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High Performance: Lessons From The Best on Becoming Your Best

July 3, 2023

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 Lesson 1: Take Responsibility

He (Albert Badura) speculated that when people don’t believe they have what it takes to complete a task successfully, they would see little point in making an initial effort. When these people did attempt the task, the resolve would disappear as soon as they hit obstacles. He called this low self-efficacy… However, when people think they are made of the right stuff and start out expecting to do well, they are far more likely to make a start and to preserve when they do encounter difficulties – and along the way discover new ways of navigating the path to success. He called this high self-efficacy.


Today, there are heaps of evidence suggesting that high self-efficacy significantly increases your life chances. Having a strong sense of control over your life has been linked with academic success, higher self-motivation and social maturity, lower incidence of stress and depression, and longer lifespan…


Eventually, however, Robbie van Persie realized there was only one way to get back on top: to focus on the things that he could control… ‘High performance is partly about how you respond to pressure – and it took me some time to realize that I was in control of my reactions.’


The Zander Letter: The professor gave everyone an ‘A’ at the beginning of the class. All the students had to do was to describe, in as much detail as possible, how they came to achieve this extraordinary grade, as though it had already happened.  Zander later said that the letter worked because it made the students placed themselves in the future, looking back, and reporting all the insights they acquired and the milestones they attained during the year, as if those accomplishments were already in the past.


After writing the letter, then Van Persie began to look at his own reaction to setbacks and ask: what can I control? Is complaining going to help, or should I focus on the things in my hands? At 24, van Persie was finally ready to understand the difference between fault and responsibility.


All too often, when faced with a problem, we overgeneralize. Have you ever found yourself thinking, ‘Nobody ever solves this problem’ or ‘People are all the same?’ Not only is this usually inaccurate; it leads to a sense of impotence. If you overgeneralize about the problem you face, it makes you feel that there’s little you can do to affect this outcome. It’s a recipe for low self-efficacy.


In his research and learned helplessness, Martin Seligman came up with the three “Ps” that indicates you’re overgeneralizing. People who view their problems as pervasive, permanent, and personal tend to end up with worse life outcomes than those who view them as specific, temporary, and external.


When you find yourself thinking, ‘Everything about this project is going wrong,’ try to think of what elements of it however small have gone right.


Too many of us tend to take on the characteristics of tabloid journalists when relaying negativity to others – the more sensational and inescapable the better. As a result, we imagine our short-term problems to be long-term, even permanent.


One final method helps high performers take responsibility for themselves. We all make mistakes, but it’s sometimes hard to own up to them. Not so for our podcast guests: they invariably on up to their errors- even when doing so has life-altering consequences. This ability to own your cockups is the third way we can take responsibility for our lives.


The Marines believe that, under stress, a person’s natural state comes to the surface. In these moments, you get a sense of what someone is really like. Do they put themselves or their teams first? Do they react to the issue at hand, or seek to apportion blame? It’s all about trying to answer one simple question: would you go into battle with this person?


For Ant Middleton, This was one of the key lessons of his Marine training: you need to take responsibility for your mistakes, just as much as your successes. You have to hold yourself accountable he says.


High performers take absolute responsibility for their actions. They focus on the elements of their life they can control; they avoid overgeneralizing in tough situations, and they own up when they screw up. We can summarize this worldview in a simple equation. L+R=O. Life + Response = Outcome.


Ask yourself the question: ‘Are you a loser or are you a winner?’ He concluded with a tough message: ‘If you want to be a winner, take control of your life and stop complaining about others.’


Lesson Summary:

  • Taking complete responsibility for yourself is the first step to high performance. No one can control what happens to them, but everyone can control their response.
  • There are three steps to taking responsibility for your life. First, isolate the elements of your situation that you can control – and spend your time and attention on them.
  • Second, focus on the issue at hand, and don’t overgeneralize. Try to think about what you can do about the problem that is in front of you.
  • Third, accept responsibility when you do screw up- as all of us do, all the time.
  • Remember what Robbie van Persie told his son: ‘Losers look for blame, winners look to themselves.’ We can only move towards high performance by focusing on our own actions.


Lesson 2: Get Motivated

Recent research has revealed a wholly new way of thinking about motivation. It shows that true motivation Is rarely about external trinkets. True motivation comes from within.


Essentially, external motivation is driven by external rewards – such as money, fame or praise – whereas internal motivation comes from the inherent satisfaction of an activity, with no rewards necessary.


… External rewards can only get you so far.


It’s best to think of internal and external motivation not as an either-or, but as a spectrum. Edward Deci and Richard Ryan encourage us to envisage a line, which ranges from complete non-self-determined behavior at one end of the scale to complete self-determined behavior at the other. The extremes represent pure external motivation and pure internal motivation. All of us will fall somewhere in the middle- in fact, in the course of an average day we will move back and forth across the spectrum.

  • Complete non-self-determined behavior: you are a card because you need external rewards in order to feel OK about yourself.
  • Low self-determined behavior: you work hard because you’re being rewarded for your success.
  • High self-determined behavior: you are card because you enjoy the act itself.
  • Complete self-determined behavior: you work hard purely because you love it


After decades of study, Deci and Ryan managed to pin down the three forces that build your internal motivation: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. When these needs are satisfied, we’re motivated, productive, and happy. When they’re thwarted our motivation, happiness, and productivity plummet.


