Strategies to develop your top talent

Archive for the ‘Mastery’ Category

We remember today a speech given 100 years ago in Paris by Theodore Roosevelt at the Sorbonne one year after he left the presidency.  The larger speech was about Citizenship in a Republic, and the most quoted section talked about the man in the arena.  Many people have borrowed the words or echoed the sentiment, perhaps most famously Richard Nixon in his 1974 resignation speech.  The original attribution to Roosevelt seems mostly forgotten except by historians.

But I think it’s important to look at the fuller context of this speech which I’ll show with some select quotations and my own comments as they relate to personal development.  Roosevelt addressed an educated French audience and his topic was about the kind of citizenship that makes a republic strong.

“In the long run, success or failure will be conditioned upon the way in which the average man, the average women, does his or her duty, first in the ordinary, every-day affairs of life, and next in those great occasional cries which call for heroic virtues.” (more…)

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Top talent goes the distance

olympic-ringsThe Vancouver 2010 games are now history.  What a ride it has been!

I watched a lot of the games and was inspired and energized by the displays of dedication, hard work and concentration.

Training and preparation are the obvious ticket to get a participant to the games.  Some trained harder than others.  But on gameday itself, in the hour of competition, at the exact minute and second when fractions count, that’s when the small things become really big.  Leaning too far this direction, and the favored front-runner takes a fall.  A moment of hesitation on the short track and you don’t get to pass the person in front of you and qualify for the medal round.  It was clear that the mental game is a really big part of top performance.

What inspires so many is the all-out effort and dedication that these athletes show.  For those of us in the working world, how often do we push up against limitations and our own desire to stop, to move on to something else instead of taking the time to get it right?  Developing top talent isn’t done in days, or through a short training program.  It requires dedication, investment, going the second and the third mile, revising and honing performance, review and feedback, great coaching and a coachable spirit.

I’m glad we have the Olympics to show us these things.   There are too few places dedicated to producing top talent, champions and world-record results.  It’s time to bring the Olympic spirit, ethos and training regimen inside of more organizations.

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Time to get moving

“Let him who would move the world first move himself.” (Socrates)

January’s resolutions are long gone–time to get moving on what you’re really committed to.  I’m still hearing from people who are writing their own version of what the year ahead looks like using my free workbook “The Year Ahead 2010″.  You can get a copy for yourself and start  moving yourself, then watch out–the world will move too.

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Brain Science and Top Talent

brain_by_roonegIt’s common to think of top talent as people who are just plain smarter than the rest, the really bright people who stand out.  There are obviously some linkages, but they aren’t as hard and fast as they first appear.  Smart people who don’t really apply themselves can’t be classified as top talent.   There is also a case for different talents, not all of which are cognitive.  One reason for the interest in Daniel Goleman’s notion of emotional intelligence is because he explained how many top achievers differentiate themselves because of a particular form of social intelligence or personal mastery, not because of traditional measures of IQ or intelligence.

New discoveries in brain science seem to greet us almost every day.  How the mind and brain work is a fascinating field that just gets more interesting with each new discovery. 

We’re learning about different types of memory, the different regions of the brain where they are stored or accessed, (more…)

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depressed_by_vinayshivakumarI see a lot of hand-wringing going on around me these days.  “What will happen in the economy?”  “When will things get better?”  The causes for worry and uncertainty are endless, but I have a simple way to respond.


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Talent and hard work

Simple question:  Which is most important to success, talent or hard work?

There is a classic debate about muscle and perspiration vs. brilliance and natural intelligence.  Natural ability is certainly a tremendous help, at least it is an advantage.  Yet I’ve seen quite a few examples of really gifted people who didn’t have the right opportunities, or they didn’t apply themselves, or they squandered what they had through bad choices.

Hard work to me seems indispensable.  You cannot do without it, unless you are riding a mighty wave that is carrying you along.  The problem is what do you do when the wave plays out before you’ve reached your desired destination?  Without hard work, your wave riding is done!  So, success really is a lot about hard work and not quitting until you reach your goal. 

It’s really a false choice to try and decide which is more important.  If you have little talent, you’re going to need a lot of hard work and heart.  If you have a lot of talent, you’re going to need at least a little hard work in order to get a shot at success.  The more hard work you put in, the better rewards you’ll reap.

