Performance = Potential – Interference (P = P – I)
I came across this formula recently in Coaching for Performance – a solid read for any leader (which is really anyone). Timothy Gallwey wrote a book in the 70’s called “The Inner Game of Tennis” – I haven’t read it yet, but plan on it. Sir John Whitmore references Gallwey often in his book, “Coaching for Performance” and it’s a fascinating, simple formula. I’m six months into a new gig running a sales team. I had been a sole producer for many years so having the opportunity to lead a team has been nothing short of amazing. And, to learn about this formula is even more transformative.
I wanted to share this formula with you not just because of it’s simplicity, but because of it’s importance. Especially when it comes to sales and really knowledge workers in general, performing at a high level consistently is crucial. Much like an athlete, you experience ups and downs throughout your days and you really have to be focused and aware of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. Let’s face it, you can be pretty average and get by. That’s no fun, though. What if you were truly performing at your optimal level. Well, increasing your Potential and reducing your Interference is key, as Gallwey states.
Potential – this is something we all have. Every day, every week, every month and every year, we have an opportunity to move toward our potential. You know that….I know that. The key to this formula, however, is the last piece – the I. Interference. We all have Interference throughout our lives and we must be aware of this first and foremost to be able to reduce it.
Interference comes in many forms. It can be that little voice in your head telling you you’re not good enough. It can be fear. It can be tangible things like social media addiction or even bad influences in your life (people, mindless TV, etc.). The list goes on and on. For me, it’s even something as basic as breathing. I tend to hold my breath at times and it leads to an increase in anxiety. I do it subconsciously and I have to be really intentional and remind myself to breathe deeply. When I do that, it always helps. I also think about times when I played sports at a high level and at a low level. When I found myself struggling on the field, it was very much because I had too much interference going on in my head and in my body.
So, my challenge to you is to think about what Interference you have in your life and in your work? Is it a nagging problem you are refusing to face? Is it a smart phone that you can’t put down? Is it a constant comparison to others that’s drowning you out? Seek out people and things (i.e. books) that help you move closer to your potential and minimize and/or weed out the things that will reduce the interference.
“What people lack is clarity not motivation” – James Clear
James Clear spoke to our team this week and he got me thinking more about clarity vs motivation. It’s easier to “go with the flow” and not get really crystal clear about what you’re doing, chasing, seeking, etc. Lots of people seek motivation and want some magic thing to take hold and propel them to getting some profound stuff done. Motivation is fleeting….but clarity is something you can always define and leverage to keep moving forward.
Do you have clarity into what outcome you want to achieve or how you want to feel or impact you want to have or people you want to serve? What do you want to accomplish in the next 30 seconds? Or 30 minutes? Or 30 days? Or 30 months? Or 30 years? What habits to you want to cultivate? What do you want to start doing? Stop doing? Keep doing?
I encourage you to start to think about that. I like to think about it as three components- let’s call them A.I.A. The first step is Awareness. You must understand and have clarity around where you are. The second step is Intention…or understanding where you want to go. And, the third step is Action. And with the action always comes ups and downs so get ready for the ride and keep pressing forward despite the obstacles. But, you’ve got to get that clarity down first.
I sit here, delayed at the airport on my visit to Des Moines, Iowa. I knew I should’ve taken the first flight out but thought I’d take advantage of the two extra hours of sleep after my early morning flight here yesterday. The current situation is bleak – I will most assuredly miss my connecting flight in Chicago. And so goes the business travel grind – yes, folks, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. I’d gladly trade the Fleming’s beef for a smooth process to get back home to the fam. This simple fact here, this stuff happens. We control how we respond to everything that happens. I can sit here and be pissed or I can take the hand I’ve been dealt and just play the game as is. There’s much to do and why not take advantage of this time. Complaining and feeling sorry for myself isn’t worth the trouble.
