5 Key Ingredients to Peak Performance in Business, Life, and Sports

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We recognize that leadership in today’s global marketplace requires that we create an inclusive business environment (corporate culture). We have to surround ourselves with the best and brightest diverse minds—employees with varied perspectives. That’s the only way to survive in today’s fast changing and challenging economy, and to simultaneously meet global consumer demands. The collaboration, exchange of ideas and different perspectives, are an organizational asset and drive creativity, innovation, and performance.

I created this Success Formula to Peak Performance that is equally applicable in business, life, and sports.

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The 1 Key Ingredient: Imagination

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination,”

~ Albert Einstein

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

~ Albert Einstein

Why is imagination an important ingredient of Peak Performance?

Let’s take a look at my synthesized definition of ‘Imagination’ combined from Wikipedia and Merriam Webster:

Imagination is the ability to imagine things that are not real (yet); the ability to form a picture in your mind of something that you have not seen or experienced by the five senses. Imagination helps make knowledge applicable in solving problems and is fundamental to integrating experience and the learning process [Sources: Wikipedia and Merriam Webster]

I’ve read a few years ago that Imagination is the one attribute that sets apart human beings from every other creature on planet Earth. Only human beings can imagine something that doesn’t exist at all, then work towards creating it

In business, you need imagination to create a corporate vision, the BHAG (“Big Hairy Audacious Goal [Source: Jim Collins and Jerry Porras 1994]), the milestones (Macro Goals), and your strategy, as well as confronting and overcoming problems in a creative way.

As a leader you must see a future that is not here yet, otherwise, you are condemned to the crisis-to-crisis rut of today’s problems, and working on other people’s agendas.

Great visions inspire great efforts.

Great leaders know that great visions are essential for the development of great strategies.

Why then do so many organizations lack inspiring and noteworthy visions?

The task of creating a vision often gets delegated to a committee or task force of senior executives which most of the time results in a mediocre and boring statement that does not seem to be tied to any real values or goals that are exciting and worth following. By communicating your intentions and including your teams in the in the process, you can craft a powerful vision statement, and motivate your team to realize an attractive and inspiring common vision of the future.

There is a saying that if a human can dream it, another human can create it. Great visions are inspired by dreams of what the world can be and are coupled with the belief that such change or transition is possible. One of the most famous example is Kennedy’s Vision of the moon landing by the end of the decade in the 60’s.

Who decides whether or not a vision is great?
Have you created an organization where employees come to work because they have something to believe in, or do they simply come to work for the paycheck?

As a former Coach for Olympic Athletes, I know how essential it is to have a laser focus. I compare it to a target and a missile. You set the target ‘Olympic Games’, and from that moment on every single action (missile) is geared toward reaching that target.

Once the Vision is in place, you can move to the Strategy by determining the BHAGS and aligning them with the Vision.

“A true BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines.”

—Collins and Porras,

I encourage leaders to create BHAGs for each department, so that each department can focus their specific efforts in alignment with other departments and the Corporate Vision. A critical point to consider is the fact that many companies’ communication flow and collaboration has broken down. People have detached themselves from each other and work in their isolated space – called a Silo. Department information and knowledge are sealed off from other departments, and departments do not offer to help or share resources with other parts of the organization. Some departments only focus on achieving their work goals even at the detriment of other work units and of the organization as a whole. By aligning their efforts with other departments and the Corporate Vision, they open up their communication, their collaboration, and they break down the silos.

BHAGs can be overwhelming for you and your teams. Cut your BHAG into little pieces and establish milestones. Milestones are like checkpoints on a long trip. They let you know that you’ve accomplished a part of your journey toward your goal. You evaluate your situation and check if there are any upcoming roadblocks, and you adjust as necessary to stay on track. You take a moment to celebrate the success of reaching that one milestone of many milestones, so you can take on the next part of your “trip” with energy and focus.

Your Action Steps:

Take the “risk” and be a leader with a strong imagination!