Psychologists define autonomy as acting in harmony with your sense of self – and as Reece Wabara’s experience shows, it is an integral part of internal motivation. To be motivated, your work should reflect your core values. To be motivated calmly you need to be true to you… Why does this matter? The great benefit of being able to convincingly rationalize one’s work as a manifestation of the true self is that it gives the individual direction and purpose… Work then provides answers to an individual’s fundamental questions: “‘Who am I? and ‘What should I do with my life?’” If our work chimes with our sense of self, we will be motivated: if it conflicts with our sense of self, we will be demotivated.


In Viktor Frankl’s view, we all want to find the answers to the question: ‘What for?’ We seek out a sense of purpose that transcends our particular circumstances – and contributes to something greater than ourselves. This search was about thinking ‘less about what to expect from life, but rather asking yourself what life expects of you.’


According to self-determination theory, competence is about our sense of mastery of an area: we believe we are in charge, and that feels good. We can bolster our sense of competence through the very act of making decisions. Each choice – no matter how small – reinforces the perception of control and self-efficacy…


When people believe they have control over their situation, they work harder and prove more resilient to setbacks.


According to self-determination theory, our motivation increases when we have a sense of connection with the people around us. Humans are social animals. We know how to cooperate. This cooperation-whether taking care of the vulnerable, protecting territory or gathering food for the group – allowed for a higher rate of survival. The need to feel connected to others is programmed into our DNA.


How can we build up this sense of relatedness? One way is to try to seek out nurturing, encouraging groups of people to offer us support.


On one level, motivation is useful for practical reasons. If you want to succeed in life, you need to have a sense of drive – it’s the only way to properly commit to your actions. But on another, it’s about joy – and that matters even more.


The secrets to internal motivation lie in a shift in mindset. The first step is to realize that long-term motivation – ‘high quality,’ motivation, isn’t about extrinsic goodies, like a pay rise or gaining followers on Instagram. It’s about your inner drive: the ability to enjoy something on its own terms and feel good about the rewards inherent in doing it.


All too often, we think of motivation as something that’s static: you’re either driven or you aren’t, and that means there is not much you can do to change it. The trouble is, it’s a myth. None of our high performers always had these characteristics. Many learned them the hard way… Motivation isn’t something you’re naturally born with; it’s something you have to work for. But work at it and you’ll go further than you’ve ever imagined.


Lessons Summary:

  • While material rewards and social status can drive motivation in the short term, they’re rarely enough in the long run. True motivation comes from within.
  • Internal motivation comes from three sources. First ‘autonomy.’ When your behavior aligns with your values, it’s easier to get excited about it.
  • Second, ‘competence.’ We are most motivated when we have control over what we’re doing.
  • Third, ‘belonging.’ When we feel part of something bigger than ourselves- like a team- we can sustain our motivation for longer.
  • The value of internal drive goes far beyond motivation, however. It’s good for your whole worldview- like Zach George, motivated people are happy people, too.


Lesson 3 – Manage Your Emotions

We all want our days to be filled with thoughts and feelings that are helpful and productive, and fewer moments that make us want to run away, cry or question ourselves. In practice, though, everyone’s life is filled with hundreds of ups and downs – and if we can’t respond to this turmoil effectively, we will come unstuck.


The earliest part of our brains to have evolved, the brainstem is responsible for involuntary functions like your heart rate and breathing. Here, we’re more concerned with the other functions of the brainstem: the five F’s – fight, flight, flock, freeze, and sex. Each is bound up with our survival. When we feel threatened, our brain provides us with three options: hide, confront the danger, or run.


The second part of the brain to evolve was the cerebellum, commonly known as the ‘little brain.’ You can think of this as the next level up from the brainstem: it deals with deep-rooted emotional reactions, though not as unconscious as those of the brainstem. It reacts only to drives and instincts, which you experience as your most base emotions. If this system ran the show, you’d impulsively react to whatever you face without thinking of the long-term consequences of your actions.


And finally, there’s the cerebrum… it evolved last… Your neocortex is responsible for all the voluntary movements and your interpretations of the information coming into your brain, plus all the higher functions- speech, reasoning, learning, and abstract thought. The neocortex drives the more human elements of our behavior. It gives us a social conscience; it makes us want to work with and help others. It also looks to apply logic. The neocortex enables you to think about thinking – metacognition – like you are as you’re reading this.


Millions of years of evolution mean that different parts of your mind are continually vying for attention – and, sometimes, throwing you off course.


The first step in this process is to develop a simple model to make sense of what’s going on in our heads. In moments of high pressure, it’s not very useful to think about your brain’s inner workings in too much detail. None of the high performers we interviewed solved their emotional problems by saying to themselves, there goes my uncinate fasciculus again. Instead, most of the high performers we have met developed a near shorthand to make sense of their minds.


… our favorite is the distinction adopted by the New Zealand rugby team following their hard work with world-renowned psychiatrist Ceri Evans. He talks about the emotional, impulsive parts of our mind as the ‘red brain’ and the conscious rational parts of our mind as the ‘blue brain.’