It’s a paradigm shift – to truly take an obstacle and to turn it into an opportunity. We face challenges every day and we have choices everyday. I’ve been diving into Covey’s 7 Habits again lately as we prep for an upcoming workshop for my team at work. Covey talks a lot about this in Habit 1 – Be Proactive. Focus 3 calls this living “Above the Line”. Ryan Holiday details this in his great book, “The Obstacle is the Way”. I think Covey sums it up nicely when he talks about the gap between Stimulus and Response. It’s a space where all the magic happens. The more in tune you can get with this space and become aware of what’s happening there, the better of you’ll be. I think that simple awareness that you control that space, no one else. That’s a big thing.
So, the next time you find yourself like I am today – a situation that could easily leave anyone frustrated – I ask you to simply stop in the gap and be present and think about what your most intentional action can be. Take control – it’s there for the taking.
I had a client recently question some analysis I was doing on a contract and pricing we give them. He made reference to “hidden costs” and the potential that we’re not being forthright. This struck me right in the heart. The simple act of implying that we were potentially hiding costs really hit me hard. My first reaction, after I read this before I jumped in my car post soccer practice, was anger. After all, this is a guy I know well. I consider him a pretty good friend and I believe we have a trusted relationship. Why would he think we are doing something that’s not above board here? I wanted to respond to his email and call him out and question our partnership – that was my first reaction, my reptilian brain coming into play – my flight response (as opposed to my fight response). First reactions are many times not the best course of action – once again, always learning and always observing.
After stewing over this, I realized that this is in fact a great opportunity to further our relationship – to solidify our partnership. I know that there are no hidden costs and I know that we’re striving to add value and be the best partner we can. But it’s up to me to communicate that effectively and to put myself in his shoes. It’s up to me to think from his perspective and whatever concerns he has, I need to acknowledge and accept them, and make him feel at ease. That’s business after all. Actually, that’s life.
We struggle to succumb to these first reactions and to how we feel when we need to take a step back, press pause as our friends at Focus 3 like to say, and think about what’s really behind the situation. And, to think about what the best way to react is going to be. For a minute, I thought about texting my friend/client and questioning the four years we’ve spent developing a relationship. For a minute, I thought like a victim (okay, maybe more like a couple hours). I woke up this morning, however, with a refreshed mind after a good 8 hrs of shut eye and I know the best response is not to overreact. The best response is to come alongside him and help him understand. To continue down the path of authenticity and trust-building. The Obstacle becomes the Way – as Ryan Holiday writes about in his book (you should pick it up by the way!).
We speak often about partnership and trust in our job – our livelihood is based on these trusted relationships. The proof, as it is always, is in the pudding. Everyday we’re faced with moments like this. We can think like a victim or change our focus…and think like a victor. The opportunity is there for us in these moments. I have a call with my friend/client later today to discuss. I’m looking forward to influencing his perspective.
I’ll leave you with this great quote from Holiday’s book:
“What matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure.”
Every day you have a choice. In fact, every day you have thousands of choices. Many unconscious, many conscious. You have a choice on what your attitude is. What your reaction is. What your demeanor is. How you treat others. How you respond to the challenge put in front of you.
Our days are made up of moments. And, it’s entirely up to you on how you live each moment. It doesn’t mean things won’t get hard. It doesn’t mean adversity won’t come daily. What it means is that you have to take an intentional stance on how you will respond to anything that comes your way.
So, how do you harness this positive mindset on a more consistent basis?
First, you have to become aware of it. What triggers you? When do you get negative? When do you start to gossip? When do you complain? If you need to, start writing it down in a journal or piece of paper. Keep a tick sheet of your negative reactions. Both internal and external. I think you’ll be surprised at how many you default to.
Second, you must take ownership of it. If you don’t own your mindset, you’ll get crushed. Our default is to over react and flee when tough things happen. Our brains are wired for survival. The moment something tough happens, our default is to run and hide. To survive. It takes awareness and really owning it to stay the course and keep a positive mind.
Third, be intentional about being more positive. Think before you speak. If you catch yourself complaining, stop and think about how you can take on a more positive stance. This takes time. It won’t happen overnight but if you can get just a little bit better each day…just a little more intentional each day, you’ll be blown away by the results over time.
Remember, we all have a choice every moment of everyday. $–t is going to happen to you. It just is. The better we can get at anticipating this and embracing the challenges we face, the better results we’ll see.
