Jan 302013

encouragementIf you are a mentor, coach, teacher, parent, or anyone who provides guidance to other people, it is critical that you understand the importance of encouragement.

Think of the good teachers, bosses and mentors you’ve had in your life.  What impact would their instruction have had on you without their accompanying encouragement?

You may say, well, I can think of good instructors I’ve had who didn’t give me kind words of encouragement along the way.  I’ll give you that – I’ve had such instructors too.  But think about it for a moment, did they not encourage you in their own way.  For example, even though they may have had a rough personality and may not have spent a lot of time lavishing praise on you, did they not encourage you by the mere fact that they were willing to invest time in helping you learn?  Whether you realized it at the time, or not, it’s likely that this dynamic existed.

What does it mean to “encourage” someone?


  1. to inspire (someone) with the courage or confidence (to do something)
  2. to stimulate (something or someone to do something) by approval or help; support

Source: encourage. Dictionary.com. Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/encouragement (accessed: January 30, 2013)

In my experience and observation as a coach, boss, parent, teacher, and mentor, among other roles designed to help other people, I have come to realize that in most cases, the encouragement you provide, however you choose to “inspire” or “stimulate” someone,  has a much greater impact than the nuts-and-bolts instruction you give them.  This is especially true in kids, but it’s also true in adults.

I believe this to be true because most people do not have a high level of self-confidence.  Thus, if you do not do your part to encourage them, to show that you believe in them, at some point in the learning process, their lack of confidence takes over and they decide to quit and move on to something else.  Once they’ve quit, no matter how good your nuts-and-bolts instruction may be, they can no longer learn, because they’re off doing something else.

This is not to say that your instruction on the basics of your sport, business, or whatever subject matter it is you teach does not have to be excellent – it does.  Rather, it’s to say that if you can combine outstanding fundamentals with a healthy and ongoing dose of encouragement, you will find that the results you achieve will be much more impressive.

I’ve had this demonstrated to me in a number of ways, but it really hit home for me when I left soccer coaching for a few years when I was out of the country.  When I returned, I realized that some of the most promising players that I had coached previously had quit the sport and moved on to “greener pastures”.  I took a bit of time to analyze who had quit and who had stayed the course, and I realized that there was no way to differentiate the two groups based on talent level.  Instead, in the group who hung in there, I saw an excellent support infrastructure (family especially), and in the group who moved on, I saw not such an excellent support system and many times, coaches who didn’t really get the encouragement concept.  They were more about focusing on the negatives and overcoming weaknesses.  It’s a different style.  It’s not necessarily wrong.  But I didn’t see it yielding the same result as a more encouraging approach.  Again, if the student quits, it doesn’t matter how good you are at teaching the fundamentals and improving weaknesses.

Given that I tend to be a perfectionist and quick to point out flaws (in myself and others), since coming to this realization regarding encouragement, I’ve worked on taking as much negativity as possible out of teaching (parenting, coaching, etc.) and made a concerted effort to instead focus on positive reinforcement.  It has taken time, but my observation is that the results are significantly better than what I had achieved previously.  This is not to say that I don’t help the people I teach overcome weaknesses – that’s part of teaching – I just try to do it in a way that focuses on encouragement as much as possible.

As a positive by-product, I’ve also noticed that I’m a lot happier in these roles and those I’m teaching tend to be a lot happier as well.  That contributes to a better learning environment and only serves to further improve the results.  It’s a good deal all around.

Most of my students (and kids, and players, and business associates) would still say that I’m a tough coach, parent, etc., I think, but I think that would be because I have very high expectations for them and for myself.  The difference now is that I go about helping them meet those expectations in much more of an encouraging manner.  I won’t be changing that approach until I’m convinced there’s something more effective out there.

I look forward to your thoughts!  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin



Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

Go to the right-hand navigation bar near the top of the page, enter your email and click subscribe.  We respect your privacy and will not sell your email address.  Note:  once you subscribe, if the confirmation email doesn’t arrive, check your spam filter.  It usually makes it through, but sometimes those pesky spam filters don’t know what’s good..

