During my experience at the UN, I met Seattle Mariners catcher Dave Valle. I was moved by his powerful message of hope. He talked about the promise and power of micro-lending to pull entire communities out of poverty, empower women with economic control and uplift the common humanity that binds us all.
When Dave Valle came to the Dominican Republic to play winter ball in 1985, he was only expecting to improve his baseball. Instead, he found a lifetime commitment. Motivated by the poverty he and his wife witnessed during his visits to the region, Valle and his wife founded Esperanza, an organization that empowers mothers to become entrepreneurs with businesses that have lifted both their incomes and their spirits.
When we broaden our sights above our own political theatre to the greater global perspective, we’re able to experience a greater humanity. Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” And, as Jeff Hoffman stated in our meeting, entrepreneurship truly is the shovel you use to dig a path to a brighter future.
The work we are doing at the Global Entrepreneurship Initiative is so emotionally moving for me because the truth is that I came from humble beginnings. During my talk at the United Nations and in my new book, Masters of Success, I share my entrepreneurial journey from my family’s humble roots in Ecuador and my childhood in Brooklyn to my experience power-building businesses from the bottom up.
In Masters of Success, leading entrepreneurs share their secrets for mastering success in health, wealth and lifestyle. Royalties from copies sold will fund charities around the world, including the Esperanza.
Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come and the promise of micro-lending to lift entire communities in developing nations — is here now. In business and in life, leadership and love are the highest calling for the life that is inside of us.
All personal power comes from within. Power is a function of truth, force is a function of emotion. And the truth is that we are much greater and much more capable than we even believe ourselves to be. Reconciling the gap between our inner truth and our self image creates an enormous level of fortitude and personal strength. We must own the person we are and the greater version of ourselves that we want to become. Realizing this, we can achieve our driving purpose in business and in life.
To build this inner power, we must first recognize that we have all the right stuff to achieve the success we have the courage to desire. Train the mind. Nurture the soul. And weaponize the body.
Our bodies are machines. Like all living things, the right fuel will make it flourish. Learn to recognize which fuel your body needs and which has the cleanest burn. I’m training for my third Ironman triathlon. My diet is as disciplined as my training regiment. This time around, I’ve trained my body to burn fat instead of carbs – based on research by doctors Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney. Increasing your intake of coconut oil, fish oils, avocados and olives while reducing carb intake can allow you to become fat-adapted and access a source of fuel that is exponentially more available and sustainable than the common practice of carb-loading and sugar-burning. Fat is a much cleaner fuel for the human body to burn and it burns longer, more efficiently and with less waste left over. The full optimization and maximization of your body requires you to familiarize with the most advanced thinking on human physiology and sport.
Some look for power and validation from external success – money, titles, influence. True leaders who have achieved great success know it works the other way around. Learn to cultivate the strength you hold within yourself first, and the rest will follow.
In business and in life, we fight many battles. Before we face any external challenge, we must first face ourselves. The greatest battle in life is the one to proclaim your inner truth. Though we often underestimate the significance of our internal dialogue, the conversations we have with ourselves will prepare us to meet any obstacle. Your own mind can be the engine driving you to success, or it can be your biggest saboteur.
Whether your goal is to run an ironman or build a billion-dollar business, the first and most important muscle you must train and strengthen is your mind.
Here are some critical drivers for optimizing your brain power and achieving the greatest version of yourself:
Build Clarity of Purpose
Influential leaders lead with purpose. Define and build clarity around what the greater purpose is behind everything you do. If purpose breeds influence, clarity breeds power. When I was four years old, my parents finally had enough money to bring my family from Ecuador to NYC. We had so little growing up. At night before bed, my Mom would teach us to kneel down beside her and pray. She taught me to believe that anything was possible and that we could rise up from our humble beginnings and become anything we set our minds to. She was programming me with clarity of purpose.
2. Commit First
Make a commitment to yourself and write it down. Once it’s written down it transmutes from an ethereal idea to a concrete plan. Then treat yourself as you would any good friend and be impeccable with your word. Once you’ve committed with words, commit with action. You can take small steps at first, but take them now. As you begin to develop competence, you’ll build confidence and the courage to continue stretching outside your comfort zone.