It’s a battle to build a positive mindset. But the more you’re aware of it, own it and are intentional about staying positive, the greater the likelihood for positive results.
I tell you this as someone who’s battled a negative mindset in many facets. From being a college athlete and struggling mightily with mindset after I got benched to losing a big account a few years ago – I’ve been there and I’ve failed. By the grace of God, I surrounded myself with some great influences and learned about the importance of a consistent, positive mindset on a moment to moment basis. I can tell you first hand that you will be stronger for it. Whatever comes your way, take a breath and find the diamond in the rough. It’s in there.
Adversity always leads to opportunity…you just have to look for it.
When I was a kid growing up in Cleveland, there was a high school wrestling coach who wrote a book that impacted me greatly. It was a book primarily of quotes from coaches, athletes, etc. I was deeply inspired by the book. I used to read it often. That book was written by Howard Ferguson, who was the St. Edward wrestling coach at the time. It’s called “The Edge”. The seed was planted for me to keep seeking out wisdom from others. At the time, I didn’t have enough life experience to truly know what The Edge was.
Growing up as an athlete, I experienced some of what it was like to have this “Edge”. I had talent and worked hard to develop skills. I was able to become a pretty good soccer player in my younger days – good enough to earn a college scholarship to a top 20 ranked Division One school.
Unfortunately (or fortunately in hindsight), I lost “The Edge” I had developed and I struggled immensely during my college years. I was facing some personal demons and, frankly, didn’t know how to deal with them. This led to some poor play on the field and I can easily attribute it to my mindset. I simply lost The Edge.
As I’ve ventured into adult life, I’ve been through peaks and valleys (as we all have). I’ve experienced The Edge at times and I’ve also experienced the Valleys. Over the last two years, I’ve studied deeply what gives people this Edge and what experiences bring me close to having it.
What I’ve uncovered is that everyone has the capacity to gain The Edge but it’s not easy. It takes time. It takes practice. Combining my personal experiences with a deep study of many top performers, I’ve come up with a framework that I believe gets us closer to experiencing “The Edge” on a more consistent basis. I call this framework – AIA.
THE AIA FRAMEWORK
First, to really perform at a high level, you have to be Aware of your current state. Are you reaching your potential? What are you great at? What are you struggling with? You must be honest. You must take ownership of your past, your present & your future. Where do you want to go? This is all about Awareness.
Second, you have to live with Intention. Once you have the awareness of where you are today and where you want to go, you must be intentional in planning how you’re going to get there. This takes work. It takes reflection. It takes writing down your thoughts (or typing). It takes surrounding yourself with people who inspire and challenge you. This can be anything from vision to goal-setting.
Third, you must take action. Awareness tells you where you are today. Intention helps you understand where you want to go. But, without Action there is no going from Point A to Point B. Many people fall short here. Execution is hard. It takes work to make big things happen. You’re going to struggle. You’re going to face uphill battles. But, the perseverance and the mental fortitude to keep pressing on is usually the secret sauce to execution.
Thinking about Process vs Outcome is Paramount to living with The Edge
I really believe that any high impact outcomes are more a product of embracing the process than only focusing on outcomes. Lincoln has a great quote – he said “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
I love this idea. I think we spend too much time in a default state of reacting and not enough time preparing and building. We’re stuck on the surface and our attention is at the mercy of something or someone else. To accomplish anything of significance, it takes an ability to back up and think about what you’re really trying to do. Plan with a purpose, set specific milestones and then embrace the process to get there. It’s not always pretty…in fact, it can be really ugly. But, you must trust the process.
This is why I’ve constructed this framework. AIA – Awareness, Intention, Action. It literally is the basis for all I do now. I believe you can layer this onto many things. I’ve used it at work with sales processes and consulting engagements with clients. I’ve used it with coaching clients. I’ve used it for my own personal goal setting. I’ve used it with the soccer team I coach. I’ve used it with my relationship with my wife. I’ve used it to plan a church Mission Trip and I’ve used it to help run a Development initiative at a non-profit.
It’s really the operating system that I utilize today and I wanted to share this with you. I will be sharing more in depth as we go and I’m currently looking at creating more formalized ways to teach this and share this. I’m even considering a complete brand change with The Catalyst Project in the near future.
