on court settings. Nikola credits sport as a mirror of life, creating a sense of self-trust, highlighting the effect of having to perform on the tennis court from a very young age as his foundation for developing the ability to go into uncomfortable situations, rely on himself, and get the job done. Sharing that later in his professional life when he had to make decisions and take on a more dominant role, he was able to do it.
Engaging in a deeper exploration of enhancing performance, Nikola broadens the conversation surrounding the fact that the best and most authentic performances come when athletes or individuals in any role operate within their natural style. It simply follows as a matter of logistics that when a person is behaving in a way that comes naturally to them, they have increased access and more opportunities to use their natural strengths.
One of the examples Nikola draws on to illustrate the way playing to our strengths delivers our best performances is that of the CEO of a start-up company that he currently works with. The CEO steers a team who are spread all over the world, they rely on virtual technology and communications to build culture, teamwork and launch their product.
“As a person he is very people--orientated, very creative, loves to take action, get things done, and problem solve. His profile is high in Influence. He sets the stage for us to collaborate very well, and he loves people development. He is a connector, and he cheerleads me to the point that I feel so great about myself – he is such a big supporter of everyone on his team. I think he is so successful because he plays to his strengths.”
Nikola explains that they use the CEO’s natural behavior to his advantage, and work on his self-awareness to develop strategies that limit the potential downside of these strengths. For example, they have become aware that while they capture all of the great ideas the CEO has, they do not need to act on all of them as a part of this process.
To assess and pinpoint his clients’ strengths and natural style, Nikola relies on varying combinations of his own training as a qualified sport psychologist, along with Athlete Assessments’ DISC Profiles to build a framework around guiding his clients towards performing in their natural style and increase their awareness of their own behaviors.
“DISC has been super valuable in my own practice as a tool. I think it’s an amazing tool to jump start everything. You get scientific, behavioral, psychological reports. I sometimes use it as a supplement to my own assessment. It’s a great way for me to show and see that they are accurate because there are perceptions and there are facts and those two work together in a constant dance.”
Telling us about an elite tennis player he is working with, he explains that the athlete is very high in Steadiness, so appreciates the rhythm, slower-paced structure and above all else, she values the relationship and trust between herself and Nikola. He explained, “We are adding a few routines to strengthen the player’s natural game even more, for example, we are adding post-match reflections and between the point routines which are perfect for her to change one thing quickly and comfortably, before she goes on to play the next point.”
To take our learning to the next level and talk about the way we can adapt our natural profile to suit a situation, Nikola uses the example of his own natural profile to illustrate (High in Steadiness, moderate in Conscientious and Influence, and low in Dominance). Professionally he has had a diverse portfolio of roles and clients, working across different industries, from amateur and professional sports to the United Nations. Reflecting that this has involved a lot of change, pressure, and uncertainty, Nikola shared that some of the more challenging roles have pushed him to the limit in terms of having to be flexible and acting on demand. He explains that now, the sense of flexibility is not foreign to him, “In the past, I always had an opinion and always had it clearly in my mind, but in the past voicing it was difficult. Through the years I’ve been able to find my voice and become more comfortable with it.”
But, he shared,
“The amount of times I have had to adapt, and the extreme change of pace was very uncomfortable. Over time I became comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s still not my preferred way of functioning and I prefer to have a little bit of preparation time so I can prioritize and then really act on those priorities, but I can do it.”
When reflecting on his ability to adapt, Nikola referred back to his classical training in the theatre, and going through the process of getting into a character. He referred to the way actors build authentic characters from their experience, and making adaptations from the DISC perspective is no different. Adapting comes down to preferences in behavior, and when we need to make even significant adaptations, it’s not that we’re completely devoid of that behavior, it’s just that we don’t call on it very often, or it’s not very intense, but when we need to do it, we are capable and it’s still our own behavior.
“Sometimes I have to put on my Dominance hat, fire back at people, speak my mind, prioritize, or make a decision on the spot. But that’s okay, that’s the beauty of a DISC Profile, it’s not right or wrong, it’s not about improvement, it’s just constant readjustment, constant re-inventing of myself.”
In terms of applying his understanding of DISC and adapting to better communication and relationships to achieve greater performance in the athletes he works with, Nikola shares the philosophical understanding that the most critical part is the coach-athlete relationship,
“When we look at building the coach-athlete relationship, what we say is as important as how we say it. As a coach we need to create an environment where sharing is acceptable, where its welcome and where we can talk openly about certain things. Plus, consider the impact of communicating with someone in a way that they are uncomfortable with.”
Explaining how knowing an athlete’s profile allows us to adjust our expectations instead of judging their reactions based on what we think their reactions should be or waiting for them to act in a way that they never will like, be enthusiastic if it’s not in their nature. In other words, knowing an athlete’s profile stops us waiting for the cat to bark.
“I have some junior athletes who are high in Conscientious, so they are really factual. I have to cut down on the talking and the philosophy and do more exercises, whether they write stuff down or we do a quick exercise to engage their attention, be efficient, and get the point across. If we’re going to be philosophical and creative, we do it for 30 seconds and then get to work, if I try a warmup conversation – I would get one-word answers.”
“Athlete Assessments’ DISC Profiles have been a lifesaver because you get to apply tips that help communication. Also, the DISC Profiles are written in nonthreatening language, it does not matter what profile you are – they don’t put you on the defensive, or into attack mode. I would say this may be the biggest benefit.”
The beauty of learning from Nikola’s experiences and strategies is that we don’t have to wait for life to test us before we set ourselves up to be our best. Leaning into our strengths makes sense from a practical and a psychological perspective. We don’t just believe that we have the capacity to be successful at a task, we know it, and that knowledge is built on experience!
To conclude, we asked Nikola for his advice to anyone thinking about using DISC Profiling as part of their practice, he shared,
“I would say; spend some time with it, let the information sink in and think about how accurate it is, think about what it means to you because this is where it all starts. It is something that can impact, influence, and change, it’s not a scoring profile! It’s not a right or wrong and you don’t get a grade, it’s a beautiful profile that you can tailor and use to your advantage on a daily basis.”
Biography for Nikola Milinkovic
A self-described export, Nikola was born in Serbia, lived in the Netherlands, France, and the USA and currently, he works as a sport and performance psychologist with professional tennis players, the WTA, and a WNBA team building culture and managing conflict resolution and performance and in industry with the CEO of a start-up company. He is also a junior club level tennis coach, presenter, actor, and author. Previously, Nikola was a successful college tennis player.
Where to from here?
If like Nikola, people rely on you to be their best, you will want to meet their expectations by bringing them reliable and tested tools which will help them perform and sustain their optimum capacity. We encourage you to browse our free online resources and if you come across anything that sparks an interest, or questions for you, reach out and contact us.
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