“I never made any sacrifices; I made choices.”
Elite performers use competition to hone their skills, and they reinvent themselves continually to stay ahead of the pack. Finally, whenever they score big wins, top performers take time to celebrate their victories. (Pg.8)
To do that, however, you have to first make a choice to devote yourself passionately to self-improvement.(Pg.8)
UNTIL 1954, MOST PEOPLE BELIEVED that a human being was incapable of running a mile in less than four minutes. But that very year, English miler Roger Bannister proved them wrong. “Doctors and scientists said that breaking the four-minute mile was impossible, that one would die in the attempt,” Bannister is reported to have said afterward. “Thus, when I got up from the track after collapsing at the finish line, I figured I was dead.” Which goes to show that in sports, as in business, the main obstacle to achieving “the impossible” may be a self-limiting mind-set. (Pg.1)
But the real key to excellence in both sports and business is not the ability to swim fast or do quantitative analyses quickly in your head; rather, it is mental toughness. (Pg.7)
Elite performers are masters of compartmentalization.
If you want to be a high flier in business, you must be equally inner-focused and self-directed. Consider one executive I’ll call Jack. When he was a young man, wrestling was his passion, and he turned down an offer from Harvard to attend a less-prominent undergraduate school that had a better-ranked wrestling team. Later, after earning his MBA, Jack was recruited by a prestigious investment-banking firm, where he eventually rose up to the rank of executive director. Even then, he wasn’t driven by any need to impress others. “Don’t think for a minute I’m doing this for the status,” he once told me. “I’m doing it for myself. This is the stuff I think about in the shower. I’d do it even if I didn’t earn a penny.”
People who are as self-motivated as Jack or Darren Clarke rarely indulge in self-flagellation. That’s not to say that elite performers aren’t hard on themselves; they would not have gotten so far without being hard on themselves. But when things go awry, business and sports superstars dust themselves off and move on.
Another thing that helps star performers love the pressure is their ability to switch their involvement in their endeavors on and off. A good way to do this is to have a secondary passion in life. Rower Alison Mowbray, for example, always set time aside to practice the piano, despite her grueling athletic-training schedule. Not only did she win a silver medal in the Olympics in 2004, but she also became an accomplished pianist in the process.
For top executives, the adrenaline rush of the job can be so addictive that it’s difficult to break away. But unless you are able to put the day behind you, as elite athletes can, you’ll inevitably run the risk of burning out. Many leading businesspeople are passionate about their hobbies; Richard Branson is famous for his hot-air balloon adventures, for instance. (Pg.10)
Successful executives often carefully plan out their path to a long-term goal too. I once coached a woman I’ll call Deborah, an IT manager who worked for a low-budget airline. Her long-term goal was to become a senior executive in three years. To that end, we identified several performance areas in which she needed to excel—for example, increasing her reputation and influence among executives in other departments of the company and managing complex initiatives.
We then identified short-term goals that underpinned achievements in each performance area, such as joining a companywide task force and leading an international project. Together we built a system that closely monitored whether Deborah was achieving the interim goals that would help her fulfill her long-term vision. It paid off. Two months short of her three-year target, Deborah was offered an opportunity to head up the $12 million in-flight business sales unit. (Pg.11)
“It takes supreme, almost unimaginable grit and courage to get back into the ring and fight to the bitter end.”
The Will to Win
As the spectacle of the Olympics unfolds, it will be easy to be captivated by the flawless performance of elite athletes who make their accomplishments seem almost effortless. Such effortlessness is an illusion, though. Even the most youthful star has typically put in countless years of preparation and has endured repeated failures. But what drives all these elite performers is a fierce desire to compete—and win. Even so, most of those participating in the Olympics this summer will walk away from the games without grabbing a single medal.
Those with real mettle will get back into training again. That’s what truly separates elite performers from ordinary high achievers. It takes supreme, almost unimaginable grit and courage to get back into the ring and fight to the bitter end. That’s what the Olympic athlete does.
If you want to be an elite performer in business, that’s what you need to do, too. (Pg.16)
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