The bottom line is this – my mission is to see as many people as possible dig deep and reach their potential. This is as much about contributing to others in meaningful way as it is around achievement. I think it takes work for sure but the awareness of where you are, the intention of where you want to go and the disciplined action to do the work forms the basis for this.
So, welcome to The Edge – I look forward to sharing more with you as we go!
How can you take action today?
My encouragement to you is to gain some awareness. Think about your life in your primary areas of intention – for me it’s Faith, Family, Health, Finances, Contribution and Personal Development. On a scale of 1-10, write down where you are in each area. Then, write down where you’d like to be in the next 12 months (be realistic – if you’re a 2 in one area, getting to a 10 may be a challenge. Why not get to a 5 first, then go from there). There’s a great tool called the Wheel of Life that helps you do just this – Check out this link where you can either download a free template to create your own or use their guide to create one. That’s a good start. Do this every three months and you’re on to something. This is your first step to real Awareness.
Boy am I in the mix right now. A week ago I received news of a deal gone South. I’m a sales guy. Large deals don’t come along that often and this one was signed/sealed/delivered last month. All that was needed was contract signature. Then, the curveball. The deal’s still going to happen, just different terms.
I feel like I read people pretty well – essentially that’s what I’m paid to do. And, the coaching I do is all about reading people. I misread this one…
I’ve been pretty depressed thinking about it…what did I miss? Where did we fall short? Why didn’t I see this coming. Again, it’s not that the deal is dead, just was blindsided – and I hate being blindsided.
So, I thought I’d write about and hopefully help someone out there who’s dealing in the trenches with something that’s gone awry…work/life/sports – kind of all the same – things happen. Sh%t happens, as the saying goes. I used to think that I always had to put on a pretty face…that adversity happens and you just bounce back…while this is true to a large degree, I think it’s dangerous. When stuff happens, I think you have to let yourself feel it….don’t just sweep it under the rug. I haven’t slept well all week. Life is going on…work is going on. Again, this particular deal is still being salvaged…but it stings. I haven’t felt this in a while. I keep trying to force my way out of it…to still close the deal and think about other stuff. Maybe an extra glass of wine or beer on a few of the nights…I don’t think that’s the right path….we…rather, I, too many times in the past just tried to bounce back…and too many times swept “stuff” under the rug.
The truth is, I need to face it head on. I made a misjudgment….a mistake. Not the end of the world, but I need to feel the pain for a bit to learn from it. So next time, I can get ahead of it. Now, I’m fighting to still close this deal by the end of the year – my number (sales quota) depends on it.
So, if there’s one ultimate lesson here it’s to not run from stuff when it happens. If it’s painful that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As my friend Kary talks about – embrace acute pain….otherwise multiple rounds of acute pain, when pushed aside, turn into chronic pain. Been there done that.
Embrace the challenge at hand. Don’t sweep it…embrace it, face it head on…learn from it…get better. That’s all we can do.
I’ve been reminded of the importance of facing obstacles head on. A phone call with a client on Friday where I received some bad news. A deal we had agreed to a month ago was now off the table. Not the entire deal, just many of the things we agreed to were being asked to be taken out. I wasn’t so much disappointed in the newly proposed structure, it was more of the timing of the conversation. You see, the deal was supposed to be signed Friday. There was no indication that it wouldn’t be until mid-week last week when initial rumblings started to happen. Deals aren’t supposed to go down that way – 17 yrs in the business – and seeing a lot of interesting things, but there was no indication a month ago (when terms were agreed to) that this would happen. Lesson learned for me for sure.
In sales there’s an adage that the deal is never closed until the ink is dry (aka – the contract is signed). I’ve learned to be careful with communicating out any type of closed deal for this reason. I’m glad I didn’t hear.
So, the constructs of the deal have changed…frankly, I was super pissed off about the way this went down Friday. I was mad at the client for how it went down. After reflecting on, praying about, and trying to construct how we go from here, I’ve realized that, ultimately, I have to look at myself and the work I’ve done to bring this home.
