The Simple and Undeniable Prerequisite to Exceptional Achievement

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Inspiration is for amateurs  -Chuck Close

The actor, producer, rapper, songwriter Will Smith, in an interview with Tavis Smiley responding to a question to what he attributes his success:

“The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be out-worked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things you got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple, right? You’re not going to out-work me. It’s such a simple, basic concept. The guy who is willing to hustle the most is going to be the guy that just gets that loose ball. The majority of people who aren’t getting the places they want or aren’t achieving the things that they want in this business is strictly based on hustle. It’s strictly based on being out-worked; it’s strictly based on missing crucial opportunities. I say all the time if you stay ready, you ain’t gotta get ready.”

With that kind of philosophy, it is little surprise Smith was ranked by Forbes as the “most bankable star” in the world. Moreover, according to Fantasy Moguls, Will Smith is the only actor who has had eight CONSECUTIVE films gross over $100 million domestically and eleven CONSECUTIVE films over $150 million internationally. Luck? Hardly. We get the results we earn.

Rick Pitino once said, “Never let anyone out work you or out hustle you. Ever.” Pitino is the only men’s basketball coach in history to lead two universities to a NCAA Championship. He is also the only coach to lead three different universities to a Final Four in four different decades.  A coincidence? Try again. The seeds we plant today bloom tomorrow.

Woody Hayes, head football coach at Ohio State from 1951–1978 once said, “They may outsmart me, or be luckier, but they can’t outwork me.” Hayes won 5 national championships at Ohio State in 1954, 1957, 1961, 1968, and in 1970. Fluke? Not a chance. Exceptional achievements require an exceptional work ethic, only one other man in history has been better than Hayes. Coach Bear Bryant…He reached 6 national championships at his time in Alabama. Once again, the theme is clear, he was quoted as saying,  “I’m no miracle man. I guarantee nothing but hard work” and “There’s a lot of blood, sweat, and guts between dreams and success.”

There is no excuse for laziness, apathy, good enough, complacency or even contentment when an individual has aspirations that surpass the bare minimum. 

Justifying Losing

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“Winners and losers are self-determined. But only the winners are willing to admit it.” – John Wooden 

John Wooden, the man above won ten national championships in twelve years at UCLA. An extraordinary accomplishment that falls on the deaf ears of the blue blooded sophisticates and is too quickly dismissed because the achievement occurred on the hardwood and not within the confines of Wall Street or the ivory towers of the academy. I see it every day with corporate clients, they shelve the philosophies of individuals like Wooden, Saban, Lombardi, and Coach K who have “DONE IT” and dismiss them as “meatheads” then bow to the advice and wisdom of so called sages that sit in a quaint office and write theory on how to lead. These so called “sages”scribe theories because they are unable to write “experiences.” Call me a simpleton, but I’ll place my leadership bets on an individual who has done it (and failed) over the one that can wax eloquently on a topic and has mastered the art of grammar.

Both winners and losers are at the mercy of self-determination….  it is an irrefutable law.

Friedrich Nietzsche, another one of those “did more thinking than doing” guys, stated “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”  Despite the veracity of Nietzsche’s now famous quip, the probability of experiencing anything that affords us this opportunity to experience the positive outcomes of near-death experiences don’t readily present themselves unless we artificially push ourselves to determine what is possible and flirt with our own unprecedented limits. Who does this? The one-percenters and world class do and they do so habitually.

Like it or not, one of the overarching characteristics of the world class is their incessant and insatiable drive for perfection. We fully comprehend the irrationality of absolute perfection, the world class pursue it anyway. Flawless execution requires a committed compulsion; a price that only a small number of individuals are willing to pay. It is the reason the top 1% in music, sports, business, politics, and in life are called the “one percenters.”  Our desires, our visions, dictate our daily habits and we calibrate our expectations accordingly. No wonder, Jerry Rice said, “Today I will do what others will not do so tomorrow I can do what others cannot do.”

Good and bad decisions, high and low standards, lofty or dismal expectations, healthy, unhealthy, disciplined or undisciplined…Every one of these small decisions require a price and generate a consequence. The simple question is not whether you will pay a price, it is simply just a matter of when. 