Jun 222011

How To Set Goals So You Will Achieve Them

Assuming you agree that setting goals is a worthwhile step, it is key to understand how to set them in a way that will increase the likelihood that you achieve them. The best and simplest model I have seen and used for setting goals effectively is the S.M.A.R.T. approach, which encourages you to set goals with the following characteristics:

[S]pecific: The goals you set for yourself should be as specific as possible. So, for example, you wouldn’t say “I want to have a profitable business”. Instead, you’d say I want to have a business that generates $2 million in sales and 25% EBITDA by year-end 2013. If you are setting a goal for yourself in the area of marathoning, you wouldn’t say “I want to run a fast marathon”. Rather, you would say, “I want to run a 3:10 marathon, with a 1:30 half split, by November 2012”.

[M]easurable: The goals you set should be measurable. That is, they should have a numeric or quantitative element that is measurable, rather than just be qualitative. If you cannot come up with a numeric element, you should at least come up with something that a third-party, objective observer could look at and relatively easily say whether you have or have not achieved that goal. For example, in business, it may be hard to specifically measure “empathy,” a desirable characteristic particularly for sales people, however if you’re working with a coach or mentor, they may be able to observe whether your demonstration of empathy toward prospective and current clients has improved over time. In sports, it may be hard to measure “awareness” of overall scenarios during a game; however, you may be able to come up with a proxy statistic that gives you a sense of the improvement in your awareness. Such a statistic in hockey or basketball, for example, may be assists. Where possible though, you will want to make as many of your goals as possible directly measurable. Examples in sports would be x number of assists, goals, wins, runs, etc. Examples in business would be sales, new accounts opened, net income percentage, etc. Chances are that in your endeavor, whatever it may be, you have a good sense of the metrics that you should be measuring and striving for.

[A]ttainable: It is important that the goals that you set for yourself are “attainable” or that you at least believe strongly that you can attain them and can put a plan in place to do so. If you are simply throwing down huge, unreasonable goals with unreasonable timeframes, you are setting yourself up for failure. I’m a huge fan of “stretch” goals and I strongly believe that you should challenge yourself as much as possible. That said, it is important that you set incremental goals along the way, so that you can see a clear path to your ultimate objective(s) and so that you can experience some successes along the way. If you structure your goals in such a way that you cannot experience success until the very end, you run a great risk that you will lose interest and/or belief in the process. So, in sum, challenge yourself with your goals, as that is the only way to achieve greatness, however, you should do so in such a way that you are able to experience incremental successes along the way.

[R]elevant: Often times I’ve seen the “R” of the S.M.A.R.T. acronym for goal setting used to represent “realistic,” but as far as I’m concerned, that is too similar to “attainable”. For this reason, I prefer to use “R” to represent “relevant”. Given that if you are focused on becoming great at your endeavor, you are undoubtedly a very busy person, it’s important that your goal setting be not just effective, but also efficient. It does not make sense to pursue goals that are not relevant to obtaining your ultimate objective of greatness. This idea relates closely to the concept I covered elsewhere of “taking out the trash,” or doing those things that you may not necessarily love doing, but you know need to be done. For example, in the context of goal-setting, it does not make sense to note goals for concepts or activities you have already mastered, even though it may feel good and be squarely in your comfort zone to do so. Rather, you should focus your efforts and your goal-setting on mastering those things you need to work on to accelerate your journey toward greatness in your chosen endeavor(s). There are exceptions, of course. For example, in tennis, if getting your first serve in is absolutely critical to success, there’s no harming in noting a first service percentage goal, even if you are already a great server. The point is, don’t do so to the detriment or exclusion of, for example, setting lateral and forward quickness goals, even if those may be areas that you don’t enjoy quite as much.

