Jamil Qureshi | Interview | Podcast | Maria Franzoni | MFL Global

Maria Interviews Jamil Qureshi

This week Maria interviewed Jamil Qureshi one of today’s foremost practitioners of performance psychology, and an expert in high performing teams and cultural change. Jamil has worked with a rich diversity of the most talented business and sports teams. In business, he has delivered management and leadership programmes at board level for Coca Cola, Hewlett Packard, Emirates Airlines, SAP, and Cisco. In sport, he has helped six people get to number one in the world. In 2006, he was appointed as the first ever official psychologist to work with the European Ryder Cup team. They made history in winning by a record equalling margin. He has also worked successfully with three English Premiership football clubs, and the 2009 Ashes winning cricketers. Jamil is one of the few external psychologists ever to have been allowed access to study astronauts in the 2008 NASA space programme.

Maria: 

Jamil Qureshi is one of today’s foremost practitioners of performance psychology, and is an expert in high performing teams and cultural change. Jamil has worked with a rich diversity of the most talented business and sports teams. In business, he has delivered management and leadership programmes at board level for Coca Cola, Hewlett Packard, Emirates Airlines, SAP, and Cisco. In sport, he has helped six people get to number one in the world. In 2006, he was appointed as the first ever official psychologist to work with the European Ryder Cup team. They made history in winning by a record equalling margin. He has also worked successfully with three English Premiership football clubs, and the 2009 Ashes winning cricketers. Jamil is one of the few external psychologists ever to have been allowed access to study astronauts in the 2008 NASA space programme.

What a profile, Jamil! Thank you so much for joining us.

Jamil Qureshi:      

Thank you, Maria, and thank you for having me along.

Maria: 

I want to start by asking you what your sport of choice is?

Jamil Qureshi: 

Well, my sport of choice is cricket. I’ve always enjoyed cricket, I’ve always liked it. I used to play at quite a high level, and, in fact, it was probably the thing which got me into psychology and performance coaching.  Because I was quite a good cricketer, so naturally quite talented, but I never really had any interest, so my application was poor, and so I think that I never made the most of my talent, and it was really someone who said to me that, you know, “You should see a psychologist, because you’re a talented cricketer, you’re good, but you let yourself down,” and it was very true at the time. So I saw a psychologist, performance coach and it actually got me really interested in psychology.

Unfortunately, it took me further away from cricket, because my new interest was psychology having met this psychologist. So I got into areas of psychology which I found interesting, things like hypnosis, I guess what I call practical areas of psychology. Unfortunately, it took me further away from cricket, but I still enjoy the sport. I’ve worked with cricketers before, and at an international level, I enjoy watching it when I get the time.

Maria:   

Do you ever play these days?

Jamil Qureshi: 

Oh God, no! It’s funny, because I haven’t picked up a cricket bat in years, so probably 20 years was the last time I picked up a cricket bat. I mean, I would love to, absolutely. If there’s an opportunity to go out on cricket net somewhere with someone, I would be delighted to take that offer. The closest I got to it is I worked with Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club when they won the league. I don’t know when this was, probably, I don’t know, six, seven years ago. I managed to get in the nets with a couple of their first team bowlers for five minutes, who took great delight at bowling cricket balls fast at my head and chest area, so five minutes later, I decided it probably wasn’t for me and I was a little out of practice for something of that quality.

Maria:

That’s great. So how do you keep fit these days then? What do you do?

Jamil Qureshi:

Well, I started to run, so I do a bit of running. I like to go to the gym, but I guess that running round, you know, as busy as I am as a speaker probably keeps me fit, so probably the closest I get to raising my heart rate is dashing through airports at the moment, but I do try and workout where I can and when I can. The good thing about being in hotels … Actually it’s a good thing and a bad thing. So the good thing about being in a hotel is that there’s always gym and it’s never far away, so you haven’t got much of an excuse, and the bad news is there’s always a room service menu as well not far away.  So I think it’s a bit of discipline which allows you to try and eat healthy and be healthy when you’re on the road as much as speakers can be.

Maria:  

Absolutely, absolutely, totally understand that. You touched on hypnosis and people might not know that you’ve dabbled with a bit of mentalism. Would you like to tell us about that part of your time?

