29 October 2017

I read a nice description that summed up the honour and responsibility of leadership and success in one of Simon Sinek’s books lately. It was about how someone in US politics had stood up on a stage a year after he had lost his appointment and described how different his journey had been that day compared to the previous year.

The year earlier, as a newly elected official, he flew first class. He was met at the airport, escorted and rushed through security, and taken in a chauffeur-driven limousine to his hotel. At the hotel the general manager greeted him, whilst someone checked him in. His clothes had already been sent to the room to save him time. He was then taken to the venue where he was delivering his speech. On arrival, someone met him and offered him a cup of coffee, which arrived in a china mug.

He stood there on stage explaining the story. He looked down at a paper cup in his hand and explained the difference since losing his position.

“Today I arrived at the airport, no one was there to greet me and I flew economy. I got into a taxi and I checked myself in to the hotel. And, when I arrived at the venue and I asked for a coffee, I was pointed to a coffee machine where I helped myself.”

He was describing the difference in the way that people treat you when you have earned an appointment or particular status in life. We look up to people in the military in a certain way; the same applies to athletes, musicians, nurses and even some businesspeople these days.

But the moral is that it’s not for ever. We are only holding the baton until someone stronger, smarter or more dedicated takes the role. We are custodians of whatever success we have in life.

On your coattails

I had the opportunity to talk with Simon one afternoon in the blazing heat of the desert in North Africa. We were on an adventure together cycling and climbing, raising money for Big Change. We soon got into a discussion regarding this and he made a comment about the futility of claiming you are the best at something.

The moment you are recognised as the best at anything, there are people on your coattails challenging for the spot. This doesn’t just apply to sport, it applies to every top job out there.

I have always said, being the best is a state of mind. It’s something you strive for.

Lucy Turmel winning The British Junior Under 19's for the second year running

Lucy Turmel winning The British Junior Under 19’s for the second year running

I spent this afternoon watching a young lady called Lucy Turmel play in a squash tournament. Laura Massaro – British Number One, World Champion and someone who has reached the heady heights of World Number One and won around 28 tournaments – introduced me and I have had the good fortune to be able to help talk with her before some of her matches.

I can’t help her with her squash, but I am able to help her keep focussed when it really matters, like I do with Laura.

Today was a tough final and both Laura and I could see Lucy’s nerves were getting the better of her in the third game. Her parents were there, she was playing a friend; there was a lot at stake. I asked Laura to remind her to go out and enjoy it, play the best squash you have ever played. She quickly changed the match from being 2:1 down to winning 3:2. As soon as she focussed on enjoying her squash she was amazing and quickly took the lead.

Success requires a winning formula

We work hard in life and occasionally if we are lucky enough we get the odd opportunity to really excel. It’s absolutely essential in these rare moments, we do not let the occasion pass us by without seizing the opportunity.

So, today for the second year running Lucy becomes the British Under-19 Squash Champion. If she wants to keep winning she has years of dedication and sacrifice ahead of her. But, for those short moments of victory, that relief when you win the final point, Laura will tell you, all the hard work is worth it.

It’s amazing the similarities in business and sport and success in general. I love applying the same focus to what I have learned in business to Laura’s approach to her training and matches. Success requires a winning formula and there is no difference in my opinion.

So if you are aiming to be the best at something, I suppose the moral of the story is “don’t do a Donald Trump.”

Imagine the honour of being the President of your country. Imagine the huge responsibility and the amazing sense of honour to lead something so great. Yet, here is someone who has clearly forgotten that he is not going to be in the White House forever. The time will pass all too quickly and his opportunity to make lasting, positive change will quickly pass by.

Don’t do a Donald Trump

Will Trump get the respect and privileges he is afforded now once he leaves the Oval Office? Of course not. In fact, there is a saying, “be nice to everyone on the way up,” implying that it’s a painful and slippery slope when you do fall from grace. There will be a great many people waiting in the wings for that day!

But today is about Lucy. Someone who handled herself with poise and dignity when it mattered most. I have just sent her a text saying: “It’s far better to struggle and find a solution than to win with ease.” She learned a valuable lesson today.

Simon is right, being the best is not a destination, certainly not one where you can settle. At the same time there is nothing wrong with striving to be the best you can be; as long as you recognise that it is an ongoing game that never ends. There is no resting on your laurels and it requires a constant focus of continuous improvement. It’s also about remaining humble in victory, always magnanimous and respectful of your opponent.

If you are aiming to be the best at something and hoping to achieve huge goals, remember this: “It’s not the hitting of the goal that is important, it’s what it makes of you on the journey that matters.”

Right, I am off for a run before bed. I have a lot of room for continuous improvement after two weeks in the Caribbean!

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