[T]ime-sensitive: Make sure that ALL the goals you set have a deadline or target date associated with them. This is of critical importance. A deadline usually forces us to become more focused. It ignites our competitive spirit and usually makes us achieve more, more quickly. Without a deadline or target date, a goal is more like a wish and it is far less likely to be accomplished. On the subject of time, it is also important to bear in mind that you should set short-, medium- and long-term goals for yourself. There are a couple of major reasons for this. First, as mentioned above, if you have some short- and medium-term incremental goals, this is more likely to permit you to enjoy some successes along the way to your ultimate goals. This should help with your self-confidence. Second, having incremental goals along the way is more likely to allow you to “course correct” on the path to achieving your ultimate goal(s). If you simply have one long-term goal out on the horizon, it makes it a lot more difficult to know if you are on the right track and make sensible adjustments if you are not.

It is important to set goals for yourself in all areas of your life. In particular, it is important to do so in the area(s) where you are trying to achieve “greatness”. It allows you to enjoy incremental victories en route and it also makes it easier to determine whether you’re on the right path and make course corrections as necessary. Make sure that as you develop your goals, you do so in a S.M.A.R.T. way.

I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions.

Paul Morin

Jun 202011

Where Does Greatness Come From?

Let’s focus in on human greatness here, as there are a lot of types of greatness in the world. So, where does human greatness come from? No one knows exactly, but I will give you some ideas of the steps to get there, based on my in-depth study of over 250 of the all-time great historical figures in a variety of fields, as well as my interviews and conversations with a large sample of contemporary greats, in fields ranging from entrepreneurship, to the military, to science, sports and many others.

The first and most important lesson is that generally speaking, people are not “born great,” simply knowing from the very start that they are gifted in a certain area and that they will become one of the “greats” in that area. As previously discussed, as much as there’s a great deal of folklore and exaggerated stories out there to that effect, most human beings do not become great at something from one minute to the next, without a huge, concerted and inspired effort. The common wisdom now is that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to move from beginner to expert in a particular endeavor. That does not necessarily make you “great” of course, but usually, if done correctly, it will at least get you to “expert” status. You will know more and be better at your chosen endeavor than the vast majority of the remainder of the human population.

So if it’s relatively clear what it typically takes to become an expert in a field, is it also clear what it takes to achieve “greatness” in a particular endeavor or field? Unfortunately, not really. In my experience as an advisor and coach and in my research, I have found a wide variety of paths to greatness. That’s good news and bad news, as the saying goes. It’s good news, since even if you are not or have not been on a particular path, it doesn’t, de facto, mean that you cannot become great in your chosen field or endeavor. It’s bad news because it doesn’t give us one well-defined path to zoom in on in an effort to achieve greatness. That being said, in my experience and my research, I have found some common threads of the path to greatness. I will lay out those commonalities in the form of a ten-step process to become great at anything. There are no guarantees, of course, as most of the hard work rests on your shoulders, but by using this approach, in my opinion, you will maximize the probability that you can become “one of the greats” in your endeavor.

The first step is to identify the area of greatness that you are pursuing. You should be as specific as you can, given that the more nebulous you leave it, the more difficult you will find it to make focused efforts toward achieving your goal in the steps that follow.

The second step is to uncover the key requirements to become great in your chosen endeavor. The four main approaches you will pursue in uncovering these requirements will be the following:

a. Go directly to the “horse’s mouth”. That is, you should contact one or several people who have already done what you’re trying to do – become great in your field – and ask them how they did it. Try to get as many specifics as possible.

b. Talk to one or several coaches in that domain. These could also be referred to as subject matter experts (SMEs) or maybe even SMEs with a bit extra, as they have chosen to be coaches and thus are likely oriented toward understanding how to maximize performance in your particular endeavor.

c. Read books by experts in the field. Reading appeals to some folks and does not appeal to others. There are also many books on tape now, which you can listen to when you are driving or exercising. If you are more oriented toward learning from video, you should also be able to find plenty of resources in that medium.

d. Watch true professionals in action. If what you’re trying to become great at is a sport, watch as many events as you can, but don’t just watch as a fan or casual observer; watch as a student of the game. Likewise, if your focus is in business or another area, become a curious student of all that happens in your field.

The third step is to take stock of your natural abilities. Take a look at your physical and mental attributes. Don’t judge yourself or determine whether these attributes are good or bad at this point, just take stock. Are you exceptionally tall? Are you great with numbers? Etc.