Our emotional red brain holds the greater influence. It is neither good nor bad. It fulfills essential functions, but it is also powerful, and prone to panic… Your ‘blue brain’, on the other hand, is the part of you that can actually think. It’s driven by facts and logic, and is motivated by compassion, honesty, and self-control. It acts with a conscience, searches for a purpose in life, and works for a sense of achievement.


Many of our high performers came to conclude that the only way to perform under pressure is to get your ‘red brain’ under the control of your ‘blue brain’. It’s not easy…


The second step in controlling your emotions is learning to spot when you’re ‘red brain’ has become too dominant. There’s an easy method for doing this. Ask yourself, ‘If I were looking at this situation from the outside, would I think that reaction is helpful?’ When your red brain is filling your body with anxiety-inducing chemicals, it’s difficult to see things objectively.


This leads us on to the third step in getting our brains under control. We need to remind ourselves that it’s our blue brains we should be listening to. To do so, we need to develop a sense of perspective, to ensure that we’re not constantly falling into easily panicked sense of ‘fight or freeze.’


Whenever you’re faced with a task, on a subconscious level you’re grappling with three big factors:

  • Demands: What is required of me to do this job? How hard is it?
  • Ability: Do I actually have the skills to pull off the job? How does it correspond with the things I’m good (and bad) at?
  • Consequences: What is actually at stake here? What would getting (or not getting) the job mean for the rest of my life?


We are most likely to remain calm when the demands are low, our ability is high, and the consequences are not too significant.


When we feel trapped and under pressure, developing A clearer sense of what is actually needed from us can prevent us from feeling overwhelmed. The critical thing is to take a step back and think about what a task really involves. We can learn to think rationally, not emotionally, about what we’re facing. Rather than the situation controlling us, we can put ourselves in control.


Think about what is required of you, and run through how you will respond in your head. In the process, you’ll get a clear sense of what the task before you actually entails. ‘You can control the momentum cycle rather than let the momentum cycle overwhelm you…’


‘What I already had within me’: these simple words hint at the second powerful tool we can use to put our blue brain back in control. When we feel overwhelmed by a task, it is easy to lose track of our abilities. We think we don’t have what it takes to overcome a problem. In many cases, that’s because we’ve lost track of what our skills actually are.


Every time you achieve something, try to recall in detail how you achieved it: how were you feeling, what were you thinking, and how you behaved. In particular, focus on the skills that you needed to pull it off – and try to put them into words. Becoming actively aware of the qualities that have got you to where you are is like depositing money in your account. The more you do so, the healthier your balance will be.


If we have built up a comprehensive database of our capabilities, our achievements, and our strengths, this allows us to make quick judgments under pressure- rather than wasting our mental energy obsessing over what has gone wrong. When we lose our way, dipping into our confidence account of previous successes helps reorient us. It reminds us of what to do next and reassures us that we have what it takes.


It’s all too easy to develop an exaggerated sense of the consequences… Worse, the more you try to stop focusing on negative consequences, the more important they seem to become. Worry and anxiety are our brain getting fixated on trouble that might lie ahead of us. Our attention gets dragged into the future. Regret falls into the same category, except in this case our mind gets stuck on the troubles of yesterday. As our attention is pulled forward into the future, or backward into the past, we lose track of what really matters – the present.


It’s possible to develop a clear sense of which consequences matter – and, more importantly, which ones don’t.


Although it is useful to set optimistic targets for ourselves, our level of attachment to them is crucial. If we can’t accept anything other than the ideal, we are assigning ourselves up for a tsunami of worry… one trick is to emphasize that who you are and what you achieve are not the same. The more we identify with our successes, the higher the stakes and the more our sense of self is at risk if things don’t go our way. Instead of being someone who sometimes wins and sometimes loses, we become a winner or a loser.


“Our focus needs to be on learning from our performance instead of applying A sweeping judgment of it.”


Who you are and what you achieve are not the same. Much more important is the journey…As Jonny Wilkinson told us, ‘If you spend this life growing and exploring, it seems like a reasonable journey. And if you are exploring what’s on the inside, it’s a damn good journey.’


Lesson Summary:

  • Coming to grips with our emotions is a crucial ingredient of high performance. The goal isn’t to suppress our feelings but to react to them with a clear head.
  • The human brain is prone to panic. But it doesn’t have to be. We can prevent our emotional ‘red brain’ from overpowering our rational ‘blue brain’.
  • But how? When a situation feels overwhelming, first work out what is actually required of you. Take a deep breath and ask: is this really as hard as I’m making out?
  • Second, remind yourself of your abilities. What skills do you have to solve this problem? How would they come in handy before?
  • Third, reflect on what is at stake- the consequences. How much does this really matter? Is the worst-case scenario as bad as you think?
  • These methods take practice but don’t lose hope. The road to inner calm is long, but with time you’ll reach its end.



Lesson 4:  Play To Your Strengths

… people tend to focus on the negative… But high performers know that this is a flawed approach to life. If you want to be your best, you need to start from the opposite end of the scale. Stop fixating on what you’re bad at. All that matters is that is what you’re great at. Find it, and run at it.