3. Believe and Achieve
In 1922, psychologist Émile Coué introduced a new method of self-empowerment based on ‘optimistic autosuggestion.’ Continually tell yourself, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better,” he contended, and what you say will come true. Coué believed this positive internal discourse could greatly add to the benefits of modern medicine. He taught his patients to replace the “thought of illness” with the “thought of cure.” His research showed that being optimistic could vastly amplify the results of a patient’s treatment.
If you’re facing adversity, embrace the struggle. Don’t let your brain allow you to give up. Let your purpose be your driving force. You can use your mind to override the fail switch. Learn to cultivate positive self-talk and believe in your own triumph. Visualize it. Achieve it.
4. Consistency Builds Ability
Most people have a desire to win on game day. What about the desire to prepare everyday? Do the daily work, burn deep with the discipline of preparation so that you can show up in the strongest version of yourself, with more than just the gusto of game day and hubris of pretended preparation.
When we’re filled with ambition and racing for success at full-speed, we often sacrifice the time and effort it takes to care for ourselves and optimize for maximum high performance. The greatest investment you can ever make is an investment in your own learning, growth, health and wellness. Then you can maximize the contribution you make to others.
Remember the words of Jim Rohn, “We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.”
In 2010, I had dinner with Madonna – Sister Madonna Buder, the “Iron Nun.” Sister Madonna’s story of success is amazing: She started training for Ironman triathlons when she was 48. In the Kona triathlon, Sister Madonna was knocked down in the windswept fields of lava where the road asphalt reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The wind literally picked her up and dropped her in the harsh, hardened lava rock. She broke her collarbone. The following year, she returned only to have race organizers tell her that they had new weight requirements due to high winds and that she did not qualify. She swam, biked and ran the course anyway. “This is the USA, it’s a free country,” she reasoned. The following year, they changed the rules and she competed again, legitimately.
When we met, it was my first Ironman Triathlon. It was Sister Madonna’s 36th. We had dinner just 2 days before the big race, Ironman Canada. The day after the race, I would turn 40. In Ironman competitions and entrepreneurial ventures, the most inspiring words of wisdom and insight seem to come from those who have real operating experience actually doing things versus hypothesizing about them. Sister Madonna could tell I had the nervous jitters of a first timer Ironman competitor. It wasn’t about technical knowledge as much as nervous anticipation. “If an 80-years-young nun could do this race, certainly you gentlemen have to believe that you are capable! Pain is temporary,” she said. “Ironman is forever!“
Sister Madonna is still a force to be reckoned with. Now 86, she’s pushing herself to limits people not even half her age even dream of achieving. Meeting Sister Madonna left me with three big lessons valuable in both business and in life:
1. Dream Big
“The only failure is not to try.”
What defines greatness is not the ability to do something with ease, but the strength and audacity to keep going when something is really, really hard. In the four decades Sister Madonna has been competing, she has broken her hip twice, her right arm six times, her left arm twice, her shoulder, her collarbone and almost all her fingers and toes. She keeps going because, “the only failure is not to try.”
2. Strategy & Self-Mastery
“We have all been given different talents. We have to dig deep to discover them. And when we find them, we are obligated to use them for the greater good.”
Sister Madonna started running when she was 48 as a way to “harmonize the mind, body and soul.” Training for an Ironman and building a business mean learning to elevate all three – mind, body and soul. It’s an incredible process of self-actualization and you’ll need a strategy, tools and resources to reach your highest goals. I continue to discover better tools for measuring, learning and improving performance. Measure everything. Organize your data and glean insights to improve.
3. Work Hard & Achieve
“Your effort in itself is a success.”
All success begins with hard work and massive action. For years, Sister Madonna joked that she would train “religiously.” When she and all the Ironman competitors step up to the start line, we’ve already completed a longer race of preparing ourselves. People don’t run triathlons because they’re easy. The physical limitations and the emotional inner dialogue are all obstacles we choose to inflict on ourselves especially on the edge of an enormous achievement.
In business and in life, leadership and love are the highest calling for the life that is inside of us.