Divergent

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 “For non-conformity the world whips you with its displeasure.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Over the course of many weeks, I watched Eden, my then 12-year old daughter, absolutely devour the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth. Every week or so, I would see another book in the series on her nightstand (or on the floor,  or in my car, or in the bathroom, or in my luggage, or in my toolbox, or in the refrigerator). You get the point.

Of course, I assumed that surely these were salacious books filled with teen romance and everything I did not want my daughter consuming at such a young and impressionable age. Being the father and fulfilling the “dad” role, I asked about the books and the plot line and she said, “Dad, these books are amazing! The story takes place in post-apocalyptic Chicago and there are five clans or classes that society forces people into based upon their disposition or what they care for.” Intrigued, I probed for more information. “This is how ‘the bad guys’ control the masses and organize life.” Attempting to curry favor with the munchkin, I told her, “it sounds like junior high.” She laughed (I patted myself on the back) and continued on with her rather robust and painfully detailed description. I asked her about the five clans or classes. She rattled them off like a professor who had been immersed in a subject for the better part of his or her existence. It went a little something like this:

“You have Abnegation, they are the givers, the individuals who are selfless and care for others; kind of like mom and Nana. They are the humanitarians.

You have Dauntless, they are the brave warriors, the fighters, the soldiers.

Then you have the Erudite, they are the brains, the really smart people, kind of like you dad. (I thought “kind of?”, but I digress).

Then you have Candor, this is the faction that is extremely honest and will tell you exactly what they think, kind of like Pops.

And then finally, you have Amity, this faction are the peaceable ones, individuals who love peace.

And then there is this girl named “Tris”, she is Divergent.” I braced myself for the other shoe to fall, and thought to myself while imagining burning these books, ‘Yes, Tris is the rebellious girl who smokes dope, has a tattoo of a dragon on her back, carries a pack of filterless Camels rolled up in her sleeve, drives a Harley, and has five children as a teenager that each fit into one of these categories. But instead, restraint carried the day and I said, “Ok, go on.” “Tris is Divergent, she doesn’t fit in any of these factions because she thinks independently and if found out, she will be killed.”

As you can imagine, I was quite relieved. I then asked, “Why would they kill her?”  Eden looked at me like I had just asked her what a cow was and she stated, “Because independence or not fitting in to one of the factions will disrupt the structure and control of the ruling class. If people don’t follow the rules and conform to their role, society will break apart.” I thought to myself, the stories change for each individual generation, but the plot line always remains the same.

I immediately recalled Don Miguel Ruiz’s statement, “Children are domesticated the same way that we domesticate a dog, a cat, or any other animal. In order to teach a dog we punish the dog and we give it rewards. We train our children whom we love so much the same way that we train any domesticated animal: with a system of punishment and reward. We are told, ‘You’re a good boy,’ or ‘You’re a good girl,’ when we do what Mom and Dad want us to do. When we don’t, we are a ‘bad girl’ or a ‘bad boy.” I kissed Eden goodnight and mentally thanked Veronica Roth for writing these books and perpetuating the lesson that conformity and socialized expectations rob an individual of their uniqueness and ultimately their contribution.

I went back to my bedroom and looked up the series and located the movie tagline, “What makes you different, makes you dangerous.” Not too many weeks later, Eden and I sat in a movie theater filled with nothing but young people, frustrated I didn’t get there earlier to get a better seat.

What makes you different, does not actually make you dangerous, it is the road to differentiation, being a maverick, and making a dent in history. I hope my daughter learned the importance of this lesson. I hope I do too.

Mavericks: The World is Theirs

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George Bernard Shaw once said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” It should also be noted he once purportedly said, “If you’re going to tell people the truth you better make them laugh; otherwise they’ll kill you.” I like Mr. Shaw, I also suspect his mouth got him into trouble on more than a rare occasion. Perhaps he was a delinquent, perhaps he was not a rule follower, but I digress. One point for Shaw.

