Know what you do well. Keep the list short.

We’ve made it to the 10th of my #40mantras. If you’re just getting here, these are the forty short statements I use, over and over, to build high performing teams.

The whole point of a mantra is that when you say it, the person hearing it can pause, reflect on a body of conversations (normally the first few times it was introduced) and remember the paradigm shift that happened the first time they heard it.

This is never more true than when teaching a talented person that they don’t actually need to be great at everything. They’ve spent a lifetime getting patted on the back for being multi-talented, so the presumption is that it’s the road to success.

But a naturally talented athlete who lettered in four sports in high school won’t be able to sustain practice and play across four professional sports (at least not normally). In the end, the road to success is often defined by selection and focus.

Unfortunately, it’s hard for people who are still seeing success from “doing it all” to shift gears – until you introduce them to people who are seriously successful. It’s only in the presence of truly high performers that talented folks have their assumptions challenged.

Unfortunately for high performers, most of the illustrations that are used are often sports metaphors. Not everyone is gifted in this way, or has that experience as context for the metaphors.

Additionally, it only helps us think about the “keep the list short” part. And it’s potentially the first part of mantra (”know what you do well”) that is more important – especially in a non-sports capacity.

Most mastery is a function of practice (read Outliers for 10,000 hours stuff), and focused learning (read The Talent Code) – but both of these prescriptions leave one with the impression that if they don’t know their talent by 10 or 15, they’re screwed.

This is not the case.

Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prairie) didn’t publish her first book until she was 64.

Bill Wilson started Alcoholics Anonymous at the young age of 40.

Mother Theresa didn’t leave her convent until 38.

Julia Child figured out her passion at 40, took more years to publish her cookbook and her famous show didn’t start until a decade later.

And Ray Kroc, of McDonalds fame, didn’t really start the franchise until he was 52.

As a manager and developer of people, it’s my job (one of the most important ones I have) to create the right opportunities for people to test out a variety of skills and find the ones that fuel them.

Only then do we focus on practice and focused learning. Once they know what drives them, because honestly, I can’t imagine anything worse than spending 10,000 hours doing something boring or hateful.
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