Jamil Qureshi:  

I had some very good fortune actually, I’ve been very lucky. When I first got into practical psychology, what really interested me about psychologist was not necessarily some of the theories, it wasn’t the academic side of psychology, it was really some of the fun and entertaining areas of psychology, and so I really got interested in mentalism, or mind reading.  I was very fortunate to meet Derren Brown as he was starting his TV career, and we got to know each other quite well, and met Michael Vine, who is his agent, and we spent some good time together. I used to go and see Derren in his flat in London. We would talk about hypnosis, talk about some of the principles of practical psychology, mixing magic and psychology, and some mental techniques to do some really interesting things.  So, I learnt from someone who was very good, straight away. as an amateur, I was learning from a very good professional. I started doing a bit of an act, I guess, as much as anything else, where I would turn up and do some mind reading; mental effects for people, and it was great fun.

In fact, when I started speaking, although I am a business speaker and would talk about the corporate world and how to drive performance with people, I would sometimes do some practical demonstrations of psychology. I don’t know why I don’t now? I think one of the reasons why is that you have to be well practiced, and I just don’t get the time to practice. One of the things which I find most interesting about magic, I guess, and mind reading is that they are brilliant micro examples of psychology and psychological techniques. I think magicians make great psychologists, and the reason why is that you have to know the people that you’re working with, you have to work with the audience, you have to be totally across what you are trying to do in the context of people being next to you. Things like diversion, sleight of hand are all based upon, I guess, knowing your audience, and that, to me, is great psychology.

Maria:

Fantastic. So what am I thinking now?

Jamil Qureshi: 

You were thinking that you need to reduce your commission rates on your speakers to allow them more funds.

Maria: 

That was not what I was thinking, but thank you for that. I know, because we’ve been working together for a while and I know you quite well, so I know you’ve faced some challenges as well along the way in your life. You’ve had some difficult times. How have you applied what those experiences gave you to your work, to your life today?

Jamil Qureshi: 

Yeah, I think that it’s a really interesting one for me, because it’s definitely a road less travelled. People often say to me, “How did you get into this? Why did you do your degree in psychology? What got you into it?” And, actually, it’s not that simple. My degree was business and marketing. I went to the corporate world and I had lots of ups and downs. I was sacked from a variety of jobs for being rubbish, and, looking back now, it wasn’t that I was rubbish, it was just that I was me and I didn’t fit in. But at the time, you do think it’s you, so I didn’t seem to fit very easily into the roles I was looking to secure in the corporate world, and although I had great success, culturally, I probably wasn’t in the right places. So I ended up losing a variety of jobs. My interest has always been psychology, so I continued to study psychology as an amateur interest I guess, it’s a passion of mine. And then I actually fell on fairly hard times. Through a series of bad life decisions, life choices, I ended up homeless.

I spent a whole year homeless, and then it wasn’t necessarily a great epiphany, I just decided that I should chase my passion rather than my pension. Trying to progress in the corporate world, and gain a career based upon what I thought was important, wasn’t really for me. My passion was psychology, that’s what I’ve always been interested in. I’ve never made a career out of it, it’s just a hobby. And from that moment on, I had, I guess, a lot of good luck, a series of fortunate things happened.   I went to a pub in Newark in Nottinghamshire. I did a half an hour mind reading gig, because it earned me some money. £30 for two hours of mind reading to 50 pissed up people who don’t want to see mind reading. I ended up doing that and I just met someone who said, “Hang on a minute, my dad is interested in this, and he runs a TV company.” So, I ended up doing a bit of television. A golfer, who was very famous at the time, saw me on television, and wrote to the TV company saying, can I help?

So I helped him, and he nearly won the Open. He’d led the Open for three days, lost to Ernie Els on the final day, and I had a, it was a back page in the Daily Mail, which said, “Magician helps golfer,” and from that moment on, other golfers found out about it. The world of professional sport at the highest level is a very small world. I mean, literally overnight, I found myself working with the best golfers on the planet, who knew some of the best Premiership footballers, who knew some of the England cricketers, and before you know it, you’re being passed around and you’re the performance coach in a number of sports at the highest level. I went from homeless to running a very successful business within a year, and travelling the world with some very good and very talented people. And that didn’t come from being a clever business person, it came from sheer good fortune. I met some people, I did some good work for them, they introduced me to some other good people, and it seemed to work out.

Maria: 

I suppose also, really, it’s going back to your passion, as you said. You had strayed away from what made you passionate and excited, and I suppose, maybe, that is the lesson you learnt from that really hard time to think, “Hang on, I’m going in the wrong direction.” So, good for you. Well done. Congratulations. You’ve mentioned golf, and in fact, in 2008, people may not know this, you were voted one of the top 100 most powerful men in golf by your international peers, which is a huge accolade. What people may not know though is that you don’t actually play golf. Is that a handicap for you?!