It is bewildering to me how a strong citation like Shaw’s generates applause, admiration, and a personal reminder of what could be…..until you work with them or attempt to manage, parent, or coach them. Then this unreasonable person becomes a problem child, a juvenile delinquent, or the first on the list in Acme company’s annual reduction in force solely because he or she is “difficult.”

We appreciate the “unreasonable” and the mavericks but they make us uneasy if we are not calling the shots. We applaud the “all in”, dissident versions of Scotland’s William Wallace, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther, Galileo, Richard Branson. In fact, the United States of America was built by these types of dissidents and nonconformists.  We applaud and honor individuals like George Washington and Christopher Columbus but we tend to do everything in our power to bring them under control when they have more common names like Tom, Jane, Mary, Bob, and Mark. Small, narrow-minded, ordinary-obsessed leaders attempt to make Tom, Jane, and Bob like themselves, while great leaders pay their narrow-minded colleagues little mind and foster the maverick within Tom, Jane, and Bob.

I am very proud to reveal that I am friends with the youngest streaker in Oklahoma. She told me we were friends (and I’ll proudly accept that designation). This little friend of mine is my wife’s closest friend’s daughter. Imagine a pint-sized shrimp with a gargantuan personality, a colossal presence, curly blond hair, piercing blue eyes and a laugh that at times is contagious and others, baleful. Her middle name is “Kate” and her first name, well we shall just leave it with, it rings nicely with “Kate.” Miss Kate is a maverick, and I really like this about her. Not too many years ago, Miss Kate walked up to her Kindergarten teacher, paused, look at the knees of her teacher, then looked up, flexed her bicep, then kissed it and walked on. Soldiers have salutes, golfers have their fist pumps, and football players have their signature moves in the end zone… Miss Kate’s signature; the bicep kiss.

She is not a rule follower, a conformist, or an individual that will stale in her life’s journey. You may be perturbed, annoyed, or perplexed by this type of behavior, but you cannot help but appreciate her resolve and audacity. You might ask, “Who does this?” The maverick does.

My little friend, Kate, is going to make her mark in this world. Of course, this will depend on growing out of her penchant for “running free”, but I suspect she’ll figure it out through loss of interest or a successful attempt to change the laws. Count on it.

Here’s what I also know about “Kate the Runner”, she sings the anthem of the maverick. Although she does not yet know it, she is already harmonizing with a tribe she has not yet met.

Miss Kate allow me to introduce you to your tribe:

  • Their anthem is typically sung to an audience of one or two.
  • They will do things their way, in their time and the world will be better for it.
  • Their thinking will be considered naive, irrational, crazy, or even dangerous.
  • They are not fearless, they fear normal, complacency, nominal, lack of progress and are petrified in settling in for a long life of normal because “that is just the way it is.”
  • They will say, “That’s the way it WAS” in response to “that’s just the way it is.”
  • Until they “bloom”, the unfortunate reality for most mavericks is banishment from the “herd” made up of rule followers and norm makers.
  • A large cross section of the population will follow these mavericks simply because they are fearless and will trade in their own ambitions and desires because they cannot imagine what it would be like to break a rule, frustrate a boss, or mock the naysayers who cannot imagine anything so out of the ordinary.
  • Your counterparts in history changed the world
  • Like Bodhi’s gang in “‪Point Break”, special operations members, street gangs, and Baptists who dance, mavericks run in packs, not solely for the social aspect, or common interests, but for the ongoing reminder they are not alone.
  • They are change agents, thinkers, inventors, entrepreneurs and ostracized until they impress the critics with results that cannot be denied.
  • The world is theirs.
  • They will rewrite the history books.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, “Well behaved women rarely make history” – Thinking I might buy one for Miss Kate’s bicycle.

The Lion Does Not Lose Sleep Over the Opinions of Sheep

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To my graduating students, as you leave the confines of the cossetted and embark on what lies ahead, I wanted to intrude on you one more time and give one final lecture. Here it is, “The Lion Does Not Lose Sleep Over the Opinions of Sheep.” This concludes the lecture.