You are the architect of your life. The vision and grand purpose of your life must be decided and committed on by none other than yourself if you are to maximize your life’s meaning. If you’re in the wrong leadership role, you’re probably the first to sense it. Are you still learning, growing and moving closer to the greatest version of yourself?
Here are three signs that you’ve found the leadership role that is truly best for you.
1) It Keeps You on Your Toes
Great leaders love a challenge. Innovators have an insatiable urge to build and create. Ultimately, you’ll know you’ve found the right leadership role when you feel driven to solve problems, take strategic risks and push your business to greater performance. When you engage with your work out of obligation and fear of risk or challenge, you leave at the end of the day feeling exhausted or anxious. When you’ve found a role that dares you to level-up your own leadership capabilities, you’ll begin to anticipate activity that drives production. You’ll feel pride, fulfillment and a sense of invigoration. You’ll go home thinking about the mission, not because you’re worried, but because the work has tapped your skill set and engaged you at the core of who you want to become.
2) You Trust Your Team
When you take a leadership role, you should feel that your executive team is communicating and cooperating in all the right ways to bring the company’s vision into reality. Strong trust in your team is rooted in a performance-based culture of excellence. Some companies try to build a foundation of false harmony in order to achieve operational excellence. They fill their office space with ping pong tables, snack rooms and kegerators to appear competitive with Google-style employment perks and to lure top recruits. But no one works for Google because of the free food. When your team is driven by excellence in its craft, by excellence in the rigorous disciplines required for disintermediation of an entire industry then, and only then, can you have harmony from the top down and from the bottom up in professional life. Moreover, you’ll be working in culture of excellence where colleagues can trust and rely on each other to grow, expand, provide more value to your clients and become more. This is the way to prosperity.
3) You’re Working For Something Greater Than Yourself
Everyone wants happiness from their professional role. This includes a sense of security and appropriate compensation. A big paycheck, even if it’s from a big name, might provide partial fulfillment. The most fulfilling roles are those where you genuinely feel connected to a mission that’s larger than yourself and you are being pulled to grow and expand in your capabilities. Productivity drives progress and lifts humanity. A great company always has a vision for serving humanity at its core. Look for companies whose vision matches yours, and you’ll have an enduring source of energy and passion for the work. You might find value in doing the role even if it comes with a smaller paycheck than you’re used to.
The most important responsibility any top leader will have is to make good decisions. Every challenge or triumph a business will face will be decided by its leaders’ ability to make a tough executive decision using strategy and sound critical thinking in order to serve a greater purpose.
As a headhunter building all-star leadership teams composed of only the top 1% of A+ executive talent, and as a CEO and co-founder of my own high-growth companies, I’ve come across three underrated abilities that elevate executive decision making:
Exercise Critical Thinking Over Judging
Critical thinking is a skill of all great leaders. The biggest transition people make in their careers is to grow from being an individual contributor to the responsibility of a group of people. And the biggest leap in executive capabilities happens when a leader moves from being driven by personal significance to committing to a mission of serving others.
Individual contribution and performance can improve on a linear basis. Team performance and productivity increases on an exponential basis. The thing that holds leaders back from their best executive decision making, their biggest saboteur, is the need to judge. Making a judgement and practicing critical thinking are not one in the same. “Judgment” is often confused for “judging” rather than the productive endeavor of critical thinking.
Judging is egocentric, and rooted in a fear-based drive for self-aggrandizement or preservation. When you are busy managing the perception that others have of you, you judge. Someone who is stuck making judgments rather than thinking critically is someone who thinks he or she is the most important person in any given situation and is subject to getting stuck in myopia. Rather than finding creative solutions that turn lemons into lemonade, those who judge simply place blame on others and then admit defeat.
To preserve and advance the desire of the ego leads people to judge. Judging is an act of close-mindedness and playing small. It’s rooted in the primitive, reptilian part of our brains, where we’re wired for fight or flight. It’s fear-based and motivated by feelings rather than thoughtful analysis. Its purpose is to disguise or manipulate perceptions to appear as truths.