The fourth step is to look at your strengths and weaknesses relative to what you’ve determined that it takes to be great in your chosen endeavor. You’ll want to go into great depth here, as understanding where your weaknesses are, for example, will allow you to structure your practice in a way that helps you to optimize your use of time and accelerate your road to greatness.

The fifth step is to focus in on your “why”? That is, why do you want to become great at this endeavor? What is it that’s driving you? Is it a “strong why”? In other words, do you think it is sufficiently strong to drive you to put in and maintain the extraordinary effort and concentration level that will be required to become great?

The sixth step is to set goals for yourself. You will want to set short-, medium- and long-term goals that take into account the requirements to become great, as well as the specific areas you’ve determined where you need to make improvements. Monitor progress toward your goals and make sure that you set a timeline for completion of each goal.

The seventh step is to constantly reinforce your belief that you can attain the goals that you’ve set for yourself to become great in your endeavor. This belief will be reinforced regularly if you have set your goals in a way that they are achievable on an incremental basis. Allow yourself to achieve small victories along the way, as this will nurture your belief. As with the later step of maintaining calm, you will also want to use positive self-talk and visualizations in this step.

The eighth step is to develop a detailed preparation schedule that is oriented toward reaching your goals and achieving greatness. Regardless of what your endeavor is, you may want to work with a coach or other qualified third party to ensure that your preparation schedule makes sense in terms of getting you to where you want to be without burning you out in the meantime.

The ninth step is to make sure that you have in place a calming mantra and approach for when you get into stressful situations on the road to achieving your goals. If you are trying to become great at anything, no matter what the field, it is inevitable that you will encounter some, maybe even a huge amount of stress along the way. You need an approach to deal with fear and stress and keep progressing toward greatness. That approach will likely involve extensive use of positive self-talk and visualization.

The tenth step is to constantly work on and nourish your will to succeed and concentrate. In fact, based on my experience and research, this may be the most important step and factor in your success. There are very few exceptions among the historical and contemporary greats that did not have to exercise enormous power of will and concentration, usually on many, many occasions. Becoming an expert is challenging enough. Becoming great is another whole level and it almost always requires many instances of calling on massive willpower to overcome the inevitable obstacles that lie in the path to greatness.

We’ll go into each of these steps in much more detail, but this summary gives you an idea of the path you need to follow to move from beginner to expert, and then, if your “why,” your belief and your willpower are strong enough, on to greatness.

I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions.

Paul Morin

Jun 162011

How To Succeed – Doing What Needs To Be Done

Once you have determined what it takes to succeed and become great in your endeavor, business, or sport, you need to do it. Sounds simple, right? Then why do we so often have a tendency to do other things, instead of what really needs to be done?

The reality is that, as human beings, we tend to do the things we like to do, rather than the things that need to be done. The term “comfort zone” arose from this tendency. We like to stay in our comfort zone as much as possible. Some naturally don’t mind venturing outside their comfort zone, but they are rare animals indeed. For everyone else, there are tricks to get you to “do the right thing” with greater frequency.

It all starts with ensuring that you understand what “the right thing” is. Have you carefully determined, as much as possible, exactly what it takes to be great at your endeavor? If you skip this step, you are shooting in the dark and leaving it largely to chance whether what you do and what you become good at have much relevance to becoming great in your endeavor. In startup entrepreneurship, for example, you may have heard that it’s important to raise capital, either via loans or from equity investors. So you become very good at raising capital and bring several million dollars of investments into your startup. You then quickly realize though that having sufficient capital on hand is only part of the picture and you squander the investments you’ve received. You must understand and strive to master as many of the key requirements as possible, not just the one that gets the most press, or the one you like the best.

If you’ve taken the time and put in the effort to truly understand what it takes to become great in your endeavor, you’ve created a very good foundation for reaching your goals. Speaking of goals, and we’ll talk about this more elsewhere, have you put any in place? If not, how will you know if you’ve succeeded? What will you use to motivate you to do all the things you need to do for success, rather than just some of them? Be sure to set goals that are well-defined, have a timeline, and are attainable. Set smaller goals along the way, so you can feel “successes,” however small they may be, which help you gain confidence and will further motivate you to “take out the trash” – to do those things you don’t necessarily like to do, but that you know need to be done in your preparation.