There’s not just one form of intelligence, but many. In some scenarios, your particular brand of intelligence might be helpful; And in others, it might be useless. Howard Gardner rephrased the old question ‘How clever are you?’ And tweaked it to be, ‘How are you clever?’


Gardner’s research ultimately gave rise to his multiple intelligence theory, which argues there are many different ways to be smart. Some people have interpersonal intelligence – they have a unique knack for working out others’ feelings. Others have spatial intelligence – a nous for visualizing the world in three dimensions. Yet more have linguistic intelligence – they can put even the most abstract of ideas into words. These are only a few examples…


In our interviews and research, we’ve learned how high performers disregard what they can’t do, and instead structure their lives around what they can.


Some people go a lifetime without discovering where their true skills lie – especially when what they excel at isn’t tested at school, or formally monitored in the workplace. That’s why it’s imperative that each of us thinks hard about what we are good at – and uses it as the basis for our high-performance journey.


The psychologist Sigmund Freud called this ‘the golden seed’ moment’. Many of us remember moments in our youth when we were told that we had a special talent. It might have been by a teacher, boss, or family member. And gradually, over the years, we came to view this skill as a crucial element of who we are.


Why do these golden seed moments matter? Well, psychologists have long argued that the very act of labeling a behavior makes us inclined to commit to it.


When people tell you that you have a skill, take note. Label the skill, and seek out opportunities to use it. These golden seed moments are important; they are the first hint of what might be your calling.


High performers are constantly monitoring the areas in which they’re excelling, as well as those in which they’re underperforming. If you have a natural knack for something, you’ll see evidence for it all around you. Success leaves clues.


The need to think rigorously about our strengths is down to a troubling phenomenon: when it comes to assessing our own strengths, our gut instincts are often wrong. It’s all too easy to think we excel at something when we really, really don’t.


The Dunning-Kruger Effect suggests that assessing how good you are at a task and actually being good at that task often require the same skills. So, if you have a skill, you’ll probably realize you have a knack for it. But if you lack that skill, you probably won’t realize you don’t have a knack for it… the Dunning-Kruger effect poses a problem for anyone who wants to be a high performer. What we think we’re good at and what we’re actually good at don’t always align.


When you’re unsure of your strengths and weaknesses, take a step back and ask: what does the evidence tell me?


More often than not, the areas you excel at are the same ones you find pleasurable.


Many of us will have seen people in flow- watching an elite sportsman at play, or observing a musician performing. When you are in this state you are completely lost in a task according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, indicators of flow include the look on your face, your breathing patterns, and the amount of muscular tension in your body.


This flow state, Csikszentmihalyi says, is when we were happiest. Just as importantly, it’s when we do our best work. When we are in flow, we are completely lost in the rhythm of a task, and so we are able to produce work that is of a higher quality. The lesson is simple: if you want to play to your strengths, you need to find the tasks that bring you flow.


The trick according to Csikszentmihalyi, is to find the right balance of skill and challenge. Tasks that induce flow aren’t too easy, nor are they too difficult. They stretch their abilities, but we can just about pull them off… The balance of difficulty and achievability produces a degree of satisfaction that allows people to live in the moment. They feel utterly in control.


So, the third principle of finding your strengths is this: try to recognize the moments when you’re lost in the rhythm of a task. And attempt to make the tasks that induced this sense of flow an essential part of your life.


One of the most important concepts in economics is ‘comparative advantage’. It means that everyone in the world gets the best results when they focus on what they’re good at.


Lesson Summary:

  • Everyone has Strengths and everyone has weaknesses. Yet all too often we obsess over the things we can’t do and ignore the things we can.
  • Remember the theory of multiple intelligence: there are myriad ways to be talented. The trick is to find yours.
  • That involves three steps. First, recognition – think about those instances, perhaps in your youth, when you were told you had a talent. Was it a ‘golden seed’ moment?
  • Second, reflection – think about what you’re good at in the here and now. Success leaves clues. It’s your job to spot them.
  • Third, rhythm – seek out those tasks that induce a sense of flow. These moments are all too rare, but might just reveal your true calling.
  • Finding these skills is the quickest route to high performance. Each of us can play to our comparative advantage – provided we know how to find it.


Lesson 5: Get Flexible

What if Mercedes’ fortunes weren’t being undermined by anything as obvious as bad engineering, or the quality of their drivers? What if they were being undermined by thousands of tiny even unnoticeable factors – starting with those dried-out mugs? Not many people focus on these ‘soft factors’, Toto Wolf told us, but actually, they are essential: all that is part of the values of a team. And if everybody runs in the same direction, if everybody acknowledges that attention to detail is important, then eventually the wheel is going to gain some momentum.


These people were problem-solvers. And the way they solve problems was through their flexibility – coming up with new ways of approaching an old question. Why should I accept the traditional way of thinking about this issue? What if I developed a completely different method? They show that breakthroughs come from those who are prepared to think and behave differently.