Jamil Qureshi: 

Yeah. Not in the slightest. I tell you, it’s really interesting that I had great success in golf. I’ve worked with the European Ryder Cup team and I’ve worked with two people who got to number one in the world, I’ve worked with lots of people inside the top 50, I’ve been very, very lucky. However, I’ve never picked up a golf club in my life, and, as a psychologist, I just feel as though I don’t need to. I work in banking. I work in pharmaceutical. I work in energy and utilities. I know very little about the subject matter. My job is to talk about people and performance, and it sometimes almost clouds your decision making, or clouds your content when you know too much about it. In fact, the hardest sport that I’ve ever worked in is cricket, and the reason why is that I know quite a lot about it. So you end up speaking to an international cricketer, who is substantially better than you, but you almost stray into a technical area, because you know a little bit about it. That little bit of knowledge can be quite dangerous, because you don’t stick to what you really know, which is psychology.

But with golf, I knew nothing about it, and I worked with some very good players, and part of the strength is the fact that, yeah, I can ask some really simple questions. I’m asking questions that children would ask, and I also can’t talk about technique or technical things, so the only thing that we can talk about is them, their thinking, and their approach to the game, the way in which they see things, the perspective that they create, the goals that they seek to achieve, and the good news is that our conversation is only limited to those particular areas, which is the areas that, one, that they need to explore to get better, and, two, my area of interest and knowledge.

Maria:  

There will be golfers out there listening though who are going to be wanting to have a tip from you to improve their golf. Is there anything that they can immediately do?

Jamil Qureshi: 

Yeah. I think a really interesting one for amateur golfers is perspective. Many amateur golfers don’t have good perspective, so they will miss a putt on the first green and they will miss a putt on the second green, and they will say, “Today is a bad day with the putter,” or, “Today their putter is cold,” or, “I’m going to have to hit it close.” It’s not true. Patterns don’t exist apart from in our head. Thomas Bjorn, who I worked with for two years got a 17th in the world had brilliant perspective. He could play 15 bad holes and finish birdie, eagle, birdie at the last three holes, completely change his round. An amateur golfer will very, very rarely do that. Amateur golfers have a bad time and just want to get into the clubhouse. They want the round over, not make the most of the opportunity they have at any given point.

Specific golfing tip for those who know golf. If you look at the top 10 putters in the world last year, these are the people who putt the best.  From six feet, they only get 48% of those putts in. Most amateur golfers will think that the best putters in the world at six feet will get 80 or 90% in. They only get 48%. Less than half. But amateur golfers from six feet, if they miss a couple of putts, they think they’re rubbish. It’s not true, professionals almost aren’t as good as we believe them to be, which puts pressure on our own game as amateurs.

Maria:   

That’s brilliant, I like that. Thank you very much indeed. Not that I play golf, but I’m sure I can apply it elsewhere. So you’ve developed 30 psychological principles, and we sometimes call that psychology on a post-it note, because you manage to make it so easily understandable, and, therefore, easy to implement. I mean, clearly we don’t have time to talk about all 30 principles today, but is there one that you think we could focus on that you can share?

Jamil Qureshi:  

Yeah, I think that one which almost encapsulates all really is think, feel and act, and there’s a process to our thinking and acting, and what we tend to do is that we think, we think in words in pictures. That’s how we think, words and pictures. In regard to the words, we speak at a rate of 80 to 100 words a minute to ourselves almost all the time, but our minds are like soil. Whatever thought we plant will nourish and grow. This is why we need to be careful. So we think in words, we think in pictures, makes us feel a particular way, and then we act upon it. People say to me all the time, “I need to change the behaviours of my 500 sales guys.” “I need to change the behaviours of my customer service guys.” I’ve got middle managers, you know what? they need to act differently. But I think the smart leader doesn’t work on people’s actions, but works on their thinking. It’s the different between compliance and commitment. So we can try and tell people to be different, do that all the time, but it doesn’t really work.

Might try some short term change, or we can help them to change the pictures and words in their head to, therefore, feel differently and choose appropriate actions or behaviours which are relevant and purposeful to the business by creating value for customers. So I think an interesting one for anyone driving change, or anyone looking to enhance performance for themselves or for other people is don’t go to the actions first, go to the thinking. The thinking is the pre-cursor foundation for all our behaviours.

