Are you doing everything you can to get to the next level of leadership? In Episode #66 of our Executive Leadership Podcast, Chris and Perry stress the necessity of having a “growth mindset” and show us what we can learn, as leaders, from the performance habits of elite athletes.
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Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach, and I’m Chris Goede, Vice President with the John Maxwell Company. Welcome, and thank you for joining. As a reminder, if you would like to learn more about the 5 Levels of Leadership or perhaps bring one of us in for a 5 Levels private workshop for your organization, we would love to do that! Please leave a comment or question for Perry and me on the John Maxwell site. We would love to hear from you. Also, we now offer Learning Guides for every podcast episode which can be found on our website.
Today’s topic is “You Mean There’s Another Level?” I think this topic will be a great message for leaders at every level: how do you take yourself and others to the next level—as well as just reminding you there is always a next level.
This episode is going to draw on Perry’s personal experience. It’ll be a little bit like an interview. Our listeners may or may not know that Perry’s two kids are transitioning from high school to college, and they both have been tagged as elite athletes and have been recruited to play on a collegiate level. Perry played football and at the junior level through the pro level, and he’s now watching his son and daughter have a similar journey. So, we’d like to go into a discussion of the characteristics that allow one to go to the next level. While this is a Level 4 topic within the 5 Levels of Leadership, meaning it is focused on developing others, it also has a lot to do with developing yourself.
I love sports, and I think the tie between sports and leadership is very natural. There’s a lot you can learn from it. We’ve always encouraged our kids to participate in some type of group or community activity, and both our kids got into sports. My son is at his first year at the University of Georgia. And Perry, you were telling me about your son standing on the sidelines of his first SEC game and noticing that, at the University of Georgia, being a star in high school and being a highly sought-after recruit doesn’t guarantee the same admiration in college. This relates to how sometimes leaders can become complacent, thinking they know what they’re doing.
My son was a pretty dominant high school athlete, so he got very comfortable on the field. He basically could do what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it. He was standing on the sidelines at the big Georgia vs. Notre Dame game—it was his first game up against a Power 5 school. It was go time. I asked him after the game, “What’d you think? How was the speed of the game? When you were standing on the sideline, and it was real-time, what was going through your mind?” This is what he said. He looked at another freshman, and they both said, “We’re not in high school anymore.” He began to talk about the process of what it’s going to take for him to get to that next level and to be able to play at that speed, to have the necessary strength and timing. It was very interesting to me. Once you step out of your comfort zone as a leader, and you get into a new environment, you begin to understand you’re not the head of the class anymore.
My daughter is in the same situation. She is just getting exposed to collegiate-level volleyball. She’s understanding that, “I’m at the bottom again, and I’m going to have to do things a little bit differently.” She desires to play at the next level, but what does that look like? So, we’re going to talk today about how these situations relate to executive leadership. The elite-level athlete requires the same skills and discipline to get to the next level as are required for us, whatever our role is, to get to the next level. So, I wrote down 5 things elite performers do to get to that next level. We’ll dive into these 5 and how we can apply them to our leadership.
The first thing elite athletes do to get to the next level is set a goal for where they want to be. Oftentimes, as leaders, we aspire to be a CEO. We aspire to be the next member of the C-suite, right? When this is our goal, we can start looking out a bit too far. Here’s a bit of advice from my son’s experience. While every little boy dreams of playing in the NFL, that wasn’t my son’s immediate focus. His focus was on what he needed to do to get to the next level in front of him. My daughter is the same way. She knew she wanted to play college volleyball, but she knew it’s all about building one step upon another. My encouragement to leaders is to be aware of where you are right now and what the next step is from here. Don’t think about the next 10 steps from where you are.
Say you’re leading a sales team right now. Maybe in the hierarchy of your organization, there are three or four levels of leadership before you get to the C-suite, or the level of Vice President of Sales. My encouragement to you is to get focused on what you need to do really, really well with your team and with your leadership now to take you to that next level of leadership in your organization. That was my son’s focus: he just knew he wanted to play college athletics. Period.
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Number two: after they set a goal, elite performers build a plan to navigate how to get to their goal. So what’s a step-by-step way to do that? When it comes to making a plan to get to the next level in your organization, you have to be willing to do what others don’t or won’t do. My wife and I never pushed our kids into sports. We knew that if they wanted it, it would show up. They would ask for it. We would help supplement that, whatever it looked like. We’d Uber them to their practices or pay for private lessons, but they had to be willing to do what others wouldn’t do. We couldn’t force that.
So, leaders, what are some of the things to which you are saying, “No, that’s not my job.” That’s not the right answer. At the John Maxwell Company, we’re a relatively flat organization. All of our hands are on deck when someone needs help. We’re willing to do things that don’t directly relate to our official responsibilities in order for the organization as a whole to thrive. What are you willing to do? What’s the extra work?
