If you watched the swimming events at the ... Olympics last summer,
you probably observed the incredible focus the medalists demonstrated.
Sure, they're strong and fast. But when hundredths— maybe even
thousandths—of a second are all that separate the winners from the
losers, it's obvious that something besides strength and speed is at
A comment by Flip Darr, a former collegiate swimming coach who played a part
in training eight Olympic medalists, sheds some light on what that critical
ingredient might be. "I felt in my coaching career that if I would work on [the
swimmers'] head[s], their bodies would come along," he said. "A lot of coaches
work on their bodies and then at the last moment try to do their heads. The
thing is, if they are working with their heads all the time, and working with
their head over the body, mind over matter, they will have more confidence when
they walk up to the block."
What a great illustration of the value of good thinking. Athletic ability is
important, but preparing for the biggest race of one's life is as much mental as
it is physical—if not more so. As Bill MacCartney, the former head football
coach at the University of Colorado, once told me, "Mental is to physical what
four is to one."
That's a powerful argument in the case for good thinking—on the football
field, as well as in your office at work. The specific thoughts that increase
your effectiveness as a leader might not be the same as those required for an
Olympic medal, but the overall commitment to thinking is identical.
As we continue the discussion about thinking that we began in the last issue
of Leadership Wired, here are five statements that further underscore the
importance of solid contemplation.
1. Everything begins with a thought. Every great invention, every
technique, every conversation, every leadership practice and every bit of
personal growth starts in someone's head.
2. What we think determines who we are, and who we are determines what we
do. What kind of person do you want to be? What do you want to accomplish in
your life and career? Are your thoughts paving the way for you to achieve those
goals, or are they getting in the way?
3. Our thoughts determine our destiny, and our destiny determines our
legacy. That's pretty sobering, especially for those of us who have already
passed life's halfway point. The good news is that, no matter how old you are,
it's not too late for good thinking to influence your legacy in a positive way.
This quote by James Allen says it well: "You are today where your thoughts have
brought you, and you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you."
4. People who go to the top think differently than others. There are
many reasons for this, but it's absolutely true. As William Arthur Ward said,
"Nothing limits achievement like small thinking, and nothing expands
possibilities like unleashed thinking."
5. We can change the way we think. This is a comforting thought,
especially in light of the previous statement. One of the best ways to change
the way we think is to invest in resources that help us improve our leadership
methods, our relationships, our technical competencies, our time-management
skills, our ability to handle conflict, and so on. Over the years, I have been
helped tremendously by books and tapes that cover such issues. They boost my
thoughts and add great value to my life.
Before I close, I want to highlight the positive influence other people can
have on our thought processes, and the critical impact we can have on theirs.
For example, Flip Darr understood that one of his functions as a coach was to
help his athletes develop the mental stamina necessary to win the big races.
That's why he spent so much time "working with his swimmers' heads." As leaders,
one of our jobs is to help our people learn how to think for themselves so they
can perform successfully when we're not around.
At the same time, we also need to spend time with people who help us think
better. I love interacting with good thinkers. They energize me. They stimulate
my thoughts, challenge my ideas and stretch my mind like nothing else can.
That's why I like to say that some of my best thinking has been done by others!
The bottom line is this: When it comes to success in life, the ability to
think well isn't just an asset; it's a necessity. And when you make good
thinking a priority today, you lay the groundwork for success tomorrow.