‘When making judgments under uncertainty, people rely on a limited number of heuristics which sometimes yield reasonable judgments and sometimes lead to severe errors…’


Over the next few decades, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky would uncover dozens of heuristics – and reveal how they can negatively affect a person’s decision-making. These heuristic biases lead people to make bad calls. Humans tend to underestimate the amount of time it will take to finish a task. We are more influenced by potential losses than potential gains. We tend to judge the likelihood of events based on how easily we can imagine them – the more valuable a piece of information is to our minds, the more important it seems. Above all, these mental models can stand in the way of problem-solving. They discourage us from thinking creatively about behaviors that make up our day-to-day life – forcing us to get trapped in outmoded ways of doing things.


High performers do things differently. Many know how to smash through their biases. They develop new and creative solutions to their problems. In other words, they have a ‘flexible perspective’.


When someone tells you something can’t be done, ask them, ‘Why not?’ When someone implies you don’t have what it takes, ask them, ‘How do I get it?’


Before setting out to solve a group’s problem, Ben Ainslie tries to convince them that their problem could be solved. ‘It’s about identifying the issues and also lifting the team spirit and bringing a positive belief in our capabilities,’ he said and one interview. People are down at those moments, and you need to keep the positivity going while working out your options. Or, as he put it on the podcast, good coaching is about ‘giving people belief that they can do it… Just having someone saying, Come on, you can do this.’


We must first convince ourselves that a problem can be overcome… This might seem bizarre. Why would merely believing a problem is solvable help us to solve it? It might even seem like setting yourself up for failure. But the evidence is clear: self-belief is the first ingredient in problem-solving.


The moral is clear: if you convince yourself you can solve a problem then you’re most likely to be able to. How you are now isn’t how you’ll always be. How you think now isn’t how you’ll always think. We can all change – in fact, being able to change is what makes us human.


Changing one’s mindset is no mean feat – it involves A fundamental rewiring of how you approach problems. But Carol Dweck’s research is clear. A growth mindset isn’t just something you’re born with. It’s something you can acquire… How? Well, one of the most compelling tools Dweck offers is a simple reframing of our problems. She suggests we can boost our sense of the possible by simply adding three letters to the end of our sentences – the word ‘yet’… ‘I can’t solve the puzzle yet.’ ‘I don’t know how to pass this exam yet.’ ‘I can’t deal with this problem yet.’


Think about a setback you’ve experienced in your own life – a problem at work perhaps. Next, write down two positive ways in which your behavior changed as a result. Did you learn a valuable insight into how your company works? Did it teach you to be more resilient? Like Marcelino Sambe, we can all reframe our problems as chances to get a new perspective – we just need the right mindset.


Peter Drucker became obsessed with the way people think about objects. His argument was simple: once we have started to think of an object as doing one thing, it becomes almost impossible to imagine it doing another thing… Drucker thought that the answer lay in what he called ‘functional fixedness’. When we see an object, we become fixated on its main function… This limits our ability to think critically about what is possible.


… every time you encounter a problem, try to see as if for the first time. We call this mad scientist thinking.


Imagine what a reset would look like in your life. Imagine thinking like a mad scientist.


‘My naivete was my greatest strength,’ Holly Tucker observed. ‘I didn’t know what had been tried, what worked, and what was or wasn’t impossible. This was my superpower.’


‘I (Holly Tucker) have found that if you strive to find people who can accept their strong and weaker points, who are happy to work in a Yin-Yang way with others, and complement them – this is a winning type of DNA.’ Her company’s success was the result of two different heuristics – one planning ahead, one focusing on the here and now.


Many organizational psychologists would agree. Getting a wide array of viewpoints around the table, they say, can boost everyone’s performance. The argument can be distilled down to a simple insight: great minds think differently. In psychology, this breadth of different worldviews is known as ‘cognitive diversity’. Teams that are more cognitively diverse have a wider array of opinions. They see all the most important questions in different ways. Often, when they start tackling a problem, they agree on very little.


The more opinions you have, the more likely you are to stumble upon one that solves the problem. You might have a blind spot, but someone who’s wildly different might not share it.


Toto Wolff – “The most dangerous phrase in the language of a high performer is we’ve always done it this way.”


If you find yourself stuck, the worst response is to go with the crowd. Great minds rarely think alike. Great minds think differently.


Lessons Summary:

  • When we encounter problems, we often use tried and tested shortcuts to solve them. These heuristics can be useful but also stop us from being creative.
  • Effective problem-solving is all about smashing through your heuristics – and gaining a flexible perspective.
  • How can we learn to think flexibly? First, convince yourself that the puzzles you encounter can be solved. It’s not that you can’t do it- is that you can’t do it yet.
  • Second, I learned to look at things afresh. Try thinking like a mad scientist. If you were encountering this problem without any preconceptions, what would you do?
  • Third, get outside yourself. Ask the opinion of someone completely unlike you-do they have a different take?
  • Above all, remember that seeing things in an unusual way isn’t the problem- it’s the solution. High performers do things differently.


Lesson 6: Find Your Non-Negotiables

… when it comes to building high-performance behavior, it’s crucial to agree on a collection of unnegotiable behaviors.


Vince Lombardi: “Winning isn’t a some-time thing; it’s an all-time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time.”


Clive Woodward: “Consistent habits like timekeeping set standards of behavior: and slipping standards have an insidious impact on performance…”


A trademark behavior is one that you commit to unequivocally. When a situation gets tough and everything else disintegrates, these trademark behaviors remain in place. Your commitment to these behaviors, through thick and thin, makes for high performance.