If you are still here, I should inform you that I borrowed the aforementioned quote. Lest I violate my own standard and plagiarize this phenomenal quote, the author is unfortunately unknown. An original idea goes a little something like this, “You are never more powerful than when you are fearless.”

Fear and courage, fortitude or fragility…The last test you must pass before you step into the life that you are not only capable of achieving, but the one you desire requires you to pass this test. If you fail, I almost guarantee you will find yourself in the middle of a life you neither planned nor desired. It is almost a law.

Fear manifests itself in nearly every facet of life from: Will you find the right mate? Will you fail if you try? Or will you end up hesitating when that pivotal moment taps you on the shoulder and you opt for the safe and conventional? From Christ to Charlemagne, Martin Luther to Martin Luther King, or from Columbus to Cortez, the world is reserved for the audacious.

Stephen Kotler in his book, “The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance” writes “When risk is a challenge, fear becomes a compass—literally pointing people in the direction they need to go next.”

Go boldly or don’t go at all

You will be missed

The Mythology of Greatness

It’s not human nature to be great. It’s human nature to survive, to be average and do what you have to do to get by. That is normal. When you have something good happen, it’s the special people that can stay focused and keep paying attention to detail, working to get better and not being satisfied with what they have accomplished. Nick Saban

One of the most common misconceptions I hear from leaders is the following: “I am a vision, big picture person, I’m not a details person.”  In that same vein, I often also hear, “I am not a manager type, I’m more of a leader type”, relegating management of the details to lesser mortals, while interfacing with the gods Zeus, Mercury or Poseidon to divine a 12.5-year strategic vision. I’m no Poseidon, but I tend to think in order to be a great leader, we first have to be a great manager.

Please re-read the Saban quote above. It will come as no surprise to you that Saban is one national championship game away from matching Bear Bryant, the only individual in history to win six college football championships. He may not be Zeus, but Alabama does have a statue of him on campus. But I digress.

Coach Bryant was obsessed with doing the small things right. Saban, as evidenced above, had a similar ilk for mastery of the details. John Wooden, former UCLA’s men’s basketball coach, is famous for his, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” Coincidentally [read: sarcasm], Wooden won ten national titles in twelve years during his tenure at UCLA. Jack Welch, considered by many of his colleagues and peers to be “the” or “one of the” greatest CEOs of all time, was also a so-called “lesser mortal.” During his tenure at General Electric, the value of the company rose 4,000% under his watch. A 1998 Fortune article, “Revealed at last: The secret of Jack Welch’s Success”, states “Now you have the secret of Jack Welch’s success. Not a series of brilliant insights or bold gambles, but a fanatical attention to detail.” Steve Jobs, ranked the #1 CEO in a 2010 Harvard Business Review article titled, “The Best-Performing CEOs in the World” was once quoted as saying, ““Everything is important- that success is in the details.”

It is often said that “the devil is in the details.” Now while I tend to prefer the origin of this idiom, “God is in the details” – I do tend to think that unless the gods Zeus, Mercury or Poseidon  had Bear Bryant, Nick Saban, John Wooden, Jack Welch, and Steve Jobs doing their bidding, perhaps it is worth learning a thing or two from these mere mortals. They seemed to have removed the practice of rabid attention to managing the details out of the ranks of ancient mythology.

Worldclass Vs. Average

“Work Hard and Become a Leader,
Be Lazy and Become a Slave.” Proverbs 12:24

The most confounding question I receive from students, friends, and clients is the answer to, “What is the most important characteristic of winners?” After nearly 11 years of coaching well over 900 executive leaders, seven years as a college professor, and a twenty-two year study in order to discover what separates the world-class performers from the average performers, I am going to take a swing at an answer:

The “average” or amateurs wait for inspiration to get done what needs to be done, professionals or the world-class just get to work – Daily.

Inspiration is an incredible thing to experience, it is behind some of the greatest human achievements in history. Problem is, inspiration strong enough to counter the inertia of fatigue, stress, and living day to day is not enough to rely upon to get you to anything worthwhile. It is too sporadic to rely upon and thus, if you want to achieve anything worthwhile, you are left with identifying the daily habits of what needs to be done and getting to work. Inspired or uninspired, champions and their “dynasties” are built upon the foundation of DAILY getting down to work.

