There are a number of very interesting theories about talent and skill development, as people look to find the answer as to whether successful people are genetically programmed differently or have they just practiced their specific skill for a certain number of hours?
Personally, I have always been fascinated with human performance and what sets a true champion aside from the rest of the competition, whether that be in sport or in business. Obviously in sport the genetic side of physiology comes in to play a lot more than in business, for example would Usain Bolt be the fastest man on earth if he didn’t have such long and lean physique? Would Jonah Lomu have as much of an impact on the game of rugby in today’s era where everyone is bigger, faster and stronger? The answer to those questions are both probably not. Obviously, they both also worked hard at their craft to reach the top of their respective fields but it’s fair to say they were given a slight head start with their genetic gifts.
What about environments where being physically dominant doesn’t necessarily mean you will be number 1? Two of the most impressive sportsmen in my generation have been Tiger Woods and Roger Federer. 2 athletes who have been at the top of their games for over 15 years. People have come and gone, technology has changed, there is now more data available within sport to be able to understand the tiny 1%’s that separate number one from number two. However, they are still at the top of the game, they have won everything they could do in their respective careers and hold various records to match. What gives someone like that the desire to wake up every morning and train? Charles Darwin said that it is not the strongest or most intelligent of the species that will survive but the one who is the best at adapting to their changing environment. The desire to continually want to improve and better themselves even after initial success, comes from one thing, a ‘winner’s mind-set’. It is this mind-set that is consistent amongst all successful people, whether in sport or business. The constant desire to better one’s self, to hit another 100 forehands, or to invest in themselves to take a course that will help develop their leadership skills, is the major differential between flash in the pan successes and continued winners.
A winner’s mind-set is also incredibly disciplined, however there is a difference between discipline and narrow minded. Discipline can manifest itself in many different ways. As just mentioned, the discipline to constantly try and improve yourself is imperative if you want continued success. The discipline to stick to a proven game-plan even when energy levels are low or motivation is lacking is also a sign of a winning mind-set. However, we mentioned the difference between discipline and narrow mindedness. The ability to adapt to your environment or market will put you amongst the elite group of leaders in your role and give you a head start over your competition. This comes partly from having self-confidence, the ability to take a step back and think
hang on, maybe my initial plan isn’t generating as much success as I had first thought
is a very strong move from a position of dependence within an organisation. Some leaders wouldn’t have the confidence to make that admission as they fear those around them will think less of them and reduce their future authority. In reality, there is nothing more detrimental to a team’s progression than a leader who can’t adapt or are led by their ego.
A very common question we get asked is “Are people born with a mind-set like this or can it be learnt?” Which is actually a very interesting thing to think about. In my opinion, I think some people are naturally like that however if you are not then there is no reason to say that you can’t develop that mentality. For example, if I use myself as a guinea pig, I was a horribly competitive child. From the time I could stand up I was swinging golf clubs in the back garden, kicking, throwing and catching balls non-stop and would do it for hours on end until I got better and better. At this age, I had no real grasp on what winning and losing really meant, I just knew I wanted to be the best. This mentality never really left me but obviously as I got older I experienced defeats when it mattered and I remember that feeling vividly. I had to get better, I had to practice more, I had to try a different bit of kit or technique to make me better and this was all before the age of 15. So if you look at that as an example it would be fair to surmise that I may have been ‘born that way’ because I never had parents that pressured me, the pressure came from myself. However, I have also met and worked with people who were not wired that way at all and it wasn’t until they found out what was important to them or had an external motivator did they realise the need to change the way they approached certain aspects of their life to mean they could be consistently successful.
There is a lot of valid interest at the moment in the importance of ‘knowing your why’ and ‘having a purpose’, which I completely buy in to and live every day myself. I don’t think this is just an on-trend bit of business jargon, there is some real merit to this. Often this enlightening moment can be the electric charge that your brain needs to shock in to gear. External motivators are one of the biggest elements in improving performance, because all of a sudden, your actions don’t just affect you, they affect others that you care about. An example of this is a friend of mine who I have known for a very long time. A very bright individual, who was doing well in his own field, but was employed by a large corporate machine, which meant he was pretty comfortable and really not stretching himself at all. Earlier this year he received the amazing news that his partner was pregnant with their first child. On finding out he was going to be a Dad, I saw a change in him that was marked. He decided he wanted to build a life for his family that would provide them with financial freedom and everything they would ever need. So, he took the leap and decided to set up his own business, embracing the initial challenges because of the potential longer-term benefits of being his own boss and the financial gains of not paying someone else’s bills. Since then he has sought advice from connections he made in his network, he was working 16 hours a day, putting himself out of his comfort zone trying to win new business because he knows that this is what it is going to take to generate continued success for his business. He now has the mind-set of a winner undoubtedly and impresses me regularly with how he has changed all because of this new focus, his ‘why’. Was he born that way? Absolutely not, but he has learnt what it takes to have that mind set and discipline, and it came from finding out finally what his motivation was.
So, to conclude, the major differentiator from those who are continually successful within their chosen fields is their mind-set. Technology and people come and go, but those with the desire to adapt to their environment and continue to develop are those who continue to win. That consistency comes entirely from their mind set. The ‘winning mind-set’.