The secret to greatness

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

Aristotle understood what it takes to be great. Not some quirk of fate (other than it helps in some activities to be born with some physical attributes that help a lot), not destiny or a question of being born talented.

Reading time: 3 minutes

What goes on

Aristotle understood what it takes to be great. Not some quirk of fate (other than it helps in some activities to be born with some physical attributes that help a lot), not destiny or a question of being born talented.

We see too much of the mindset of “they’re just exceptionally talented and I could never be as good as that” in our work as human performance experts. There’s a mistaken belief (mistaken because the facts and data don’t bear it out) that people who are great at what they do are somehow superhuman or just naturally talented. The truth is very different.

Five performance truths

The brutal reality of high performance life – this is what you need to know

  1. People are not born great. Being one of the world’s best and being as good as you can be at what you do – is about opportunity, resources, practice and crucially – attitude and mindset.
  2. People who are great at what they do have three fundamental attitudes. They know it’s not enough to just have talent, it’s how you use it that counts. They have a burning desire to improve. And they embrace change as a reality they exploit as an opportunity to improve.
  3. Success needs clarity of vision and goal. You need to be clear on what your goal is, where you’re heading and what it takes to get there.
  4. Excellence is not a solo pursuit. No one ever achieved things by going alone. Great performers are superb at using the experience, knowledge, skills and support of other people.
  5. Performance is a choice. Great performers know they choose their mindset, behaviours and attitude. They know how they respond to any event is a choice that’s all theirs. This last one is all-important. Being great at what you do is a matter of choice. And it opens up the possibility of greatness for anyone. As Matthew Syed, author of “Bounce” says, “Excellence is not reserved for the lucky few but can be achieved by almost all of us

Three things to do

  1. Choose your attitude. Take the 3 fundamental high performance attitudes and put time and effort into choosing them every day. Start by checking where you are right now, then decide what you need to improve and how to work on it.
  2. Get clarity about where you’re headed. Set some really high quality goals that focus on you and your performance potential – not just results you need to achieve. They’ll give you the direction and vision you need.
  3. Get great at using the talent around you.

A tool to get going

There’s also 3 further kitbags on these high performance attitudes that you might find useful to dive into.

If you’re in need of shaping up where you’re headed, then the Get set up for success kitbag is for you. And if you want to get great at making the most of people around you, then the Your support team kitbag will be handy.

Janet’s story

Janet grew up believing that she was pretty average. She’d acquired that belief from her parents and it was reinforced by her average performance at school, in sport and by comparing herself with her friends. She had a pessimistic view of herself and her ability and that there wasn’t much she could do about it as she entered the world of work. She also believed that more often than not, the world was a hard place and threw one challenge after another at her which was just part of her lot in life.

Through being part of a really great team, working with a coach and supported by a fantastic manager, she began to change those attitudes and beliefs. She realised that she had a range of strengths that she wasn’t using and that if she chose to use them more, she could achieve more and feel better about herself. She started to value her strengths and played to them more often.

She practiced thinking about the different ways she could respond to stuff that happened and worked hard to use tough times as a chance to learn new stuff. The impact on her self-esteem, confidence and her performance at work was clear to anyone who knew her and she ended up getting a promotion to a role she previously thought was out of reach. She still hates the dentist though.