The top 10 elements of achieving extraordinary performance in 2014
By Rich Jarvis
The dawn of this New Year has renewed my hope and belief that people of all backgrounds working together can make a great difference and achieve the extraordinary. It is with this belief that I share with you the wisdom from interviews with hundreds of high performers over the last decade on the elements required to achieve and sustain extraordinary performance. I sincerely hope that your dreams and aspirations are realized as you work to make 2014 nothing less than extraordinary.
1. If you want to change your performance, change your thinking
Most people who have spent time with children have experienced firsthand the power of thought. Picture the instant change in the demeanor of a young child, or worse yet, a teenager who is asked to stop what they are doing and finish their chores. Watching someone who is full of endless energy suddenly turn into a lethargic mess is a remarkable sight to behold. Even more remarkable is to witness the immediate change back in demeanor with a knock on the door and an invitation to go outside and play. The chores that were taking hours are now completed in minutes. A thought instantly and dramatically changes the child's outlook on the world around him, which alters his attitude, affects his behavior and, ultimately, changes his performance.
Our thoughts are just as powerful. As Dr. Walter Staples suggests in his book "Think Like a Winner," in order to change performance, you must change your behavior. To change your behavior, you must change your attitude. To change your attitude, you must change your expectations. To change your expectations, you must change your beliefs. And finally, to change your beliefs, you must change your thinking. If you want to achieve extraordinary performance in 2014, it all begins with your thinking.
2. Build from two or three strengths
Without avoiding glaring weaknesses that are directly affecting your job or performance, your time is most effectively spent on building your strengths. Picture Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps realizing that he doesn't throw a football very well. Although this has no performance impact on his swimming, imagine if all his training prior to the Olympics was spent, instead, on perfecting his throw. He probably would not hold the all-time record for gold medals. His time is much better spent on developing his strengths to achieve the extraordinary.
In fact, the growth of your effectiveness is exponential as complementary strengths work together and form a powerful combination. For example, a leader who is exceptional at both driving for results and interpersonal communication will achieve far greater results than the leader who is gifted at driving for results but lacks interpersonal skills.
The key is to identify at least two strengths that you do very well. Begin by creating an inventory of your competencies, talents and abilities and get feedback from trusted co-workers, friends or close family members. Identify two or three strengths that you believe will make the largest impact this year in moving you closer to the person you want to become. Build from those strengths.
3. Establish your purpose and ignite your passion
Most people can explain what they do, but few know why they do it. Those with a purpose harness its power to ignite a passion and then work to accomplish the what and how. Can you imagine if Martin Luther King's speech didn't have a purpose? Instead of "I have a dream" it would have been "There is a plan." Over 250,000 people attended without any texts, reminders or email invitations not because of a plan, but because they believed. There was a purpose, and Dr. King defined the why. Your purpose becomes a strength and fuels your passions, especially during times of challenge and controversy.
Determine what motivates you. Ask yourself what is important to you and why. What are you passionate about?
4. Armor yourself with true principles
Barry Rellaford, co-author of "A Slice of Trust," once told me that there are three constants in life: change, choice and principles. We all experience change, whether we like it or not. We all have a choice of how we react to it. True principles are those constants in life that withstand the test of time, such as service, honesty and integrity. Think of it as your personal armor and protection. When our purpose and values align with true principles, we are given the armor necessary to endure the challenges and obstacles that we are sure to face.
Have you ever heard the phrase, "Do what is right for the right reason"? Achieving extraordinary levels of performance is demanding, to say the least. When people are passionate about and believe in what they are doing, they will go to great lengths to accomplish what may what may seem to be the impossible. Putting on the armor of principle keeps us in line with what matters most — doing the right thing for the right reason. Armor yourself with true principles. 5. Find your performance sweet spot
Visualize Michael Jordan dominating the court as he jumps effortlessly and delivers his signature dunk. As an athlete, he achieved the extraordinary. His strengths and passions centered around basketball. However, do you think he would have quit playing ball if he was no longer paid to play? Of course not. The beauty of his story is that he experienced what is called a performance sweet spot. Combining his strengths as a basketball player with his passion to play and the organizational need for him to do it created the environment to achieve extraordinary levels of performance. Without business opportunity or organizational need, he had a favorite hobby. With opportunity, Michael had a performance sweet spot.
Whether you want to increase productivity at work, start a business or improve your bottom line, you must find your performance sweet spot. Develop a list of all revenue sources and then prioritize the best opportunities that would make the single greatest impact to you or your employer. From your list, define the top two opportunities or organizational needs that align with your strengths and passions.
6. Lead with your strengths
To lead is not defined by position or perfection, but by influence and contribution towards the accomplishment of a goal. Think of the most influential leader you have ever known personally. What was the difference that made him or her such an influential leader to you? Most likely, you are not thinking of this individual because of their weaknesses. However, did they have any? Of course they did, but in spite of those weaknesses, they led by their strengths, and so can you.