You see, after much reflection, and some of the info I received Friday, I realized that we dropped the ball on a couple things. Some were very small, some a little bigger. It’s software, it’s business – balls are going to drop. We won’t be 100% everyday. But it’s a great reminder….that we need to keep striving to be 100%. Whether it’s getting things delivered on time or presenting data to a client – it’s important to take pride in your work – to do everything you can do to deliver huge value.
Many times it’s not the one thing that drops that causes the issues, but it’s the ten small things over the course of a couple years that aren’t 100%, that add up to decisions like we had Friday.
We’ll do better, we have no choice. I’m about to go into a meeting to salvage the deal today. We’ll still do business, just the constructs have changed. The good news is that I learned that we are lacking trust at the client. Regardless of my thoughts before Friday, that’s the world we’re in today. We need to reset….our team needs to buckle down…and deliver what we say we’re going to do….it’s a striving for greatness….a relentless pursuit of delivering on everything we set out. It’s not easy….it takes discipline, hard work, consistency, perseverance….probably most of all – looking at ourselves in the mirror and saying – we’re going to do our best today.
Stuff happens. The question is, when obstacles arise, are you going to make excuses or are you going to pick up wherever you are and make lemonade out of lemons.
Over the last year, I’ve had the opportunity to interview and take a deep dive into the minds of over 40 business executives, sales leaders, sports coaches and entrepreneurs. These were lengthy, in-depth conversations around what made them successful…and, furthermore, what held them back. My findings were pretty fascinating and I thought I’d share some of this with you. What started as a small project last November quickly became an obsession of finding out what the best of the best did to keep their edge.
I was really suprised by how different everyone went about their day to day work. I’d say for sure that everyone had things they do really well and things they can improve. One of the objectives was to uncover both and help everyone get a little bit better. And, of course, to tease out what some of the consistent themes were so that I could help add value going forward. Finally, and selfishly, I wanted to learn : )
I really believe no matter how much success you have or how “good” you are today, if you’re not looking to get better it’s a recipe for disaster. I say that from experience. Nine years ago I got a big promotion. I was 30 yrs old and if I’m being honest – got a little complacent. I stopped pushing the envelope and thought I had “made it”. Thankfully, I got a wake-up call a few years ago and my mindset is all about continuous growth. Hard lesson, but a great lesson.
Back to my research and some key findings. I’ve been blown away by the candor and how different people approach things. I liken the conversations to that picture of the iceberg where all you see is what’s above the water. You know the one I’m talking about – where you can only see a small piece above and there’s this huge piece below the surface we never see. This was such a big theme – everyone had so much they did on a day to day basis that they really never thought about. I found that many never thought about their daily habits and what made them “successful”. I put that in italics because success is certainly different for everyone. I can definitely tell you that although important, financial success was rarely the primary factor. In fact, the idea of serving and adding value was a big theme for most. The best of the best definitely had a contribution mindset that set them apart. That was cool to see.
I thought I’d list out a few key learnings and the cool part is this has opened up a much larger conversation about how we can all learn from each other.
Three core themes stuck out and they are as follows:
Theme #1 – Mindset
Everyone has challenges in their daily lives. It was a pervasive theme. The best of the best have a resiliency to them. They know that things won’t always go their way but they’re focused on moving forward. Carol Dweck, who wrote the book “Mindset – The New Psychology of Success” refers to two different types of approaches. One is a Fixed Mindset and the other is a Growth Mindset. Here’s what Dweck says about Fixed Mindsets – “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.” Here’s what she says about Growth Mindsets – “People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, see their qualities as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort. Sure they’re happy if they’re brainy or talented, but that’s just the starting point. They understand that no one has ever accomplished great things—not Mozart, Darwin, or Michael Jordan—without years of passionate practice and learning.” Make sense? We can all get better. Whatever cards you’re dealt today are simply the hand you are dealt. You have a choice with how you play that hand. This is crucial – without this foundation, I’m not sure anything else matters.
