The college sports team I cheer for had just completed another impressive win. The head coach was being interviewed and asked the reporter to assess the win and the team’s future. In the coaches closing remarks, he looked at the camera and said, “You are either elite, or you’re not.” The coach is correct; there is no middle ground. You can’t be mostly elite.
To be considered elite is to be “superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of a group or society.” However, the word “elite” is often thrown around as a label you can simply assign at will. To be an elite performer in sports or business requires a level of intentionality. One must perform consistent behaviors over time.
5 Hallmarks of Elite Leaders
When you find truly elite performers, you can be assured they have perfected the following five hallmarks:
- Preparation – elite performers make preparation a priority. They never take any challenge for granted. They never think they “got it.” They prepare and then prepare some more. Elite performers know that being elite is made in the moments that most people will never see. Boxer Muhammad Ali said, “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
- Dedication – You can’t be elite without being dedicated to your craft. Dedication is an internal passion for what you are called to do. Without dedication, you allow other things to consume your time. Indifference or apathy can occur, and your level of intensity toward your goal is lost.
- Focus – elite performers exhibit incredible focus on the job before them, not on what they fear or don’t understand. Without focus, we become easily distracted. As Brian Tracy says, “The key to success is to focus our conscious mind on things we desire, not things we fear.”
- Tenacity – without tenacity, you will quit when things get difficult, and there is no elite performance when quitting or backing off is an option. Tenacity is about having the courage to continue forward, even in challenging times. As author Amy Morin said, “Being a top performer – whether it’s in business or on the athletic field – requires grit and tenacity, as well as the continuous desire to become better.”
- Commitment – is an external declaration that something is a priority in your life. Dedication, listed above, is internal and about your level of passion. Commitment is external and is about your obligation. You commit to the outcomes of goals you have set, and you commit to the team in the challenge with you. If you are not committed, you can become indifferent, affecting others by becoming a wedge of dissent on the team.
You are Either Elite, or You are Not
University of Minnesota head football coach PJ Fleck says, “You can’t be elite in one area of your life but not another; you are either elite or you’re not.” If you strive to be elite on the field or the job, but you struggle with your family or close relationships, then there is work. You can’t be considered elite in one area of your life while another area falls apart. Being elite is a mindset, a way of living, a way of approaching everything you do.
Look at your work and home life and ask yourself if you are approaching each with the proper preparation, dedication, focus, tenacity, and commitment. Becoming and remaining an elite performer is something that takes work, discipline, and courage. It doesn’t come to those who don’t embrace the five hallmarks above. What’s keeping you from an elite-level performance in every area of your life?
 Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with the John Maxwell Company’s Corporate Solutions Group as well as a published author. He has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.