By: Spencer Penhart, Penhart Performance Group
Have you ever asked yourself the question, “What makes a high performer a high performer?” One of my heroes has a saying; “The quality of your life will be determined by the quality of the questions you ask,” and if this is true, then the previous question is a valuable one indeed. Precious few people take this first most crucial step, but even if you do, the inevitable doubt starts creeping in. “Can I really pull this off?... I don’t know how to do this!... I’ve never done this before, and have no proof I will succeed… What if I fail?... Should I back out?”, etc. Well fear not, because psychology and organizational behavior research shows that success is less about your innate talents and strengths, and much more about what you DO behaviorally. That means you can greatly improve your performance, if you are willing to do what is necessary. Here are the four key areas you can focus on to improve your performance right now, that are fully within your control. As you read them, think about which you do well, and which you could use some work on:
One of my favorite Yogi Berra quotes is, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else.” It is nothing short of stunning that most people give more thought and planning to what they want for lunch than they do for their lives, career or business. If you are driving to a location you’ve never been to, you need a map; similarly, you need a map for your life and career or business. This is one of the most challenging but rewarding mental exercises you can do, and it starts by answering the following basic questions:
Personal Clarity: Who am I? What do I value? What is important to me? What do I want to be known for?
Professional Clarity: How can I make my career or business a reflection of my personal clarity, so that I can be my true and best self at work? You will find your professional success and happiness at the intersection of three key areas: 1) What you are good at, 2) What you love doing, and 3) Something valued in the marketplace that people are willing to pay for.
Fact: How you view and think about the world shapes your perceptions of it, which then impacts the decisions and actions you take. As such, you had better have views that are empowering and enable success, or else you likely either won’t try or won’t try your hardest (both of which, last time I checked, were losing strategies!). Some of the foundational beliefs that are non-negotiable are”
Internal Locus of Control: Until you are willing to accept responsibility for the cause and effect of your own actions, for your successes AND failures, you have no foundation for success. Point the finger inward, not outward.
You are your own biggest competitor: You can only control two things in this world – what you say, and what you do. Why spend so much time and energy worrying about what others are doing? Focus on doing your very best every day, and the rest will take care of itself.
Nothing is impossible: There is a big difference between “That’s impossible,” and “I haven’t figured that out yet.” Oftentimes, reality is the latter. Don’t confuse the two.
We are living in the time of most rapid change in human history, and that rate of change is only going to increase exponentially. The game of business has shifted from who can be the biggest, to who can learn and adjust the fastest. Over the course of her career, world-renowned psychologist Carol Dweck has proven that far more important than natural talent is the willingness to learn and practice; what she refers to as the “Growth Mindset”. Some key areas within this include:
Learned Helplessness: People make devastating assumptions about all kinds of situations, but the most damaging of all is the assumption called “This is never going to improve, so I’m going to stop trying.” Usually, it is the decreased effort that results in the situation not improving!
Failure as a learning opportunity: Failure often brings accompanying feelings of guilt and shame. Instead, shift your focus to learning as much as you can failure. Silicon Valley has a famous saying about failure: “Fail fast, fail forward, fail frequently.” This is because every failure brings a gift of some important learning, which will enable you to be more successful the next time. Make lots of mistakes, just never make the same one twice.
Personal Kaizen: Small continuous improvements add up very quickly over time. Make it your goal to learn one thing and get 1% better every day. Want some proof? Reading 1 book per month for personal development would put you in the top 1% worldwide for self-development. If you read 1 hour per day on a given topic, you would be among the world’s leading authorities on that topic within 7 years. It doesn’t take much to get a big advantage over your competitors, if you are willing to be consistent and disciplined.
The old sales adage is true: People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. You can be the deepest expert in the world at what you do, but if you are an uncaring person or a lousy teammate, no one is going to want to work with you, and you will cause dysfunction far beyond yourself. According to EI expert Dr. Travis Bradberry: the majority of individual job performance (58%) is now attributable to Emotional Intelligence (people skills) rather than IQ (book smarts); 90% of all high-performers have high emotional intelligence; and E.I. is twice as important as IQ for getting where you want to go in life. The first two areas to start improving your Emotional Intelligence are:
Self-Awareness: Can you honestly assess your areas of strength and weakness? If not, you are likely to have an over-inflated opinion of yourself and your performance, and be unaware of problem behaviors that are negatively impacting both your performance and life.
Empathy: Can you care about others and walk in their shoes? Empathy is the root of caring and kindness, and if you want to be successful at anything, that is a terrific place to start.
How did you do? Remember, we all have things we do well, and things we can improve on. Embracing these four areas will help you not only master your craft, but become the type of leader people line up to work with and for. You’ve already done the hard part by deciding you want to be great. Now, just pick the one thing on this list that you feel would help you the most, and start there. And keep asking powerful questions.