State of Flow - Fueling Meaningful Work

Published January 20, 2020

As we look back on the last decade, I can’t help but recognize the significant shifts in the sport sector. As someone who has been working, volunteering, and consulting in sport since 1991, I have also noticed that leaders are more depleted and overwhelmed than ever. This depletion is due in part to increased accountability and higher expectations of what it means to steward 21st century sport organizations. The rigorous and often onerous requirements expected from sponsors and government agencies often create more anxiety for those tasked with proving they are worthy of public and private dollars. Sport leaders are deeply committed and passionate about their work, bringing their full selves to their vocation. Yet many are finding it difficult to maintain the pace to meet minimum expectations, let alone fulfill the long list of what they are longing to focus on. Scandals, safe sport requirements, financial controls, and a demand for increased diversity are some of the key drivers in forcing sport leaders to take stock as they consider what might be possible over the next decade.

In what ways can we reconcile the growing chasm that is pulling us away from what we want more of?

Management researcher and author Jim Collins writes that “it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.”

So how does one create meaning-full work? And if the work itself is deeply meaningful, but not sustainable, then what?

Sometimes the best way to figure out a problem is to sit with it and ponder possible solutions through powerful questioning. What more are you longing for? What makes you happy? When are you at your best? How might your professional life better integrate into your personal hopes and aspirations? Sitting with these powerful questions often unleashes a deeper truth. They say the truth shall set you free. I say, the truth allows more flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a psychologist recognized for naming the concept of flow, a highly focused mental state conducive to productivity and an almost zen-like state of mind. He argues in his book Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience, that people are happiest when they are in a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand, becoming fully immersed in what one is doing. There’s a sweet spot between being challenged and feeling like one has the skills required to overcome the problem at hand. He writes that “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake allows the ego to fall away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”  According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow states often occur during people’s work hours (for athletes it would be during training and competition) when the sweet spot between challenge and skill is experienced. One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and their own perceived skills. And one must have confidence in one’s ability to complete the task. The danger of course is when the demands of work make it unsustainable to maintain a healthy balance, disrupting flow, and creating the conditions for burn-out, frustration, and firefighting. As we collectively consider the next decade for sport in Canada and the kind of work environment that sport leaders need to thrive, not merely survive, in what ways might you design your personal and professional life so that more flow comes your way?

In connecting with our coaching clients, we are noticing that more are longing to become more intentional about living their life while working on something meaningful … to work and to live, without compromising one over the other. Many of you are familiar with the tried and true services offered by the SLSG – we are increasingly supporting sport leaders in developing their safe sport frameworks, writing their gender equity policies, and helping them mitigate risks related to poor governance, outdated practices, conflict, and financial gremlins. In addition, the SLSG has three Integral CoachesTM, all certified through the ICF, to support you in your ongoing leadership development. We know that it can feel lonely and isolating when you're in a leadership position. We know that building connection and strengthening our community are of utmost importance.  We also know that just like athletes need support to enhance their skills, so too do sport leaders. The world’s best companies support their best talent with coaches, so why not sport? In reviewing your responses to our recent survey and in personal conversations with many of you, it is clear that this community is longing for more proactive leadership training as well. A few additional ways that we are looking to support you in your own development include:

  • Individual coaching programs. We offer customized coaching packages that are focused on an aspect of your leadership development that is of most interest to you.
  • Peer 2 Peer sessions. People learn best when they are surrounded by others who understand and who care. We customize peer-to-peer sessions online with like-minded leaders within the same organization or across other sports.
  • SLSG workshops can be customized for your organization on a variety of human development topics including enhanced communications training, crisis management, mindful leadership, stewarding conflict, creating safe and welcoming cultures, and so much more. Beyond feeding your mind with more information, we also create the space to nourish your emotional intelligence that deepen connections and fuel performance.
  • The Sport Leaders Retreat is a 2.5 day leadership retreat for sport leaders longing to advance their leadership development alongside others who share their passion.
  • Leading with Values is a path-breaking 1.5 day retreat experience that can be customized for your organization or can be delivered for specific groups.
  • Management by Values: This pioneering workshop offered through the CCES, provides sport leaders with an opportunity to connect with colleagues from other sport to discuss ethical issues and to discover practical ways they can leverage their values.
  • Psychometric tools can enhance knowledge of self. If you are keen to learn more about yourself, others, and the world around you, our Integral CoachesTM are trained and certified across multiple psychometric assessments to support self-discovery including the NOVA Profile, Strength Finder, EQ-I and EQ360, and much more.
  • Partnerships are the key to effecting sustainable change. If your organization is keen to explore what a partnership with the SLSG could offer, please let us know. There is simply too much chaos and uncertainty swirling around us for us to figure this out on our own.

As you continue to follow your heart’s desire, please know that the SLSG is here to support your capacity to lead with purpose. Drop us a line at, or – we are here, for you.


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