Leadership is about connecting the dots between your current state and that possible future. Go through the

  • who?
  • what?
  • when?
  • where?
  • why?
  • how?

process to develop plans to move towards your desired direction.

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The 2nd Key Ingredient: Ambition

“Big results require big ambitions”

~ Heraclitus

 

The Dictionary has the following descriptions for ‘Ambition’:

1. an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment.

2. the object, state, or result desired or sought after

3. desire for work or activity; energy:

Another source describes ‘Ambition’ as a strong desire to do or to achieve success, typically requiring determination and hard work.

Synonyms associated with ‘Ambition’ are: aspiration, intention, goal, aim, objective, object, purpose, intent, plan, desire, target, drive, determination, initiative, eagerness, motivation, enthusiasm, zeal, hunger, commitment, etc…

Ambition is the “fuel” in my life that has led me to incredible heights. I came from a modest family, was often the “underdog”, and I turned this “disadvantage” into ambition. The rest is history. Best in class, working with the top 1% in Sports, Politics, and in Business, Global Award, Hall of Famer, Bestselling Author, Keynote Speaker, loving Wife, Mother, Grandmother of 5 boys and mom of 2 puppies.

 

One of the main reasons for low performance I encounter in many organizations is low ambition in the top leadership team, which, ultimately, breads low ambition across the organization. I’m often surprised how low leaders set the bar.

If you already put so much time into work, why don’t you go for the ultimate goal? It takes the same effort!

If you had the choice to play on the team that plays to win versus the team that plays not to lose – which one would you choose?

Excitement is contagious!

People want to be associated with Winners! They feel attracted to the “movers and shakers” and the ‘thought leaders’.

As a former Coach for Olympic Athletes, one of my jobs was to help athletes break through the self-imposed ceiling. Based on their abilities, I knew that they were capable of much higher performance than what they saw themselves at. I then had to bridge the gap between their perception and what I saw they were capable of. I always set very high expectations – which almost always led to high performance.

The same thing happened in businesses. After an initial diagnostic, I often had to inform the top leadership that the company worked far below their capabilities. Often, their goals were often set far too low, they didn’t use their full potential, talents were under-utilized and/or improperly allocated, and they were stuck in the rut of the day-to-day business flow.

What happens when people aren’t challenged enough? They get bored and the “Golem Effect” kicks in, which is when low expectations lead to a decrease in performance.

A Leader needs to wear many hats; one of them is to set the right ambitious goals that challenge their employees and lead to high performance. When you set high expectations, there is the “Pygmalion Effect” that takes place. The “Pygmalion Effect” is the phenomenon whereby the greater the expectation placed upon people, the better they perform.

I have put it to the test in sports, in life, and in business, and it is absolutely phenomenal what results I have achieved with my athletes as well as with my business clients. Many times, I initially got the “are you out of your mind?” look from leaders when I revealed to them what I thought their “possibilities” were, only to see how their initial resistance and skepticism turned into excitement.

I remember a specific case where I lead a retreat with the executive team of a multi-billion dollar company to help them turn around the disengagement in their company. What caught my attention the night before the retreat was the lack of enthusiasm and the division between these top executives.

By digging deeper and getting to the core of the issues, I realized that a part of the executive team had a tunnel vision, and they were so focused on their “tree”, that they couldn’t see the forest. Another part of the executive team knew that something was missing, but they couldn’t pin-point it, and the third part of the team was aware that their goal was set far too low, but they didn’t know how to change the situation.
I quickly came to the conclusion that we had to ignite the fire within the Executive Team and align them with each other before we could take it across the organization. Next day, I made them aware of their “boring” vision and goals (among other items!). I could initially see the look of “how dare you…” which soon into “wow, she’s right!”

During the rest of the retreat, we spent time on creating the layout of an exciting and ambitious vision and goals. Not only did this executive team leave this retreat with a sense of excitement and “the World belongs to us”, but we also had eliminated the division among themselves.