The high-performing groups did do things differently, the researchers realized. Their approach to goal setting was distinct from the others. Instead of goals related to outcomes – hitting a sales target or winning over a client-they set goals related to behaviors like turning up on time or dressing smartly.


If you want to be a high performer, you need to focus on the most basic building blocks of success. “What I (Shaun Wane) have learned over the years is the stronger the organization, the better they do the really simple, basic things…”


The most important behaviors are those that matter in the most intense moments. We can work out our trademark behaviors by asking: ‘When the going gets tough, what is going to make the difference?’


Your trademark behavior should constantly be at the forefront of your mind. They are simple, crucial, clear rules for what you do- and who you are.


As Shaun Wane emphasized, the first step to building non-negotiables is making your standards clear, and keeping them at the forefront of your mind; eventually, however, these standards should become so ingrained that you do them without thinking.


Charles Duhigg, the author of the best-selling The Power of Habit, argues that the science of habits is simple. It’s a loop made-up of a cue, routine, and reward.


An action trigger is when you commit to do something at a set time. In practice, that means using the formula, ‘When I do X, I will also do Y.’


If we’re serious about building consistent behaviors in the long term, we need nothing less than to change our sense of who we are… if you don’t think of yourself as a high performer, you’ll never behave like one.


We usually assume, James March argues, that people are making decisions on the basis of the outcome. He calls this the ‘consequences model’. It implies that when we have a decision to make, we mentally calculate the costs and the benefits of all of our options, then make the choice that increases our overall satisfaction. It assumes a cold, reasoned, analytical approach to choice… But March said that this mode of reasoning isn’t nearly as prevalent as you might think. In fact, he said we usually make choices using the ‘identity model’. In this mode, we’re making calls by essentially asking ourselves three questions: ‘Who am I?’ ‘What kind of situation is this?’’ What would someone like me do in this situation?’ Identity is key: your sense of who you are determines what you do.


James Clear has a simple maxim for responding to these inevitable, occasional slip-ups: ‘Never miss twice.’ He argues that missing a habit once isn’t the end of the world and doesn’t affect what you do in the long term. The trick is to immediately get back on track. And so high performers aim for these slip-ups to be a comma, rather than a full stop. Errors offer us the chance to pause, reflect and try again. It’s not failing once that gets you- it’s failing twice, three times, or even four times. One mistake is just an outlier. Two mistakes are the beginning of a pattern.’


Lesson Summary:

  • High performers are consistent. They have a handful of non-negotiable trademark behaviors – and they stick to them.
  • To find your trademarks, remember Shaun Wane’s formula: they should be simple, they should count under pressure, and they should be clear.
  • To make your trademarks effective, turn them into habits – by building behavioral cues or action triggers into your environment.
  • To make your trademarks long-lasting, build them into your identity. Imagine an ideal version of yourself and ask: ‘What would they do in this situation?’
  • Above all, remember this simple model: never miss twice. Yes, on some days your habits might slip. But if high performers miss one day, they never miss a second.



Lesson 7:  Lead The Team

Siya Kolisi: “Most people complain and complain and complain. Opportunity presents itself, and they’re not ready. And that’s what the difference is: every single time I’ve had an opportunity, I’ve been able to grab it with both hands.’


… Well run teams of low performers consistently do better work than badly run teams of high performers.


When a group has good leadership – as in the case of Kalisi’s Springboks -something extraordinary happens. Middling members of the team become high-performers; good members of The team become superstars.


The best goals should be immediately attention grabbing – they ‘hit you in the gut’…


The first role of a leader is to set a direction for your team – by identifying what you were trying to achieve. And you need to be bold. If you don’t have a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), you’re unlikely to be able to unite the team in pursuit of a shared objective.


The leader’s job isn’t to control every facet of a team’s behavior. It is to identify a BHAG, and pinpoint the handful of behaviors that will get the team there.


Being a leader isn’t just about encouraging good behaviors. It’s also about discouraging bad ones.


Jim Collins – “A great piece of art is composed not just of what is the final piece, but equally important, what is not, it is the discipline to discard what does not fit… that marks the ideal piece of work, be it a Symphony, a novel, a painting, a company or, most important of all, a life.”


Tom Daley – Saying no is a critical skill… It allows complete focus on the most important stuff. It’s an outlook that many of the world’s most remarkable individuals share.


First, good leadership is rarely about doing everything yourself it’s about trusting those around you…Leaders don’t demand absolute control: they delegate. Sometimes they give up their power and hand it to their teams. “You need to set your ego aside and ensure that the business is always put first. and that the people’s strongest for each role are in those roles. (Ben Francis)”


Second, we should all focus on what we are actually good at- and eliminate everything else.


Third, and most surprisingly, cutting things out in the short term is often the best way to keep your options open in the long term.


All too frequently, people go with the crowd – even when that means ignoring the evidence before them…Regardless of how strong-willed we think we are, we are all tempted to follow the group. But you only need one leader to do things differently and the whole dynamic of a team can alter. The Norwegian sports psychologist, Willi Ralio, had a term for the individuals with this power: ‘cultural architects.’ There are people who set an example for the rest of the group. “Cultural architects are people who are able to change the mindset of others.”