Ok, so now that we’ve brought up “taking out the trash” or doing what you don’t necessarily love to do, let’s go back to the example we used elsewhere – trying to become a great clay-court singles tennis player. Let’s take another look at the simple requirements/strengths/weaknesses table that we used in that example.

self assessment matrix - tennis

In this example matrix for becoming a great clay-court singles tennis player, our previous focus was on first understanding the requirements for becoming great, estimating their relative importance, and then assessing ourselves against those requirements, potentially with the help of a coach or other third party. The idea was then to prioritize our actions, giving higher priority to those areas of greater importance where we were not currently as strong. An example above would be working on improving our forward speed – it has an importance of 9 on a 1-10 scale and we assess our strength in that area as a 6 (also on a 1-10 scale). Our coach assesses our strength in that area even a bit lower. This would be a great area to focus in on, given that it has significant potential to impact our ability to achieve our goal of becoming a great clay-court singles player.

Continuing with this example of improving our forward speed, which would come very much in handy on a clay court, where opponents tend to hit a lot of drop shots, let’s say that you really dislike running drills. Then, to use the terminology from above, this would be an example of “taking out the trash” – doing something that you don’t necessarily love to do, but you know needs to be done. Given that your lateral speed in the example matrix above has similar importance and was also assessed as a relative weakness, it wouldn’t be too surprising if you truly viewed running as “taking out the trash.” What would most people do in this case? Quite frankly, they would do absolutely nothing. They would find every excuse not to “take out the trash” and they would continue to be mediocre at best with their forward and lateral speed. Those that were truly determined to become great, on the other hand, would do as much speed and running work as they could to overcome this known deficiency. They would also do the same with any other known deficiencies, thus giving their opponents less weaknesses to pick on and giving themselves more confidence to proceed en route to achieving their goals.

So what is “taking out the trash” in your endeavor? If you’re an entrepreneur, is it making phone and in-person sales calls to new prospects? If you’re a musician, is it practicing a certain note that constantly gives you problems? If you’d like to become a veterinarian, but don’t love math and sciences, is it somehow learning how to love them so you can achieve your dreams? If you’re an aspiring basketball player, is it shooting free throws? You get the idea. If you’ve done your homework to understand the requirements and been honest with yourself in assessing your abilities versus those requirements, you’ll know what needs to be done. Some of it you’ll enjoy doing. That will be what you want to do most of the time. Some of it you won’t enjoy doing; in fact, you may really dislike it. It may however be very important to your success. This will be the “trash” you need to take out.

Do you care enough to “take out the trash” as much as possible? Can you stomach going outside your comfort zone and doing whatever it takes to succeed?

I look forward to your thoughts, questions, and comments.

Paul Morin

Jun 152011

How To Determine Your (Relevant) Weaknesses

In order to determine your weaknesses, presumably so you can address them and improve in those areas, you must first put a frame around the question: “what are my weaknesses.” This means that in order to identify and address your weaknesses, you must first determine which weaknesses are relevant. What is it that you are trying to accomplish? For example, if you’re trying to become a great entrepreneur, it wouldn’t be particularly relevant that you can’t sing very well, unless of course, your business is a singing telegram service with you as the solo performer. Likewise, if you’re trying to become a great marathon runner, it wouldn’t be particularly relevant that you don’t excel at the 100 yard dash.

First, of course, you must decide what it is you are trying to be great at. Be as specific as you can. For example, just saying “running” is not sufficiently specific. It should be more along the lines of: running the 100 yard dash, the mile, marathons, etc – you get the idea. Likewise, it wouldn’t be sufficient to say, “I want to be great at business.” It should be more specific, such as, “I want to be a great startup entrepreneur,” or “I want to be a great CEO of a medium-sized company,” or “I want to become great at identifying undervalued companies, buying them, and then selling them at a large profit.” What is it that you are trying to be great at? Write it down as specifically as you can.