Needless to say, with proper training and my continuous support, they were able to create a motivated and united force among their executive team, and they were able to turn their disengaged teams into high performance teams, taking them to previously unexplored and unthinkable heights. At the same time, they solved the issue of lack of execution of their strategy. (Please read more about this issue in my article ‘Why 90% of Organizations can’t successfully implement and execute their strategy’.)

 

You can take your own performance and the performance of your teams to another level – no matter how successful you already are. If you create an ambitious goal, combined with knowing what it takes to create a winning mindset that pushes through any barriers, you will challenge yourself and your team’s status quo, and you will lead them to heights that seemed unachievable before.

Caution: There are cases where leaders put unrealistic expectations and too much stress on their teams, which leads to a decrease in performance because teams go from one failure to the next; or the unrealistic expectations paralyze them. If you are interested to read more on this topic, please research ‘Inverted U-Curve’.

Action Steps:

Remember, goals with the “Wow Effect”, combined with high expectations, increase your and your team’s performance. Look at your personal, professional and/or company vision and/or goals, and ask yourself the question if this is the best you can shoot for. If you are too close to the situation, ask somebody you trust.

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The 3rd Key Ingredient: Willpower /Focus/Determination

“The world’s greatest achievers have been those who have always stayed focused on their goals and have been consistent in their efforts.”

~ Roopleen

Willpower is the ability to control yourself – a strong determination that allows you to do something difficult. [Source: Merriam Webster/Dictionary]

I will use the 3 words ‘Willpower’, ‘Focus’, and ‘Determination’ in this article, because for me, they belong together.

What do successful business leaders, athletes, and individuals have in common? They never give up, and they have the willpower, the determination, and the focus to do whatever it takes to reach their ambitious goal. [Side note from Helena Nyman: When I personally say “whatever it takes”, I always add the words “as long as it is legal, ethical and moral.”]

I have seen it with business leaders, with athletes, and with individuals I have worked with, and I have experienced myself. There comes the moment where you encounter THE roadblock that seems insurmountable. The playing field is level for all at this point, and this is the point where the decision is made if you are going to be a Champion, or if you let this obstacle get in the way of your success.

“In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins, not through strength but by perseverance.”

~ H. Jackson Brown, Author

Here are the different types of reactions to obstacles

 

The Quitter: The Quitter sees the magnitude of the obstacle, gets into “flight” mode, and quits. He/she excuses it by mentioning that the end goal is anyways not what they really wanted.

The Avoider: The Avoider has good intentions, but when encountering an obstacle, he puts the issue on the backburner for ‘later when I have more time’, and that’s where it stays buried.

The Victim: The Victim initially puts quite some effort into overcoming the obstacle; but there are so many “circumstances” that hinder them to follow through and achieve their goals. They quit and move on to other things.

The Silver Medalist: They put a lot of effort, willpower, determination, and focus into achieving their goal, but there is that “little something extra” that is missing to take it to the ultimate level to becoming a Champion.

The true Champion / The Gold Medalist: No matter how tough it gets, they have the willpower, the strong determination, and the laser focus to run over the finish line. They get into their zone, and they get things done. No excuses, no “it wasn’t meant to be”.

As an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” Now that’s willpower, determination, and focus!

I always talk about the laser focus that is similar to a missile that is locked on its target. If your vision or your goal are powerful enough (that’s why I put so much importance on step 1 and 2 of the key ingredients – imagination and ambition), you are like missile looking for the target. Nothing takes your focus away. You are solution-oriented, you sweat, you fight the fatigue, you fight the voice that tells you “it’s not worth it”, you go against the grain, and you keep going when nobody believes in you anymore. And when the first missile doesn’t hit its target, you fire the next missile. You have a whole battery of missiles! Sometimes you have to adjust your course like pilots have to do when they fly a plane. There are winds, bad weather fronts, storms… You fight through it! That’s when the true Champion emerges and becomes one of the top 1% performers – a Gold Medalist.