Theme #2 – Planning
The best plan their work every day. They don’t let the urgency of others own what they do. They utilize their calendars to schedule important tasks and meetings. As Stephen Covey said in “7 Habits of Highly Successful People”, the best definitely “Begin with the end in mind”. Abraham Lincoln has a great quote, “Give me six hours to cut down a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Think about that…we often times want to dive into our email or daily grind….but are you really thinking about your work the right way. The best focus on high impact work and plan their day around that. There are many different approaches to how people plan and execute, but the important thing is that you’re not just falling prey to what comes at you. The best of the best had specific tasks or projects they work on for the day and they get after it. Those that leverage their calendars to plan out specific tasks are certainly on the higher end of performance. One of the key habits that came forth was around identifying a small list of specific outcomes for the day and having an intense focus on achieving those before working on less impactful things. Quick tip – Write down the top 3-5 outcomes for the day and block time in your calendar to start the day (start with 90 minutes). Start with the top outcome and work your way down that list. Do this first and do it everyday…you’ll start to see some results, I promise.
Theme #3 – Fuel
Simply put, the best fuel for optimal performance. This means they think like an athlete when they work. Whether it’s what you put into your body (food/liquid) or how much you sleep, I can assure the best of the best are thinking about this. In fact, I talked to a very successful CEO who chuckled about the notion of CEO’s pulling all nighters and working 80 hour weeks. He counted sleep as one of the primary components to his success. The average amount of sleep per night was about seven hours for these top performers. There were some that operated on less but I can tell you that their stress level was a lot higher. When it comes to what you put in your body, if you ever played a sport, did you perform well if you just at a Big Mac and Vanilla Shake before your game? I think we both know the answer – so, why would you eat a bunch of junk during your work day? To perform at an optimal level, you MUST think about what you’re fueling your body and mind with.
These are definitely the top three themes that came to the surface but there were a lot more that are important to the daily success. I can tell you that most wake up early but not all. I talked to some very successful folks who aren’t early risers…they still do high impact work. The fun part is that the conversation continues to evolve.
How can you take action?
My encouragement for you is to pick one area that you want to get better. If it’s planning better, schedule 30 minutes in your day just for planning. If it’s mindset, I recommend journaling about what brings you down and makes you think from a negative state. On the flip side, think about what brings you up. Just being aware is a great first step. And, remember, life isn’t perfect. If you can focus on production over perfection, you’ll be so far ahead of the game. If it’s fuel, think about what time you’re going to bed. Start your bed time routine a little earlier. Try putting your phone in airplane mode so you won’t get buzzed right when you’re going to bed. Think about your energy throughout the day. Start to think about your food intake as fuel for your body, mind & soul.
I’d love to hear from you. What’s the one habit/ritual/thing that helps you achieve what you set out to on a daily basis? Furthermore, what’s the biggest challenge you have when it comes to daily “success”?
I’ve had the fortune of playing on some really good teams, both athletically and in business. It’s a topic that really fascinates me. What makes a great team versus a good team?? What’s the difference? I believe there’s a fine line between a good team and a great team….although that fine line is very hard to attain…and, really, to be aware of.
It’s a process. Great teams don’t start as great teams. Great teams also aren’t always great – they have peaks and valleys just like the rest of us. The difference? Great teams have the ability to get out of the valley faster and with much less residue than good (or weak) teams. Does that make sense? I’ll repeat it b/c it’s ultra important – great teams, just like any “successful” person, goes through peaks and valleys just like everyone else. They just respond quicker than most everyone else. Not just respond, they adapt….the learn from what got them into the valley. So…next time, the likelihood of going into the valley is less – they ADAPT.
We get so caught up in seeing teams or people exude this greatness. We think they were born with it…that they just have it in their DNA. Oh, how untrue this is. Great teams embrace the process….great teams embrace the daily grind…the ups and downs. They don’t get stuck in the muck…..they embrace the muck…and fight their way out of it.
Great teams prepare. Great teams understand that their backs are going to be up against the wall, many times on a daily basis. The question is, what is that team going to do about it. It’s a culture that’s built over time. It’s a mindset that’s instilled in the deepest part of each individual on that team. It’s a resilience. It’s starts with the leader then it filters down to the players or team members….a belief in each other….a belief in the process.
So…embrace the struggle my friends….it’s coming…your greatness is about how you adjust, adapt and respond to your valleys.