In order to further frame the question, let’s go back to an earlier concept about how to determine what it takes to be great at something. There we discussed that there are four principal ways to find out what it takes to be great at something (below is a summary of each of the four ways; for the full article go here):

The first, quickest and most direct method of obtaining the requirements for becoming great at something, is to go directly to the “horse’s mouth”. That is, you should contact one or several people who have already done what you’re trying to do and ask them how they did it. Try to get as many specifics as possible.

The second method of finding the key requirements is to talk to one or several coaches in that domain. These could also be referred to as subject matter experts (SMEs) or maybe even SMEs with a bit extra, as they have chosen to be coaches and thus are likely oriented toward understanding how to maximize performance in your particular endeavor.

The third manner of uncovering the key requirements for greatness in your endeavor is to read books by experts in the field. Reading appeals to some folks and does not appeal to others. There are also many books on tape now, which you can listen to when you are driving or exercising. You can also find many instructional videos if you happen to be someone who learns better by watching video.

The fourth way to discern the key requirements for achieving greatness in your field is to watch true professionals in action. If what you’re trying to become great at is a sport, watch as many events as you can, but don’t just watch as a fan or casual observer; watch as a student of the game. Use the stop action (pause) on your DVR. In many endeavors, you can also often watch “professionals” in action by just asking permission.

These approaches to determining how to be great at something are not mutually exclusive. You can and should use of mix of these approaches to accelerate and optimize your learning.

Once you have a good idea of what it takes to become great at your chosen endeavor, you are now ready to compare your personal abilities against the “requirements.” Often times, it’s a good idea to take a look at this on your own, but then to follow up with a coach or some other qualified third party, as it can be difficult to be objective in looking at your own abilities. That said, if you don’t have access to such a third person, a self-assessment is far better than doing nothing at all and just fumbling along blindly.

How you do this assessment of your weaknesses may vary, but one simple way to do it is to make a basic matrix that includes the key requirements, the relative importance of each requirement, then your and another person’s ratings of your abilities. The following is a simple (and incomplete) example of such a matrix for someone looking to become a great clay-court singles tennis player. The ratings are on a scale of 1-10, with ten being most important and the highest attainable level for the self- and coach assessment.

requirements/weaknesses assessment - tennis

We won’t go through this assessment in excruciating detail, but let’s focus in on a couple of key points. First, bear in mind that this is a simple and incomplete example of an assessment. While something like this sample will get you much of what you need to assess your strengths and weaknesses, if you truly want to become great at something, whatever it may be, you’ll want to take this assessment to as granular a level as possible, so that you can really home in on the key areas you need to work on. Second, it’s key to focus in on those areas that have high importance, on which you and/or your coach also rated you with a low score. It is by prioritizing this way that you will optimize your efforts and get the most from the time you invest. It should also accelerate your improvement, which will in turn give you additional confidence and likely better performance in all areas. Third, based on this example, you can see the importance of getting the input of a coach or another qualified third party, as the tendency in most cases is to rate yourself more generously than a third party may. Also, it is likely that, if selected well, that third party or coach will have a much broader frame of reference in the selected endeavor than you do and will thus be able to give you a more objective and complete assessment. Finally for now, note that although this example assessment pertains to a sport, it is equally applicable in almost any endeavor at which you are trying to become “great.”

You may recall from a previous article that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” has been identified as the benchmark for what it takes to become an expert in anything. Deliberate practice refers to a form of practice that involves not just simply showing up, but rather very deliberately setting objectives, performing practice, and getting feedback on the results. Implicitly such practice involves zeroing in on weaknesses and attempting to address and correct them on an ongoing basis. In other words, to use golf as an example, just going to the driving range and hitting a bucket of balls is not sufficient. Rather, you should go to the driving range with a specific objective or set of objectives in mind, attempt to accomplish them, and note where your results vary from those intended. You should then determine what errors or weaknesses caused the variance, and then work on correcting those issues. It is in this way that you are most likely to see continuous improvement and progress toward your objective of becoming great. As noted above, this approach applies equally to sports and non-sports endeavors.

I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions.

Paul Morin
www.CompanyFounder.com .

