The Greatness Guide: One of the World's Most Successful Coaches Shares His Secrets for Personal and Business Mastery (2 page)

BOOK: The Greatness Guide: One of the World's Most Successful Coaches Shares His Secrets for Personal and Business Mastery

The more successful you and your organization become, the more humble and devoted to your customers you need to be.


“Nothing fails like success.” Richard Carrion gets it. So does David Neeleman, the CEO of JetBlue, who observed: “When you’re making money and good margins, you tend to get sloppy.” Many CEOs don’t. The more successful you and your organization become, the more humble and devoted to your customers you need to be. The more committed to efficiency and relentless improvement you need to be. The faster you need to play. The more value you need to add. Because the moment you stop doing the very things that got you to the top of the mountain is the very moment you begin the slide down to the valley.

Be a Rock Star at Work

Just finished reading an article in
on the Google guys and all their economic success. It inspired a torrent of ideas (reading’s like that, isn’t it?). It got me thinking about the importance of showing up fully at work—giving the fullness of your brilliance and playing full out. Being wildly passionate about your To Do’s. Being breathtakingly committed to your big projects and best opportunities. Being a rock star in whatever you do each day to put bread on your table.

Work gives meaning to our lives. It influences our self-worth and the way we perceive our place under the sun. Being great at what you do isn’t just something you do for the organization you work for—it’s a gift you give yourself. Being spectacularly great at your work promotes personal respect, excitement and just makes your life a lot more interesting. Good things happen to people who do good things. And when you bring your highest talents and deepest devotion to the work you do, what you are really doing is setting yourself up for a richer, happier and more fulfilling experience of living.

How do you feel after an ultra-productive day? How do you feel when you’ve given your best, had fun with your teammates and gone the extra mile for customers? How do you feel when
you’ve brought more heart to what you do for a living? How do you feel when you reached for your greatest goals and grabbed them? It feels pretty good, doesn’t it? And you don’t need to have the biggest title to do the best job. This point makes me think of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—one of my heroes—who once observed: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or as Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

And you don’t need to have the biggest title to do the best job.


So be a rock star at work today. Walk onto the stage of this day and play your heart out. Give the performance of your life. Wow your audience and get them cheering for you. Be the Bono of selling staplers. Be the Keith Richards of accounting. Be the Jimi Hendrix of human resources. And when you get famous and people from all over ask you for your autograph, make sure you drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.

Your Days Define Your Life

Big idea: Your days are your life in miniature. As you live your hours, so you create your years. As you live your days, so you craft your life. What you do today is actually creating your future. The words you speak, the thoughts you think, the food you eat and the actions you take are defining your destiny—shaping who you are becoming and what your life will stand for. Small choices lead to giant consequences—over time. There’s no such thing as an unimportant day.

As you live your days, so you craft your life.


Each one of us is called to greatness. Each one of us has an exquisite power within us. Each one of us can have a significant impact on the world around us—if we so choose. But for this power that resides internally to grow, we need to use it. And the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. The more this power gets tapped, the more confident you become. Henry David Thoreau related to this point well when he wrote: “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of a human being to elevate their life by conscious endeavor.” And
advertising guru Donny Deutsch added a more current spin on the idea when he wrote in his book
Often Wrong, Never in Doubt
: “For every person with the stuff, the one out of a hundred who goes to a rarefied place is the one who says, ‘why not me?’ and goes for it.”

The best among us are not more gifted than the rest. They just take little steps each day as they march toward their biggest life. And the days slip into weeks, the weeks into months and before they know it, they arrive at a place called Extraordinary.

Drink Coffee with Gandhi

Reading is one of the best disciplines I know of to stay “on your game” and at your highest. Reading from a great book is really all about having a conversation with the author. And we become our conversations. Just think, tonight—by reading Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography,
My Experiments with Truth,
over a cup of coffee—you can get behind this great man’s eyeballs and learn what made him tick. Want to hang out with Madonna tomorrow? Grab her book. Same for Jack Welch, Mother Teresa, Bill Gates, Salvador Dali or the Dalai Lama. And reading a book by someone you respect allows some of their brilliance to rub off on you. The hand that puts down a great book will never be the same. As Oliver Wendell Holmes observed: “A mind once stretched by a new idea can never return to its original dimensions.”

When I was growing up my father once told me: “Cut back on your rent or cut back on what you spend on food but never worry about investing money in a good book.” That powerful thought has accompanied me through life. His philosophy was that all it takes is one idea discovered in a single book to lift you to a whole new level and revolutionize the way you see the world. And so our home was filled with books. And now I try to
devote at least an hour a day to reading. That habit alone has transformed me. Thank you, Dad.

Perhaps my greatest gift to my children when I die will be my library. I have books on leadership, relationships, business, philosophy, wellness, spirituality, great lives and many of my other favored topics in it. Many of these I’ve picked up in bookshops from across the planet when I travel on business. These books have shaped my thinking. They have formed my personal philosophy. They have made me the man I am. To me, my books are priceless.

Reading a book by someone you respect allows some of their brilliance to rub off on you.