Waiting to move until you are inspired is a clever and deluding way to reframe good ol’ fashioned laziness.

Today’s Habits, Tomorrow’s Outcome

Successful people aren’t born that way. They become successful by establishing the habit of doing things unsuccessful people don’t like to do. The successful people don’t always like doing these things themselves; they just get on and do them.

DON MARQUIS

 Your latent potential or achievement is directly proportional to your DAILY habits. Habits are domineering little actions that either control you or are controlled by you. The American Journal of Psychology defines habits rather simply, “A habit, from the standpoint of psychology, is a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience” (Andrews, 1903, p. 123). This fixed way of thinking will eventually create the blueprint of your life. Unless thinking is altered, it will serve as a crystal ball into the remainder of your future.

Daily Habits = Eventual Outcome

Daily World-class Habits = Eventual World-class Outcomes

Daily Poor Habits = Eventual Poor Outcomes

Champions have habits that support their success. Unsuccessful and near-champions have average habits.

Depending on how you are doing today, I have either great news or a rather pessimistic outlook to share. Habits, both good or detrimental, will eventually go into auto-pilot or unconscious repetition, making them extremely easy to persist in perpetuity (When is the last time you missed brushing your teeth two days in a row?). What do your habits today reveal about your eventual tomorrow?

Little wonder Dr. John Maxwell writes, “You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine” or John Dryden’s famous, “We first make our habits then our habits make us.” Not happy with today or the prospects of tomorrow? Finally, John Wooden’s, “Whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not, the habits you are developing now will be with you for the rest of your life.” Not so sure about tomorrow’s prospects? Change your habits….or….change your name to “John.”

Habits

“To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.” 

Winston S. Churchill

The lion share of individuals in business and in life do not achieve (and will not achieve) their most sacred desires and aspirations. The rationale for this incredible miscarriage of talent is not the size of their individual visions or dreams, it has everything to do with executing the simple, mundane daily habits associated with the pursuit of these dreams. Successful dynasties are built in such ways. Vision is easy, daily execution is hard. Everyone desires to be a CEO, an Olympian, a National Champion, an entrepreneur, famous, best in their field, but very few possess the discipline and commitment to make these visions a reality. The reason? Vision dictates habits and our DAILY habits, dictate our success. Not willing to do it habitually and every day? Then set the dream aside, give yourself a break from the self-deprecation, it will likely not come to fruition.

Churchill fundamentally understood that those special moments originated with the tap on the shoulder to do something extraordinary was a result of daily practices to ensure they were not “unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.” The race is not to the brilliant, gifted and talented, it is to the grinders who find the surprising progress of daily habits. Like it or not, failure’s culprit is your daily habits.

Conformity = A Recipe for Redundant

 “A man must consider what a rich realm he abdicates when he becomes a conformist.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Pursue the accolades and praises of men, and you will never have it. Follow a crowd and you will never be followed by a crowd.  Little wonder Emerson also said, “God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.”

As previously noted, Guglielmo Marconi was an Italian inventor and father of the radio. In 1901, he successfully transmitted radio signals across the Atlantic and in 1909 he won the Nobel Prize in Physics. The basis of his work began with the idea that sound could be harnessed and transmitted from one location to another. Upon sharing the idea with friends, he was thrown into an insane asylum.

Leads one to ponder Robert Frost’s reflection, “I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I… I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.”

Reasonable, appropriate, standard, conventional, sound, sensible, valid, average, unexceptional, par for the course, expected, typical,…and normal?

Not a Chance….FAMOUS

“Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.” – George Bernard Shaw

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that….because what the world needs are men and women who have come alive” – John Eldredge

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.” – Marcus Aurelius

“A man must consider what a rich realm he abdicates when he becomes a conformist.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Now that this is cleared up (Ignoring Critics, Naysayers, Reasonable, Conformity, and Convention) –  What’s next?  Carpe _____?