May 312011

You Won’t See Them Practice or Prepare …

Unless You’re One of Them

It does not matter your field of endeavor. You could be an entrepreneur, an athlete, a scientist, a musician, or the CEO of any size company, but unless you are one of them, you will not see the “greats” practice or prepare. They are up early or they stay late, in order to perfect their “game” and bring it to its highest level.

I am in the midst of an in-depth study of “greatness” throughout the ages. This includes taking a close look at the lives of hundreds of history’s greatest people in a wide variety of fields and endeavors. It also includes interviewing dozens of contemporary “greats” throughout sport, business, science, music, art and beyond, and looking for common threads in how they have reached such heights.

One such common thread is that those who reach an extraordinarily high level of achievement in their field almost uniformly are preparing when the rest of the world, including their competitors and often times colleagues or teammates, are sleeping. They shoot free throws, they do extra workouts, they prepare speeches, they create, they analyze, they synthesize, and they hone their skills to levels that others only hope to achieve. This is the time they “steal” to take their game to the next level.

Does this mean that they don’t do all the other preparation that their teammates, colleagues and competitors are doing throughout the rest of the day? Of course not. They’re doing that too. The pre- and post-workday “workouts in the dark” and preparation are fueled by their dedication and drive to become the best they can. Sometimes it’s as though they cannot stop themselves from additional preparation in the “off hours”. They are driven by something deep inside that pushes them to put in all that extra work.

Is such drive and dedication something that can be imposed from outside? No. It must come from within. Sometimes it’s hard to even understand the source of this drive. But in the “great” ones it exists. Their bodies and their minds become “vehicles” of greatness, pushed by a force larger than them to do their best and always try to take it to the next level. Does it feel like a burden or extra work to them? Sometimes. But most of the time, it just feels natural. It feels like what they’re supposed to be doing to fulfill their dreams and accomplish all that they can, individually and for their team or organization.

So, if it comes from deep within, can you try to find it? Can you look for a formula to become great? Well, there’s no simple formula or recipe, like if you were going to bake a couple dozen chocolate chip cookies. One thing is clear, however, based on my experience as a coach and as a researcher in the area of “greatness”: before you can find this drive and become “great,” you must first find the endeavor or pursuit that will allow you to bring out your own greatness. It must be something that “lights the fire” within you. It may take a while and it may show up when you’re least expecting it, but if you’re paying attention, you’ll know when you find it.

It is not something that can easily be forced, even if you have the aptitude. Sure, we try to force it all the time, on ourselves, on our kids, on those around us. We focus on what we think we want or what we think society wants or what we think we “should” do. Trust me; this approach will not work. Yes, you can become good at something because others want you to, but you will not become “great”. The only way anyone becomes great at anything is if THEY want it, and only if they want it REALLY bad. Only if they want it so bad that they will not stop at anything short of greatness. Again, the drive MUST come from within. You can receive guidance and support from those around you, but the drive has to come from WITHIN.

What is the source of this desire? From what I’ve seen, it varies widely. For one person, the drive and desire may come from having been told they cannot do something. For another, it may come from following a family tradition of greatness in a particular endeavor. For yet another, their “why” may come from early childhood exposure to a sport or other endeavor that lights a fire within them. Frankly, this question of “why” is one of the hardest ones to understand. It’s a highly personal and individual driver. There really isn’t a lot of uniformity, but there are some common threads. More on this later, as my study into “greatness” continues.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Paul Morin

May 172011

If you seek to be great at something, whatever it may be, you must first understand what it takes to be great in that endeavor. Without this knowledge, you are guessing as you create your plan, goals and preparation schedule. You could actually head off in the wrong direction and do more damage than good, if you’re not careful.

So, how do you find these requirements then? There are several methods, which are not mutually-exclusive. You should do them all, if you’re serious about achieving greatness in your endeavor as quickly as possible.

