There are people in business, just as in any field, who have an uncanny skill set that seems gifted to them by birth. Like Mozart, who played violin and piano like a virtuoso at the age of six and as an adult composed multiple pieces in his head simultaneously, these business virtuosos possess incredible innate abilities.
That’s not me. Probably not you, either.
If you’re not a born-brilliant dealmaker, if you don’t come from a family dynasty of business success stories, if you didn’t enter this world with a native instinct for the boardroom and the marketplace, then how do you raise your game to the level of genuine excellence? The answer is actually pretty simple: you decide to. Excellence, more than anything else, is a decision, a choice, a commitment.
A state of mind.
When I started out in BUD/S, there was a guy I’d known from an earlier BUD/S-preparation course. Let’s call him Lars. This guy might have been a perfect and the most athletically built physical specimen I’ve ever met. The dude could crush the most excruciating routine of calisthenics as if he were swatting flies. Lars was a god.
In our first week of First Phase, he quit.
I saw this happen over and over. Guys who could physically outperform me and my teammates without breaking a sweat; men who had qualified for Olympic trials and been at the top of their game in pro sports. Yet, they would throw in the towel, ring that brass bell, quit, and go home defeated, while we went on to become SEALs. It shocked and baffled me then, but I understand it now. Excellence is not about inborn talent or natural skills. Excellence is purely a state of mind. A decision.
During BUD/S, I also saw guys like my friend Chris Campbell. Chris was one of the smallest guys in our class, easygoing and unprepossessing, about as “ordinary” and as far from Lars on the spectrum of likely to excel as you could imagine. Yet while Lars quit, Chris not only sailed through BUD/S but ended up becoming an exceptional operator for a top-tier unit. (You know the one I mean.)
It doesn’t matter what your background is. What matters is your commitment to be the best.
Make it a habit.
Not long ago, I was interviewed for a piece in the Harvard Business Review about how SEALs train for leadership excellence. As we got to talking about my management experience as course master for the SEAL sniper program, the interviewer asked what advice I might have for organizations that wanted to train to “good enough.”
“Sorry,” I said. “That’s a question I’m not willing to answer. I can’t go there. It’s just not in my DNA.” Why would I want to be part of an organization that aims at “good enough?” Who gives a shit about “competent?”
Shortly after Eric and I implemented our program of mental management in the sniper course, a pair of students came to me before a test and said, “Realistically, chief, what are you expecting us to do on this first test?”
I told them I expected them to shoot perfect scores.
This was crazy. Nobody shot perfect scores. Competent, yes; very good, possibly. But perfect? Didn’t happen. But that’s what I told them — because that’s what I expected.
They shot 100, 100, 100, and 95. As close to perfect as anyone had ever seen.
We taught our students to put themselves into an excellence state of mind. To see winning and success as inevitable.
Perfect is possible if you make it a habit and change the conversation with yourself and that tiny voice in your head.