Cultural architects are marked out by three characteristics: their status, their attitude, and their talent. First up, status. Instead of telling people what to do, these architects have an influence through their actions- people look up to them. They lead through the status, rather than through instruction. Second, is attitude… seek out those who protect, even nurture, other members of the team. Third, and most important is talent. Cultural architects are the individuals who get their teammate’s attention – and respect – through their sheer skill.


All of this leads to our final principle of high-performance leadership: find your lieutenants. The most successful leaders are those who draw upon a network of cultural architects – individuals who can take up the mantle of leadership, even when the leader isn’t there.


… Leaders set a team’s top-line objectives and behaviors – and trust their squad to get it right.


Michelle Mone – “… true leadership isn’t about setting yourself apart from your team- it’s about embedding yourself with it. We’re a team. And I always treated my team with respect. I didn’t ever ask them to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself…


Leadership isn’t about obsessively controlling everything. It isn’t even always about making all the calls yourself. It’s about setting direction – and trusting those around you to do the right thing.


Lesson Summary

  • Leaders aren’t autocrats. They set the direction, and trust their teams to find a path themselves.
  • What does this entail? First, leaders outline the group’s objectives. Find your big, hairy, audacious goal – or BHAG – and make it central to everything you do.
  • Second, leaders cut out the BS. A crucial part of leadership is directing people what not to do.
  • Third, leaders never act alone. Seek out your cultural architects – the high-status, likable, talented individuals who everyone in the group admires. And trust them.
  • Remember that leadership is high pressure, but it need never be solitary. Leaders are part of the team, not above it – and that makes leadership less scary than you think.


Lesson 8: Craft A Culture

‘Attitude is everything,’ Mauricio Pochettino explained. “You can have all the talent that God provides you with, but without attitude – the ability to be open, to listen and learn – you are not going to achieve anything.”…Everyone needs to be high energy, everyone needs to keep their mindset positive, and everyone needs to feel invested in keeping the energia universal. ‘You’re able to create a nice environment, a happy environment with good energy.’


… the best organizations don’t just triumph thanks to clear leadership – they thrive because everyone feels good about the team.


In a ‘commitment culture’, people work at the organization because they have a strong connection to it – they feel invested in its purpose, and they care about their colleagues. These companies place staff at the heart of everything they do (most commitment cultures avoid redundancies at all costs). These businesses invested heavily in training, emphasized high levels of teamwork, and organized activities to bring staff together. Here, culture was everything.


The analysis company Gallup reports that companies with engaged employees are 22% more profitable than those in which employees watch the clock. The effect of commitment on individual work and quality of life is considerable too. Another study found that a 10% increase in employee trust in a company’s leaders had the same impact on life satisfaction as receiving a 36% increase in salary. The lesson is clear: if you want to build a successful organization, you need to make your teammates care about what you’re doing. A high-performance team is a committed team.


Groups need to answer the ‘why’ question if they’re going to pull together. Subconsciously, we’re all constantly asking ourselves: Why? What’s the point of all this?… When a team member knows why they’re doing something beyond mere personal gain, they perform at a higher level.


…On one level, the precise nature of the purpose doesn’t matter – what matters is that it’s there. Give your team a sense of purpose. If you answer the ‘why’, then the ‘what’ and the ‘how ‘will soon follow.


Ian McGeechan: “A simple look into the eyes of a teammate, letting them know you have their back, is a powerful feeling.”


McGeehan’s insight hints at the second way to build a ‘commitment culture’: through the power of emotional connection.


Carnegie Mellon and M.I.T. Study: Each team was given a series of challenges that depended on effective cooperation. One task involved collating a series of complicated, contradictory shopping lists into one list; Another involved brainstorming ways to use a brick… More surprising was what made a team likely to succeed. Intelligence, the researchers found, counted for little… But there are a few characteristics that did mark out the highest-performing teams. For one thing, everyone in the best teams spoke about the same amount. Yes, in some tasks one or two team members would take the lead, but across the whole day of tests, everybody talked as much as each other. For another, the highest performing teams were found to have high average social sensitivity – they had a knack for identifying how teammates were feeling and responded appropriately… Researchers have referred to this knack as ‘emotional intelligence’, or EQ – emotional quotient. It refers to the ability of a group to read one another’s emotions, implicitly and unthinkingly – just like the look that McGeechan described.


Travis Bradberry: “As you train your brain by repeatedly practicing you know emotionally intelligent behaviors, it builds the pathways needed to make them into habits, the very act of behaving in an emotionally intelligent way boosts your emotional intelligence.”


If you want to build your EQ, then memorize people’s names and the names of their families and kids. Make sure you’re giving everybody on your team the chance to speak. Actively studied the emotional reactions of every member of the team, however junior. Does everyone seem comfortable? Is there any habit of the group that seems to make some members upset? The goal is for an unusually strong emotional connection between everyone on the team.


According to Amy Edmondson, in psychologically safe environments, there is a ‘shared belief, held by members of a team, that the group is a safe place for taking risks.’ The goal, according to Edmondson, is to create ‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.’ You can admit to errors and acknowledge failure, knowing that you won’t be judged or disciplined.