Let’s avoid the false choice.  The real key to success is an appropriate mix of talent AND hard work.


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Get an instrument

If you want to create change, one of the better strategies you can adopt is to get an accurate instrument and place it (along with some training on how to use it) in a prominent location where you (and other people) can’t miss it.  Real-time feedback allows you to make small changes and fine-tune your results.

MPG Instrument

I recently bought a new car and it has a sensitive gauge that tells you how many miles-per-gallon you are getting at the present time.  I’m already paying more attention to this gauge and it has helped me in changing my driving habits for the better (to be more fuel-efficient).

Apply this to people in an organization–even a small one–and it becomes obvious that equipping people with a new tool is much more likely to yield change than talking about change, management lectures or internal communication initiatiaves.  These other activities are useful too, but I’ve seen too many leaders and companies rely on them and end up with very little meaningful change.

Like any new tool, you have to learn to use it properly.  When I took training to be a pilot, I initially spent too much time looking at the instruments-I assumed that’s how you fly the plane.  My instructor had to emphasize to get my head up and look outside the airplane.  The great majority of pilots of small planes fly visually by looking out the window 90% of the time.  Only instrument-rated pilots and airline captains fly solely by reference to the instruments, which is a much more mentally taxing activity that requires extra training, practice and licensing.  So here’s my caveat: when you get an instrument for measuring real-time performance, beware the tendency to stare at it and miss the other information and contextual clues about what is going on around you.  If you can learn to do that (and it is possible), you will be much better positioned to build a high-performing organization and drive results and accountability further down to the individuals that actually do the work.

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Shushing your thoughts

Okay, shush may not be a word, but the alternatives like “silencing” or “ignoring” or others don’t cut it either. 

I joined my wife Angela on a walk this morning and she asked me a question about meditating.  Did I find it easy to quiet my thoughts and focus on my breathing?

My answer:  Sometimes it seems easy, and other times it’s impossible.  But keep sitting and return to what is basic–your breathing. 

Meditating is not a spiritual practice for the mystics or a nice extra for those with the luxury of time and afreedom from everyday concerns.  Quite the opposite.  I consider it an essential life skill and a powerful tool on the path of development and mastery.  The more you think you don’t need it or can’t practice it, the more likely that you do.

So, let’s just assume that you are sitting while reading this (perhaps a reasonable assumption).  Take a moment to pay attention to your breathing.  Once you notice your breathing, it’s bound to happen–you’ll also notice your first thought.  All you need to do is to shush  the thought.  Do it gently, while you breathe a little fuller or longer (but still keep your breathing natural).  The shush is more like how you would calm a baby rather than reprimanding an unruly child or someone being loud inappropriately.  And whether you pay attention to your breathing for less than a minute or much longer, you’re meditating.  It’s simple, uncomplicated and it can be a powerful practice in anyone’s ongoing development.

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You read the title right–I found a surprising and incongruous agreement between Friedrick Nietzche, the 19th century philosopher who rejected Christianity, and a lesser-known contemporary Christian author named Eugene Peterson.  Peterson is known today for his contemporary translation of the Bible called The Message, but back in 1980 he came out with a book called A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

The title comes from a quotation by Nietzche which is quite remarkable:

The essential thing “in heaven and earth” is…that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.

Friedrich Nietzche,  Beyond Good and Evil

Peterson uses Nietzche’s quote and the sentiment behind it as inspiration for his writings about discipleship in an instant society.  The consumer mindset militates against sacrifice, postponing gratification, and long dedication to a single practice without evidence of an immediate payoff.  I would echo this and say the same thing applies to the practice of self development and talent management in business.  There are precious few genuine shortcuts to developing top talent.

The third point of agreement in this triad is George Leonard, the American aikido teacher and an early leader in the human potential movement.  Notice what he has to say:

How do you best move toward mastery?  To put it simply, you practice diligently, but you practice primarily for the sake of the practice itself.  Rather than being frustrated while on the plateau, you learn to appreciate and enjoy it just as much as you do the upward surges.

George Leonard, Mastery, 1991

There you  have it–three different teachers from very different worldviews who find agreement and articulate a rare wisdom that few will champion today.  Real development and growth is found in a consistent, patient obedience, a rigorous dedication to mastery and excellence in a larger society that settles for shallow half-measures and ineffective quick fixes.

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