The negative side of my kids’ drive to get to the next level is that they missed out on a lot of things that other kids participated in. Now, that was their choice. As leaders, you need to understand that, if you’re going to get to the next level, you’re going to pay a price. There’s going to be sacrifice of some things that your peers are doing. You have to make that decision. You might miss out on happy hour, but it will be time well-spent developing and investing in yourself and your future as a leader.
Number three: after they set their goal and make a plan to achieve that goal, elite performers believe in themselves. When you’re walking into a new environment filled with people you admire, much like my son walked into that huddle at his first big game, what keeps you from feeling intimidated? First of all, you’ve got to embrace humility. I joke that my son is being humbled this year. You’ve got to embrace that you won’t be the best when you’re going into a new environment. Yet, at the core of every athlete and successful leader that I’ve known, there is a belief in themselves, a belief that it’s going to happen over time. They may not be able to handle it right then, but they know if they stick with it long enough, they’ll get there. It’s a process.
John’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership includes the Law of the Process. He talks about leadership being like a crockpot versus a microwave. Leadership is developed through a slow process, not immediately. So, when you walk onto that field for a big game, when you walk into that important meeting, you’re not going to be great that first day. You’re not going to be great on the tenth day. Greatness will develop over time. The other lesson I share with my kids is that we are the average of those closest to us. Whether it’s from a leadership or athletic perspective, you stay at the level of those around you. This can be a good or bad thing depending on who is surrounding you. John always says, “If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.”
I assure you that when my son stepped in that huddle, he looked around and thought, “How did I get here?” He may even think that next year, and maybe even the year after that. He is not going to be the head of his class, but that means he’s in the right environment. That means he’ll grow. The other day, he said to me on the phone, “Dad, for the first time in practice I felt like the game slowed down. I felt like I got it.” I went, “That’s awesome, but the game didn’t slow down. You sped up.” It’s the same thing with leadership. Put yourself in environments where you’re being challenged.
My final thought here is about effort and attitude. My wife and I always told our kids as they were growing up that we didn’t care if they were best in the room. What we do care about is whether or not they are driving effort and attitude. What they can control is more important to us. If you are going into a leadership situation that you don’t feel totally qualified for, remember that somebody else believed in you more than you believe in yourself. So, you need to make sure you’re giving it everything you’ve got and that you have the right attitude. I promise, over time, the competency will show up.
Number four is that when these elite performers get knocked down, they get back up. They learn from their disappointments as well as their successes. With today’s social media landscape, there is a lot of a comparison. Everyone sees our “front stage Jack.” John has said that people come up to him all the time and say, “I wish I could speak at conferences like you do.” He says, “Well, you don’t see all the work that went into that capability. Are you willing to do what I did?” Elite athletes and leaders stay focused on their goals and their plan. They have the ability to put on blinders. They understand that it’s a process. There are going to be peaks and valleys, but know that you just need to stay the course.
I’ll give you an example with my daughter. My daughter’s goal was to play college volleyball. She is 5’7, and when you play volleyball, that’s a little on the short side. But her desire was to play college volleyball, so she developed a plan and put in the extra work. She was on some travel teams. She’d go to camps. She was fully engaged. She watched friends of hers receive scholarships and offers from colleges before she did, but she continued to stay focused. It ended up paying off over time. It came a lot later than some of her teammates, but due to her focus, her plan allowed her to eventually get to the point where she got to choose between a couple of different colleges. So, just stay focused on your plan in regards to your leadership goals.
Number five: elite performers never have a mindset that they’ve arrived. They always reset their goal. It’s a matter of a “fixed” versus “growth” mindset. You need to continue to invest in who you are and the skills that you want to possess. This goes back to what we talked about in regards to our first question: what mindset do you need, as an elite performer or as a successful leader, to get to the next level? John says “consistency compounds.” As an elite performer, whether you’re leading a team or performing on the sports field, consistency pays off. Little things lead to big things, both positively and negatively.
You’ve got to have the mindset of “Every day, I’m going to get up and do the little things right in order to accomplish my goal.” That’s a lesson that all leaders should take to heart. I wish I had when I was younger. I was pretty good about setting goals, but when I got there, I didn’t want get to the next level. I plateaued. I didn’t have a plan. I look back on that as something I really wish I had done differently.
To summarize, we talked about 5 things elite performers do well: 1) having a goal, 2) making a plan, 3) believing in yourself, even when others tell you can’t do it, 4) getting up when you’re down. 5) and keeping a learning or “growth” mindset. John says, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.” You’ve never arrived. Always reset. Keep your eyes on the horizon, what’s next, what’s out there, and how can you keep moving in that direction.
I’d just like to remind you that if you want to know more about the 5 Levels of Leadership, you can go to visit website at johnmaxwellcompany.com/podcast and leave a question or comment for us there. We’d love to hear from you. And be sure to check out our Learning Guide, downloadable above! We’re always grateful that you join us on these broadcasts. This has been the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.
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