Maria:

Brilliant. So on the post-it note, think, feel, act. Love it. Really simple. Remember it. It’s great, I love it, I love it. So peak performance. The big barrier for me, and I could be working really well, but then what will happen is I’ll have a bad night’s sleep, and I know you’ve got three young children, so I’m sure you have more bad nights than I do, but how do you perform at your peak when you’re just tired?

Jamil Qureshi:  

Yeah, that’s a good question. I think that positive thinking is a good thing, and I think intelligence is nicer. I think that positive mental attitude and positive thinking isn’t necessarily the way forward. We need to be realistic. Some days we don’t sleep so well. Some days we have toothache. Some days we have meetings we don’t want to go to, we have presentations that we’re not prepared for, all of these things. So I think the key is realism. If we can understand how we are feeling, create a level of self-awareness as much as anything else, then we can adjust or think about what we need to do to create a level of performance. So we didn’t sleep so well, that shouldn’t be an inhibitor to performance, we just need to work out what we need to do to maximize our performance that day, in light of those circumstances. So circumstance and situation in turn don’t get in the way. They’re not obstacles, they’re not obstructions, they’re instructions. That’s a way of thinking that allows us to perform no matter what we feel.

We just need to translate it or think about it, and construct a way of being to allow us a way of doing, no matter how we’re feeling at that point. Often, we’ll write ourselves off when we don’t feel a particular way or we do feel a particular way, and that’s part of the problem is how we label ourselves or how we translate our circumstance or situation. I think we just need to look at reframing and talking differently to ourselves by understanding and having greater levels of self-awareness, and decide upon the course of action which is most appropriate to optimize our performance at any given time.

Maria:  

So, Jamil, tell us, how did you get into speaking? How did you become a speaker?

Jamil Qureshi: 

I don’t know how I became a speaker to be honest. No-one goes to university to become a speaker. I think I fell into it. I think I probably did it the best possible way, which is I was working with, literally, some of the best sports people on the planet, some really, really good performers, and the sports world is very closely linked to the business world, so many of the biggest sporting events in the world are sponsored by big businesses. I think I just started having people come up to me. Someone would be the CEO of, I don’t know, a big car manufacturer or some manager of a bank, and say, “You’re working with the Ryder Cup team, can you come and work with my sales guys?” “You’re working with someone who’s number one in the world, can you come and tell my board what they need to do to be number one?” And I think I ended up doing a couple of talks, so ended up doing a few talks, and, if you’re any good, I think you’re asked to do more talks.

I think that principle is true when you first start talking. I think it’s true when you become a professional speaker and spend all of your time talking. The best way of generating more business is to just do it very well, and I think it seemed to have snowballed, so I guess the more talks that you do, which are of a high quality, the more people ask you to come and do more, and so, before you know it, I was, I guess, talking about what I do more than doing what I do, if that makes sense? I probably speak three days a week at the moment. The other two work days a week I’m working with sports people or business teams to help them drive change, change attitude, culture, engagement, or drive performance. So three days a week I’m talking about it, two days a week I’m doing it.

Maria:   

Okay. And when you’re talking about it and a client invites you in, what’s your advice to them to get the best out of your time with them?

Jamil Qureshi:     

You always rely on a good brief. I don’t necessarily need to know a lot about the company or products, services, it’s more about the pressures that people are under. It’s more about what people believe are the inhibitors to performance. So people say, “Look, we’ve got some sales guys, I’ve got 500 sales guys, I’d love for you to come and talk to them.” I always ask what they’re pressures are. What’s getting in the way? What do they need to do to perform? And people will say, “The market’s tight, there’s new competition, we’ve got some new products that they need to learn, and they need to be more consultative rather than transactional. What’ll keep them awake at night is the fact that there’s a lot of learning to be done and our targets are high.” And that’s the sort of information which works very well for me, because then I can construct content which is directly relevant to the audience in regard to helping them with some very practical takeaways in regard to constructing thinking and thought habits to allow them to drive different behaviours and optimize their performance.

So it’s not necessarily knowing a lot about a product, it’s probably knowing more about the mood of the audience to which I’m speaking to. Some of those pressures, some of those external factors, which we believe get in the way of our performance.

Maria:  

Jamil, that’s fantastic. It’s been really fascinating. Thank you so much for your time.

Jamil Qureshi:  

Thank you, Maria. It’s been a pleasure.

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