I have always been fascinated by professionals, those people who are masters of their craft, who function at an elite level, and who can produce results that many of us mere mortals can only dream about. Whether it be in sport, business or in the arts, they appear to be able to execute their strategies with precision, and seem to handle pressure with ease. So I was ecstatic when I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to have lunch with a professional golfer. Here was a fantastic opportunity to have a one on one conversation with a professional, and seek to identify the ‘secret ingredient’ that separates the pros from the amateurs.
It was a fascinating conversation and I was very fortunate to be able to gain an insight into the world and routine of a professional, and what made them ‘tick’. We discussed various professional sportspeople across multiple sporting disciplines, and I was extremely curious to understand what made the difference at the elite level – was it luck or was it skill? Interestingly, sportspeople at the elite level are very talented, and typically there is not a big gap between the top ranked player and the bottom ranked player, in terms of talent. In fact elite sportspeople have a number of traits or attributes in common, including :
- They are very clear on their outcome – the elite are not there just to make up the numbers. They have very specific outcomes for their sport that they are seeking to achieve, and everything they do, is directly linked to them striving to achieve that outcome. For many professional golfers, it is to be a winner of a major event, or to be the number 1 player in the world. For others, it is to top the ‘money list’ for a tour, meaning they earn the most prize money during the season. And for others, their objective is to become one of the top 10 players in the world. Whilst many professionals may have different outcomes they are seeking to achieve, they all have one thing in common – they are 100% crystal clear on what it is they are seeking to achieve for them.
- They plan religiously – another attribute the professionals have in common is their focus on planning. It may be a cliché, but they understand perfectly that ‘if they fail to plan, then they plan to fail’. They recognise that the plan provides a blueprint for success, and whilst they may not have 100% control over the outcome, they do have 100% control over the process they follow and therefore the action they take. A key part of the plan is a schedule, whether it be the schedule for practice, for physical exercise, for diet, or for relaxation – and they are dedicated to the schedule, as their attitude is ‘if it gets scheduled, it gets done’. This provides the professional with a routine, and allows them to focus on the activities that must be completed in order to remain at the top of their game.
- They are exceptionally disciplined – It is one thing to have a plan and a schedule, and another thing to follow it. This is a major difference between the professionals and the amateurs – the professionals are exceptionally disciplined to follow the plan, and they execute according to the schedule, irrespective of how they feel, or what else they could be doing. They know that their success is built on the daily disciplines executed consistently over time. In fact, the professionals live their life according to the Rule of 5, where they identify the 5 key actions they must take on a daily basis in order to grow, develop, improve, or maintain their form. And this Rule of 5 is applied to multiple areas of their life, and is one of the key differences that separates them from the amateurs.
- They have a very strong support team – the professionals understand that long term & sustainable success cannot be achieved on their own; a support team is critical. The elite performers are very specific on who they have in their support team, with most if not all of them hand picked to compliment the professional, and the other members of the support team. This team can become the backbone for the professional, and include close family members, specialist coaches, dieticians, financial advisors, managers etc, all playing their role in maintaining and supporting an environment that allows the professional to perform at their best.
- They have a mentor – professionals at the top of their game understand that there is always another level to achieve, another mountain to climb, and that if they become content, they risk the possibility of sliding backwards and being overrun by their competition. As such, they align themselves with a mentor, who can provide guidance, be a sounding board, and challenge the professional to break through barriers to even greater levels of performance.
- They maintain high standards – not only do the professionals operate according to a well articulated plan and schedule, they also identify and execute against world-class standards that are non-negotiable, that are replicable and designed to underpin long term, sustainable success. As such, they are able to execute consistently with confidence, as these standards provide them with structure.
These traits and attributes are consistent amongst high performing professionals, and for many professionals, it provides them with a very solid foundation to achieve results that many would consider to be exceptional. However, there is one thing above all else that makes the difference and separates many of the professionals from their peers, and that is – they back themselves! Elite professionals back themselves every time, they are risk takers and they know that in order to experience elite results and separate themselves from the pack, they must be open to ‘failure’, to not winning. However, they execute with confidence knowing that they have created a very solid foundation through their plan, their standards of excellence, and the daily discipline of consistent action. It is the professional golfer who backs themselves to hit a 3 wood over water from the rough and land the ball close to the flag in order to win the tournament. It is the professional tennis player who backs themselves to serve an ace on their second serve when they are serving to save the match. And it is the professional business person who backs themselves to make the ‘unpopular’ decision that could result in a windfall for the company.
It was such a wonderfully thought provoking conversation, and I left the lunch with a renewed vigour to continue to identify & operate according to elite professional standards, and to never ‘settle’ for average results. I also walked away armed with a number of very powerful questions and perspectives, which I would love to pass on to you :
- If you do not back yourself, who will?
- Where do you need to back yourself more?
- Have you been playing a ‘safe’ game, not taking too many risks? If so, why? What are you waiting for?
- How can you take more risks, and execute with confidence?
- What is the worse thing that can happen and can you handle it?
- What daily disciplines do you need to take on in order to become world class?
Propel yourself forward and take a chance, soar like an eagle & back yourself and watch your confidence soar and your results flow! And remember, ‘You do not have to be great to get going, but you do have to get going in order to become great!’
To your ongoing success.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post – I greatly appreciate it, and welcome comments and feedback. Please feel free to comment below, to follow me on LinkedIn, or to connect via Twitter or Facebook.
About : Darren is an Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant, Trainer, Facilitator, Speaker. A passionate and driven individual specialising in personal development, strategic planning, coaching for advocacy & enhanced performance, situational and servant based leadership, executive coaching of people leaders, emerging leaders and ‘high potential’ individual contributors within the Enterprise & Government market, personal change management, and strategic workshop facilitation & training.