“The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a man’s determination.“

~Tommy Lasorda

I have seen too many businesses fail, too many athletes giving up, to many talented individuals quitting. They made room for the ones that had the willpower, the focus, the determination to break through all the barriers, to step out of the comfort zone, pursue their ambitious goals, and finally celebrate great success.

Both actions become habits. Once you quit, you enter the World of quitters, where quitting becomes easier and easier to accept. When you taste victory after overcoming the toughest obstacles, you experience such a high, and you mobilize the energy to confront the next – and bigger- obstacle, and that becomes your habit. You have a choice. What will it be?

 

Action Steps:

 

  • Make a decision: Do you want to be a ‘Champion’ or a ‘Quitter’?
  • Take another look at your corporate vision and/or goals and determine if that’s really (are you sure?) what you want.
  • Ask yourself if you are willing to do whatever it takes to reach your goal
  • Look at the way you approach an obstacle: Are you problem-oriented (finger-pointing, thinking and talking about the problem), or are you solution-oriented (thinking about what it would take to reach your goal)?
  • Act like a Champion, live like a Champion, pursue your goals like a Champion, celebrate victory like a Champion – be a Champion!

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The 4th Key Ingredient: Action

‘Action’ is one of the most important ingredients, and the phrase‘Actions speak louder than Words’ is more than a trite phrase. Look at anybody who made an impact either in business, society, technology, science, etc…, they made that impact because they took action. They didn’t get stuck in their vision.

 

“Vision without action is merely a dream.

Action without vision just passes the time.

Vision with action can change the world.”

~Joel A. Barker

 

An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage

~Jack Welch

 

People at the top share an important ability/characteristic; they get things done. This ability/characteristic trumps intelligence and talent. I’ve had this conversation with many leaders and mentees, and we discussed the importance of being able (and willing!) to apply your knowledge. They walk the talk. When I look at the top leaders and other high achievers, I see their hunger for accomplishing something, and their energy is contagious!

One of the most common issues in business is that too many leaders spend enormous time on their strategies, they are highly intelligent, they have the right skills, and they have evaluated all the risk factors, but they often hesitate to take action and implement their strategies.

They are busy all day, they are stressed, and at the end of the day, they realize that they really haven’t achieved anything. They “drowned” in their busy-ness and details.

What are some of the reasons that hold some people back from taking action and being successful?

Fear of failure: Some people choose to be passive rather than running the risk they could fail.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

~ Dale Carnegie

Remedy: One of my faFEAR 3vorite quotes is: “I never lose… either I win, or I learn!” Shift your mindset from fear of failure to success by visualizing the desired outcome. Think solution-oriented versus problem-oriented, and learn as you go. Remember what F.E.A.R stands for:

 

 

Paralysis by analysis: It’s smart to look at potential threats and to evaluate the risks, especially when there are high stakes. But there comes the moment when you have to make a decision and move into action.

Remedy: Trust your process, believe in it, and take action. Implement your process, test it, and adjust your action steps if necessary.

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps”

~ Confucius

Overwhelm: Do you think that the task is too big for you, or that there is too much to do, and you don’t have time to implement your plan?

Remedy: How do you eat a proverbial elephant? You cut it into little pieces. Create a S.M.A.R.T action plan with specific macro or even micro steps toward your goal. Determine milestones that are a stretch but achievable. Find a way to measure your progress, and make sure you set deadlines. For the latter: If necessary learn how to delegate and/or take a time management class.

Waiting until ‘all the ducks are in a row’: If you’re waiting to start until your conditions are perfect, you are probably growing old waiting. There will always be something that isn’t quite right.

Remedy: Stop and ask yourself:What is the real reason for waiting until ‘all the ducks are in a row’?

By the way, the only way to get ‘all your ducks in a row’ is for the leader to start moving, and all the other ducks will fall in line.

Waiting for the “earth-shaking”, brilliant idea: You think your idea is not important or good enough.