The old expression is true: “Knowing how to read and not reading is almost the same as not knowing how to read.” Make the time to read something good each day. Fill your mind with big ideas and dazzling thoughts. Use books to flood your soul with hope and inspiration. And remember, if you want to lead, you really need to read. Oh, and if you—like me—have the habit of buying more books than you can ever possibly read, don’t feel guilty—you’re building your library. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Get Some Skin in the Game

I fail more than most people. I fail all the time. I’ve had failures in business. I’ve had failures in relationships. I’ve had failures in life. I used to wonder why this happened. I used to play Poor Me and suffer from the dreaded disease of victimitis infinitus. But now I get it. I’ve been stumbling toward my best life. Failure is the price of greatness. Failure is an essential ingredient for a high achievement. As innovation guru David Kelley wrote: “Fail faster. Succeed sooner.” You can’t win without leaving your safety zone and taking some calculated risks. No risk, no reward. And the more risks you take in the pursuit of your dreams, the more you are going to fail.

Too many among us live in what I call the safe harbor of the known. Same breakfast for 20 years. Same drive to work for 20 years. Same conversations for 20 years. Same thinking for 20 years. I have no judgment on that kind of a life. If it makes you happy, well, that’s great. But I don’t know of anyone who is happy living like that. If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same things but expecting different results. Yet most people rule their lives that way. True joy comes when you put some skin in the game and take some chances. Yes, you
will start to experience more failure. But guess what? Success also starts to pay more visits.

Failure is just part of the process of getting to world class. “Screw-ups are the mark of excellence,” said management consultant Tom Peters. The best companies on the planet have failed more than the average ones. The most successful people on the planet have failed more than ordinary ones. To me, the only failure is the failure to try and dream and dare. The real risk lies in riskless living. Mark Twain made the point perfectly when he observed: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.”

The real risk lies in riskless living.


So go ahead, stretch today. Ask for the best table in your favorite restaurant. Ask for an upgrade to first class on your next flight (good luck). Ask your teammate at work for more understanding. Ask your sweetheart at home for more love. Do it. I dare you. And remember, you can’t win a game that you don’t even play.

Be into Breezes

I was at my tennis club a while ago with my kids, who are great players. I’m a great ball boy at best. A man who I guess would be in his early seventies comes up to me and starts a conversation. Interesting person. Lived a rich life so far. After a few moments, he closes his eyes and smiles. I ask: “What’s going on?” His reply was unforgettable: “Oh, nothing much. It’s just that I’m really into breezes.” Perfect.

Some of life’s best pleasures are its simplest ones. Enrich your life with more of them and your heart will be happy.


In this age of wanting more, needing more and having more, it was so refreshing to hear someone speak of the simple pleasures of life. I need to be clear: I have nothing against material things. Contrary to popular belief,
The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari
isn’t a manifesto against making money and enjoying the good life. My main message there was simply “remember what’s
most important to leading a great life.” Drive a BMW, wear Prada, stay at the Four Seasons and earn a ton of money if these are things that make you happy. Life is certainly full of material pleasures that really do make the journey more delightful. No need to feel guilty about enjoying them. But please don’t forget about those basic but beautiful treasures to be loved along the way. Like deep human connections, realizing your best through fulfilling work, exploring the world and experiencing the glory of nature—like a sensational sunset that fills your soul or a full moon set against a star-filled sky.

Some of life’s best pleasures are its simplest ones. Enrich your life with more of them and your heart will be happy. And you can start with sweet breezes.

Make Time to Think

I am blessed to be able to meet interesting people from all walks of life regularly because of the work I do. I meet filmmakers, poets, brilliant college students, wise teachers and visionary entrepreneurs. Each one of these encounters has taught me something and shaped my perspective. I had dinner recently with one of Asia’s top CEOs. Asked him the secret of his outrageous success. He smiled: “I make the time to think.” Every morning, he spends at least 45 minutes with his eyes closed, deep in reflection. He’s not meditating. He’s not praying. He’s thinking.

Sometimes he’s analyzing business challenges. Other times he’s thinking about new markets. Still other times he’s being introspective on the meaning of his life and what he wants it to stand for. Often, he’s simply dreaming up new ways to grow personally and professionally. Every once in a while, he’ll spend between six and eight hours doing this. Sitting silently. Still. With his eyes closed. Thinking.

Making the time to think is a superb strategy for success at leadership and in life. Too many people spend the best hours of their days solely engaged in doing, on the execution aspect of things. Recently a client said to me: “Robin, sometimes I get so
busy that I don’t even know what I’m so busy doing.” But what if he’s busy with the wrong things? Few things are as disappointing as investing all your time, energy and potential climbing a mountain only to find—once at the top—that you climbed the wrong one. Thinking and reflection ensures that you’re on the right mountain. Peter Drucker, the management expert, said it so well: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

Peter Drucker, the management expert, said it so well: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”


Being thoughtful and strategic is step number one as you walk to greatness. Clarity precedes success. By thinking more, you will have a better sense of your priorities and what you need to focus on. Your actions will be more crisp and deliberate and intentional. You will make better decisions and wiser choices. More time thinking will make you less reactive. You’ll become clearer on the best uses of your time (which will, in turn, save you time). And your “think time” will provoke some amazing ideas and inspire some big dreams. Lewis Carroll addressed this point beautifully in
Alice in Wonderland
when he wrote:

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