The first, quickest and most direct method of obtaining the requirements, is to go directly to the “horse’s mouth”. That is, you should contact one or several people who have already done what you’re trying to do and ask them how they did it. There are a couple of challenges with this approach. First, top achievers are often very busy people and they are difficult to reach and get time from. Second, even if you do reach them and you manage to ask them your questions, they may not even fully understand how they did it! Some people are great performers, but are not particularly introspective or analytical, so when you ask them to “break it down” for you and give you insights, they may not know where to start. That being said, it is very much worth taking this step. At a minimum, in this process, you may just find a role model or even a mentor.

The second method of finding the key requirements is to talk to one or several coaches in the domain. These could also be referred to as subject matter experts (SME) or maybe even SMEs with a bit extra, as they have chosen to be coaches and thus are likely oriented toward maximizing performance in your particular endeavor. Depending on the area you’re looking at, they may even have attended school for many years and have completed specialized study and certification, in order to be considered coaches. For example, if you are looking to achieve greatness in tennis, speaking with a tennis coach or a certified teaching professional would be a step that could make a lot of sense. You may still want to take the first step of talking to some people that have already done what you’re trying to do – become great at tennis – but a coach is the person who could likely best take you through it step by step, and perhaps more importantly, give you specific feedback on your progress as you go. This is an important part of “deliberate practice”. While this may become a bit costly, as you’ll likely need to receive coaching over an extended period of time, if you’re truly trying to achieve greatness in the endeavor, you likely don’t mind spending some money to do so in the most direct manner possible.

The third manner of uncovering the key requirements for greatness in your endeavor is to read books by experts in the field. Reading appeals to some folks and does not appeal to others. There are also many books on tape now, which you can listen to when you are driving or exercising. You can also find many instructional videos if you happen to be someone who learns better by watching video. Whatever your favorite medium for learning, you would be wise to seek a variety of learning materials to increase your exposure to all sorts of techniques and opinions on achieving greatness in your chosen field of endeavor. While some may be concerned about becoming overwhelmed with information, just be careful to take all information you consume “with a grain of salt,” use what you can at present, and then discard or file the rest away for later use.

The fourth way to discern the key requirements for achieving greatness in your field is to watch true professionals in action. If what you’re trying to become great at is a sport, watch as many events as you can, but don’t just watch as a fan or casual observer; watch as a student of the game. Use the stop action (pause) on your DVR. Try to watch the bigger picture as well as the fine points of what the players are doing. Take notes and discuss your observations with other players, fans and coaches. Learn as much as you can through inference as you watch and try to “get inside the heads” of the players, so that you may understand the key requirements for success that they, as professionals, are focusing on. Depending on the level of the players you are observing and their accessibility, try to talk to them after the competition and understand what they were thinking. If what you are trying to become great at is not a sport, the same approach applies: observe professionals in action, try to understand the big picture and the finer points, take notes, discuss with others, try to talk to those involved in the action and try to incorporate and emulate the best of what you see in your own “game”. To become truly great at something, besides putting in a ton of hard work, you must become a serious student of that endeavor.

Fifth, and finally for now, put to work everything you’ve learned in the above steps. Practice your chosen area of greatness tirelessly, constantly trying to improve and never giving up. Practice is the best method of learning, as long as it is “deliberate practice” rooted in the repetition of the key requirements you learned in the steps above, followed by feedback, so you can continuously improve. It does not serve your cause to practice the wrong methods and steps over and over again – that sort of repetition will only take you further away from your goal of greatness.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Paul Morin

Mar 262011

One of the most common concerns we get from startup entrepreneurs is that they can’t seem to get their venture started, “get it off the ground”. For this reason, we provide small group and individual coaching program. The coaching focuses in on the needs of the participants in each group, with the following typically being areas of great attention:

– Understand profitability and break-even
– Establish upside goals and potential
– Screen and sort ideas/opportunities
– Understand psychology of marketing
– Develop products/services that sell
– Select and implement marketing strategies
– Deploy effective marketing tactics
– Develop a formal business plan
– Understand and achieve operating excellence
– Replace yourself and seek a liquidity event

If you want to get your venture off the ground quickly and correctly, contact us at coaching@companyfounder.com for more information. All coaching is provided by coaches with extensive early stage company experience and knowledge. Where possible, all coaching programs include direct interaction with Paul Morin, the founder of CompanyFounder.com..