Being an effective leader is not determined by the absence of weaknesses, but by the presence of strengths; especially in powerful combinations. Determine your strengths and then identify two or three problems that, if solved this year, would make the greatest impact to you and your organization. Finally, take ownership to solve them.
7. Champion true accountability
What's the initial reaction when something bad happens in our culture? Isn't it to point fingers and try to uncover who's to blame and who's accountable? Many times, those who are accountable lose their jobs, social standing, or both. It is almost as though it's not a positive thing when someone is accountable. It's no wonder why an epidemic of a lack of accountability is sweeping our country. For those who want to experience extraordinary levels of performance, there is no room for this negative approach.
Described beautifully by the authors of "The Oz Principle," true accountability rejects historical explanations of why something did or didn't happen. True accountability champions current efforts to overcome obstacles and moves in the direction of accomplishing goals, and more importantly, who we want to become. It is an attitude of taking full responsibility for success and failure. It is a firm resolve to move towards goals by identifying them and owning the outcome. It is asking daily what else can be done to rise above our circumstances and continue moving towards our goals.
8. Take responsibility to communicate openly and encourage dialogue
Communication is one of the single most important skills in life. Visualize having a conversation with a close friend or colleague about a topic important to you. Your conversation flows freely as you discuss issues with ease and are confident that you are fully understood. Even sensitive feedback is welcomed and valued. With this individual, you feel safe to talk about almost anything. Imagine the impact to you, your family and your organization if all of your conversations were met with such safety.
According to the authors of "Crucial Conversations," the free flow of information between two or more people adds meaning to our conversations and is called dialogue. Our ability to influence others is directly related to how well we encourage dialogue by making it safe to talk about almost anything. Many people, even unknowingly, make the mistake of violating the condition of safety which in turn restricts dialogue. This is done by either forcing information into the conversation leaving no room for others' viewpoints, or by withholding information by withdrawing, being silent or masking true feelings. Either way, it is far less than productive.
In order to achieve and sustain extraordinary levels of performance, first take ownership of creating the conditions of safety required to encourage dialogue. Then, as was taught by Stephen Covey, seek first to understand, then be understood. 9. Challenge the strategies
If you were to give yourself a performance review for this last year, what would the results be? Did you achieve what you set out to do, or did you fall short of your expectations? After thinking about your job description and the role you play at work, what were the outcomes of the year? Would you say the results are positive or somewhat negative?
In any case, the strategies you employed and the fact you took action produced results — positive or negative. After a tremendous effort, when the results are positive, there is a great sense of accomplishment. On the other hand, ending with a poor result may produce equally powerful emotions that are not so positive. Dr. Rob Gilbert from the University of New York taught me that it is important to understand three components of obtaining results: Your ability + the strategies you use + taking action = results.
Many times, in our fast-paced society the tendency after a poor outcome is to question the ability of the individual to perform. When this occurs, self doubt and criticism hinder one's motivation to take action. While ability is an important variable in this equation, it's not the only one. A much more proactive approach after obtaining a result is to challenge the strategies used. By doing so, the individual remains engaged in the activity of producing results. Furthermore, with the same ability but with different strategies, the outcomes can vary drastically. In reality, when better strategies are used, performance increases. In the pursuit of the extraordinary, review performance and challenge your strategies.
10. Life balance and the small things
Working is an integral part of life, but it doesn't mean that that's all there is to life. Finding a balance of personal time, family, work and other pursuits creates a much more productive and meaningful journey. The greatest improvement over time is usually due to the small things you consistently do, or neglect to do.
Let's take the power of compounding and the story of a penny that doubles every day for a month. First day, you have $.01. The second day $.02. At the end of the first week you have $.64. Halfway through the month, or on day 15, you have $163.84. However, on day 31, that penny has doubled to $10,737,418. Missing just one day anytime during the month would change the total to $5,368,709 on day 31. Quite significant.
Finding a balance in life includes doing the small things consistently, just like that penny each and every day. Now, I'm not saying we have to double what we do over time. But what I am saying is to be consistent. Choosing to skip the small things won't make or break you at first, but just like that penny, it makes all the difference in world.
Think of the impact it would make spending a little extra time with a family member, exercising for 30 minutes, reading 10 pages in a good book or contacting five new prospects, each and every day. The extraordinary occurs when you choose to do ordinary things consistently over time. Picture the difference it would make for you to experience the compounding effect of all the small things added up over the next year, five years, or 10 years. It would be extraordinary!
To quote Aristotle, “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Prioritize what's most important to you and apply the ten elements consistently over time. Your life will not only become more meaningful, but extraordinary. Just like a penny a day. And that's a promise.
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