Why do only a few make it to the top? What does it take to become a world-class achiever in your field of expertise?
The other day, I was at a NBA playoffs game between Toronto and Miami. It was a spectacular match where the Toronto Raptors beat Miami Heat in overtime. The crowd went absolutely crazy. It was a sign that the players delivered: they won and they entertained. While I observed the game I tried to figure out what the three things are that top-talent professionals have, or do over and over again that make them outliers.
One of the concepts that I like when talking about top talent, is the one that Tim Grover introduced in his book Relentless. Tim is a well-known trainer of top basketball athletes like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, and he talks about three categories of professionals: Coolers, Closers and Cleaners.
A Cooler is a follower who "can make a huge play, but he's ultimately not responsible for the outcome. A Closer "can handle a lot of pressure" and will perform effectively if his task is clearly defined. A Cleaner is the ultimate competitor who has an "insatiable addiction to success." Or in other words: good, great and unstoppable. This model is not limited to sports: it can be applied to any profession.
My point of view is that world-class achievers have or do three things nonstop.
World-class achievers are self and socially aware. They are self-conscious, know what they want and deeply understand their strengths and weaknesses. They have a strong desire to learn and improve. They handle a mistake, set-back or failure as an opportunity to grow instead of a showstopper. They are hungry and have a broad interest in exploring new concepts and emerging technologies that have potential to make them better. They come from humble beginnings. They know that arrogance eventually bend their performance curve downwards. They build and maintain strong relationships and have the intent to help grow people they interact with. They understand that trust fuels every relationship.
World-class achievers attract the right conditions such that they can operate and grow to the best of their abilities. This can range from working conditions, to the employer you want to work for, to the kind of projects you want to be on, to seeking advice from coaches, to support from family and friends and so on. They respect these conditions and nurture them, because they understand the positive impact on their results.
World-class achievers persevere. They are focused on delivering the plan. They have alternative plans in their back pocket in case the situation asks for it. Nothing will stop them. They run scenarios in their head that can possibly derail them or their team and have answers ready. They are competitive and want to win. There’s no doubt. Everything they do is aligned with their goals, because they realize that if they don’t, somebody else will.
The point of succeeding can be different for each world-class achiever. It could be driven by a survival strategy, or the desire to leave something behind of significance, or an act of humanity or justice, or something else. It doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as you are mindful about it and let it keep up the fire in your belly to run and deliver. Nonstop.
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