Remedy: One average idea that’s been put into action is more valuable than waiting for that brilliant idea that may never come. Start small and build on your experience. Remember: Before you learn how to run, you need to learn how to walk; before you learn how to walk, you need to learn how to crawl.

Some people don’t want to do anything. Either they are content or even happy with where they are. If you fall into this category, be honest with yourself and others, and don’t pretend that you are shooting for the stars. It saves you and others time and frustration! Some may are complacent and fly under the radar, and some are simply lazy. For others it’s time to re-evaluate if they are in the right place.

If you are taking action: CONGRATULATIONS! You belong already to the top 10%! You are either successful already, or you are on your way to success!

You have the ‘Bragging Right’. Please share some of your past or current successes to encourage others to take action toward their desired goals and success.

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The 5th Key Ingredient: Passion

Passion is the Performance Amplifier!

Steve Jobs may not have had a lot of EQ (Emotional Intelligence), but he was an example for what passion can do despite of this short-coming. Jobs described his passion for work by explaining in his Stanford speech that “the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” He kept working and inventing until very close to his last breath.

Think back for a moment when you experienced true passion. Weren’t you energized, unstoppable and you were willing to sweat and go through pain if necessary? My passion is my V8 engine and performance amplifier. What is it for you?

Someone with passion has a deep commitment to something, and is willing to make great sacrifices to achieve it. When people have a passion for their work and feel a deep connection to it, their performance increases, and they deliver stunning results. Passion and excitement are contagious, and your employees take this enthusiasm to serve your clients. This creates satisfied customers, and ultimately, value for the organization (increased revenue).

During my workshops and retreats, I always remind the leaders: “If you take care of your employees, they will take (very well!) care of your clients, which ultimately takes care of your bottom line (revenue).”

 

 

 

The most effective leaders learn how to bring these qualities out in everyone. They invest time, energy and resources to engage their people because engaged employees are more likely to:

  • deliver first class customer service.
  • perform at peak levels
  • influence others to perform well
  • promote the organization externally
  • stay loyal to the company

Passionate people – Leaders and/or Employees – demonstrate a strong, sustained intellectual and emotional attachment to their work, and they will go the extra mile to deliver top performance or a perfect product.

A great deal of research has been done in the area of passion at the workplace, and many research companies identified up to 12 areas to define and measure passion, as well as basic needs.

For me, I try to get from the complexity back into simplicity. Too many theory-driven researchers get stuck in the complexity.

Many years ago, I read a great article from The L Group, Inc. about some basic needs of your employees, and it resonated with me, how they boiled it down to 2 categories, emotional needs and intellectual needs.

 

Under ‘Intellectual Needs’ they listed:

  • Achievement
  • Autonomy
  • Mastery

 

Under ‘Emotional Needs’ they listed:

  • Purpose
  • Intimacy
  • Appreciation

 

Leaders need to be aware that these two areas are interdependent. Successful leaders engage both: the minds and hearts of their people.

Creating and supporting an environment of passion and peak performance is a big responsibility, as well as a rewarding experience.

It starts with YOU!

Too many leaders pass this critical area off to their HR or their managers, when it should be something that starts at the top and expands across the organization. Employees need to see and be aware of that their leaders champion this culture. Otherwise, it becomes a “flavor of the month” or even worse a “do as I say not as I do” exercise.

You have to be aware that meeting your employees’ needs, unlocking their passion, and engaging them is a long-term process. I would even say it’s a way of living. It should be a part of your culture.

 

Action Steps:

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • When was the last time you truly inspired your employees?
  • What are some of the things/behaviors you demonstrate that create an environment of passion?
  • What could you do more of to make it a part of your culture?

I hope that the ‘5 Key Ingredients to Peak Performance in Business’ series contained some great ideas that you can easily implement in the future. Please note that it is necessary to find a great balance between these 5 key ingredients in order to be very effective.

For any questions and/or suggestions, feel free to contact me at: Nyman@consultant.com

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