We’re all likely to fall into judging at some point. And we are also capable of overcoming our fears and exercising critical thinking. We practice critical thinking when we transcend survival-mode into instead being driven by mission and service.
When we are mission-oriented, we are driven by team purpose. We value others and think selflessly. Critical thinking is empathy based — instead of being a slave to our own emotions, we consider the feelings of others. We stay open-minded and solutions focused. We’re able to more objectively analyze a situation and make a fair evaluation.
Overcome Your Fear of Taking Strategic Risks
Being a CEO comes with the immense responsibility of continually driving growth by providing vision, purpose and leadership to your team. And while you’re constantly in service to others — in meetings, writing emails, answering questions and making important decisions — it still feels lonely at the top.
You might feel like an imposter putting on a brave face to hide your inner doubts. You can’t let yourself slip. People depend on you. Any wrong move could destroy tremendous value.
The pressures of executive leadership can at times feel overwhelming. CEO depression and anxiety are real. And harboring that anxiety without taking steps to overcome it only makes things worse.
Research on executive decision making has found that a CEO’s anxiety can hinder a company’s growth. A leader with anxiety will focus on potential threats rather than seeing potential opportunity. This kind of fear can prevent an anxious CEO from taking important strategic risks.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
While every decision should be thoughtfully evaluated, it has also been proven that calculated risks often precede high growth. Thankfully, our fears as CEOs are not insurmountable. Struggle, in fact, is a requirement for growth.
Here are concrete steps you can make to overcome anxiety and take strategic risks:
1. Be Purpose-Driven
Are your fears inhibiting you from fully actualizing your mission in business and in life? Leaders with the most influence lead with purpose. Napoleon Hill wrote that ‘definiteness of purpose’ is the starting point of all achievement. Clarity around your purpose gives you power. It gives you the courage and conviction to take risks that move you towards your grand purpose.
2. Take Massive Action
Taking massive action begins with simple steps. Try different things. If something’s not working, try something else. Restrategize and reinvent. You know Einstein’s quote about insanity; it makes no sense to repeat the same thing while expecting different results. Take note of what doesn’t work and create a new solution.
3. Bring Your Best Self
When you’re under extreme pressure, it’s easy to focus on your work and not on how to take care of yourself — even though self-care will help you optimize for better results. Remember the important instructions: if your plane loses cabin pressure, put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. Love and care for yourself by staying active, practicing good nutrition and getting enough sleep. Work on getting your brain chemistry right by finding healthy ways to promote good vibes (through exercise, meditation, good music — get creative!). As a leader, the best investment you can make is in your own learning, growth, health and wellness. Then you can maximize the contribution you make to others.
Learn to Master Your Mojo & Get in the Zone
Professional development at its core is a process of personal growth. All self-improvement begins with self-reflection. The biggest catalyst of growth for any leader is almost always the realization of a truth. And yet for many of us, a huge gap remains between our self-image — what we tell ourselves and portray to others — and our inner truth.
Ego and hubris are telltale signs of someone who has not taken the time to reflect and search for their inner truth. This person searches for personal significance from external sources — prestige and power over others. Someone with this inflated sense of personal significance is disconnected from reality and exhibits three qualities: they’re entitled, invulnerable and invincible.
But we can’t always be invincible. Those who can’t embrace this human truth never find self-love. Real confidence is self-love rooted in humility and a growth mindset. And the reconciliation between inner truth and self-image requires loving yourself.
Greatness in any field begins with a powerful inner state. This quality has been called ‘being in the zone,’ finding your ‘flow’ or ‘mojo.’ What this really means is that you’ve achieved internal reconciliation between who you truly are and the person you portray who is worthy of respect, admiration and love. When you are convinced of yourself and no longer preoccupied with seeking external validation, you have mastered your mojo.
Love is humanity’s greatest gift, and we are all still learning how to love. Once we have trust in ourselves that we are enough, this inner abundance creates external abundance. Reconcile the gap between inner truth and self image. This is the way to master your mojo and make the greatest contribution to your grand purpose.
From truth comes wisdom. From wisdom comes limitless possibility. Make sure your executive decision making is always rooted in truth and wisdom.