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July 2008
Published by Geoff Kelly, Kelly Strategic Influence

Wisdom to lead minds:

" Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have

Emile Chartier, Philosopher

Create magic at the Olympics, on Mars or with any great idea

Many people take extraordinary performances for granted. Iím confident that despite the thrills that Beijing will provide next month that many elite athletes will feel that most of us donít fully appreciate what it took to even get there, let alone get into a final and win a medal.

These athletes might have something in common with a group of scientists and engineers at NASAía Jet propulsion Laboratory.

Two months ago NASAís Phoenix spacecraft landed in the northern polar region of Mars. It took almost 10 months to travel 422 million miles and landed within metres of its intended target. When you really try to imagine the enormous distance and time involved, that is an astounding achievement. Even getting it there safely is fantastic, but to do so with such accuracy deserves our attention. All the more so as the landing had to be achieved remotely - there was a 15 minute time delay for signals back and forth between Earth and Mars.

So whatís my point? Well, here is the interesting bit. A friend of mine asked a NASA insider what NASA considers its main secret to success for these phenomenal performances. He thought it might be deep planning, intense focus on details, or something else pretty special.

His friend instantly said that NASA spends 99% of its time and focus on course correction. They constantly monitor their trajectories and make fine adjustments as most of the time their spacecraft are off-course due to all kinds of influences on the far from empty solar system.

What intrigued me by this was how similar it is to any kind of personal or organisational achievement and leadership.

Take our Beijing Olympians. They know the performance levels they must achieve to qualify, and they make good estimates of the levels they would need to achieve to secure a finals place or a medal. And they train accordingly, always knowing where they are in relation to where they want to be. And despite the relentless training routines, progress is rarely linear and they are continually making adjustments. A one-day cricket team chasing a big total is another clear example from sport because it is all about the numbers.

And it is the same in business or any other area of human achievement. As a leader who has had the privilege of observing many other leaders, Iíve seen this attribute of course correction as a defining characteristic of leaders who get results.

Yes, we absolutely need vision to see what is possible, the ability to win followers to our cause, sound values, a bias for action and the many other traits that define good leaders. But the secret sauce to getting outstanding and consistent results is spending most of our time on course correction.

And there is another important lesson leaders can draw from the experience of elite athletes; the importance of passion and belief. They know talent alone isnít enough to keep them on track for often thankless years of preparation. They develop and apply enormous resources of passion and belief to fuel their preparation and ultimate performances.

In the same way, although important ideas and strategies are important, they never succeed of themselves. They draw energy from a leader taking action on purpose. And this kind of action is characterised by determination, focus and commitment Ė and an understanding that the result depends on them.

What separates leaders of excellence from the rest? Despite what most people think, it is mostly simply the intensity of their desire and the depth of their belief in themselves and their cause. This explains why seemingly ordinary individuals can rise to do extraordinary things. And why very bright and gifted individuals sometimes fail to live up to the expectations of their early promise. People who develop an unshakable belief and an intense desire to dedicate themselves to something bigger than they are those who set themselves apart in all areas of life, from the sports field to the practise of law.

There are plenty of educated, highly skilled people out there working hard every day. After all is said and done, what in the final analysis makes some of us leaders and others followers? What provides that edge that drives us to make things happen? What keeps us going sometimes 14 hours a day for weeks at a stretch?

Two powerful forces determine the degree to which leaders rise to the challenges before them: their belief in their purpose and themselves, and their passion for what they are doing and building.

People excel when they choose a cause bigger than themselves and work at it in a spirit of excellence. Excellence is characterised by singleness of purpose and a determination to see important goals through to the end.

After a brilliant concert, Polish pianist Jan Paderewski was greeted by an eager fan, "Oh, Mr. Paderewski, I'd give my life to play like you." Paderewski replied, "I did."

In the same way leaders who envision great ideas and strategies, convince or inspire others to support them, and lead the implementation until final success commit a big part of themselves to that achievement. They base their courage and commitment on deep wells of belief and passion. And they develop the persistence and discipline to course correct until their vision materialises.

This is what drives athletes to Olympic magic, what takes NASA to the stars with such astounding accuracy and tenacity, and what fuels leaders to succeed with powerful ideas in any field.

More next month...


Geoff Kelly works with leaders who are frustrated that others don't fully support their ideas and strategies. He mainly works with corporate leaders around the world, but also leaders in Government and Not for Profit. He is also a popular speaker on this and related subjects. See www.kellystrategicinfluence.com.au, email [email protected] or call +613 9678 9218 for more information


© 2006 Geoff Kelly All rights reserved.
You are free to use material from the Leading Minds eZine in whole or in part, as long as you include complete attribution, including live web site link. Please also notify me where the material will appear. The attribution should read: "By Geoff Kelly of Kelly Strategic Influence. Please visit Geoff's web site at www.kellystrategicinfluence.com.au for additional articles and resources on earning support for your ideas and strategies." (Make sure the link is live if placed in an eZine or in a web site.)



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