Questions to determine Psychological Safety on a team:

  1. If I make a mistake on my team, do I feel that’s held against me?
  2. Are my colleagues able to bring up problems and tough issues?
  3. Is it safe to take a risk?
  4. Is it difficult to ask other members of this team for help?
  5. When I am working with colleagues, do I feel my unique skills and talents are valued and used?


Gareth Southgate: “People have to be led. But everybody is responsible for creating the environment.”


Lesson Summary:

  • Culture is everywhere. But we often ignore it. This is a mistake – because if you can forge a high engagement ‘commitment culture’, high performance takes care of itself.
  • Three ingredients make a commitment culture. First, meaning. People need a sense of purpose. Try to answer that simple, all-important question: why are we doing this?
  • Second, connection. Attempt to boost the emotional bonds within a group. Take stock frequently: are your teammates happy or sad, motivated, or demoralized?
  • Third, safety. Team members must feel able to make mistakes. Don’t hold grudges and learn to embrace failure.
  • Remember Gareth Southgate’s rule: culture is created by people. And that means it’s everyone’s responsibility – from assistant to manager, secretary to CEO.



Christian Horner: “High performance encompasses all aspects of competition, and of life.”


The first step is a high-performance mindset… That process has three steps. Everything starts with taking responsibility for your actions. The goal is what psychologists call ‘high self-efficacy’ –  the sense that what happened to you is in your hands alone.


Next, there’s motivation. High performers aren’t really driven by external trinkets, whether it’s a pay rise or a promotion. Instead, the motivation comes from within.


And then there are your emotions. This isn’t a book that wants anyone to suppress their emotions, or to bottle them up. But there are ways to respond healthily to the negative emotions that affect us all: anxiety, stress, despair. The trick lies in getting your ‘red brain’ under control so that you can think calmly under pressure.


The second component of your high-performance vehicle is behavior… The journey to high-performance behavior also has three steps. First, you need to play to your strengths. High performers know that obsessing over weaknesses can be toxic. Instead, they identify their unique skills – and play up to them. But how? Well, it begins with vigilance. Keep your eye out for moments in which you seem to be excelling, and consider why. In particular remember the three R’s: recognition, reflection, and rhythm.


Our high performers have a knack for responding creatively to their thorniest problems. They do so by boosting their self-belief, and by getting outside themselves – learning to see their problems from a fresh perspective, and even asking for others’ help in solving them.


The most impressive people are all about consistency: turning one-off behaviors into long-term habits. To do so, they harness the power of trademark behaviors. These are the non-negotiable, consistent actions that will drive you to success.


In many respects, true leadership is hands-off. It’s about setting audacious targets and trusting your team to achieve them. And it’s about finding the natural lieutenants around you – the ‘cultural architects’ – who can forge a high-performance atmosphere.


Which leads us to culture. Success comes not just from the top down, but from the bottom up. You need everyone in the team to feel committed to the group’s objectives. And so, the final step to high performance is about building a ‘commitment culture’: making it clear to your team why they should care about the group and creating a safe, nurturing environment in which they can be themselves.


In your high-performance journey, you’ll need to be courageous too. The road to high performance is daunting. By definition, it involves moving away from the ordinary: that mindset you’ve been falling back on for years, those behaviors that make up your everyday routine, the way you approach your relationships – not just with your colleagues, but with your friends and family too. Becoming a high performer requires change.  And change is scary.  You need to be brave.


Gareth Southgate: “It’s unrealistic to say to any sports person, play without fear. I mean, what is that? It’s nonsense because it’s the hardest thing to do… It’s making sure that we’re not consumed by that, and making sure that it’s not inhibiting us.


When you have people around you whom you trust, the burden of high performance becomes lighter. The fear is shared. And, suddenly, courage becomes possible.


Matthew McConaughey: “It’s a gift to find things in life that we can be committed to. It gives us a compass, an anchor in this world. My family’s non-negotiable, me as a father, non-negotiable as a husband, non-negotiable. Boy, to have those and go: well, whenever nothing else makes sense in the world I got that. I know if I can go to that, I can’t go wrong – and I have more courage to go out further and try out different things.


But, by itself, the support of others isn’t enough. We also need to believe in ourselves. And this leads to our second principle of building courage: remember how far you’ve come. When fear becomes all-consuming, try looking back on what you have achieved. You have it in you to be whoever you want to be – you just need to remind yourself of the skills you do have.


And yet, if you do still fail, how should you react? How can you feel brave when everything really is going wrong? Herein lies the power of your third insight into courage: don’t fear failure, celebrate it.


True courage, then is about looking failure in the eye and pushing through it. It’s about knowing that failure isn’t something to be afraid of. And it’s about not holding a grudge when those around you fail because you know that failure is the fuel of high performance.


Real courage isn’t about doing what you’re told is a good idea – it’s about doing what’s right for you… Courage – real courage – is about finding a path that’s true to you.


… At heart, high performance means living a life that’s authentic. It’s about working out what matters to you -and pursuing it above all else.


High performance is never about lying to yourself. It is about becoming yourself. And it’s about enjoying the journey.