I am sure that there are a good number of us who have often pondered about one of the great imponderables of life: what makes the difference between those individuals who make it to the rarefied atmosphere of outstanding success and the vast cohorts of also runs?
The truth is that there are a huge number of ambitious, capable, competent, intelligent and talented people who, despite some very determined efforts, have not gotten past being just average in their endeavours. There are times when, like that irritating song, I just cannot get this question out of my mind. I have had the good fortune of working with and for some of our continent’s finest entrepreneurs and at the same time I have consulted for many who, despite their glaring potential and their herculean efforts, “live in the grey twilight that knows not victory or defeat”.
So the question kept niggling me and day after day, I scoured books, the internet and other resources for the potential answer. Whilst there were many propositions and prescriptions that sought to explain that unknown essence that surrounds the stars of the world, I could not help but feel that these were all rather theoretical. Let’s face it, successful people differ immensely in personality and style and yet there is something that they have in common – a common thread that runs through each of them. This thing is very difficult to identify because it is often an amalgam of subtle traits that gel into an attitude – a mindset – a way of being. What makes this even more difficult is the fact that many successful people have not thought through what it is that lies at the heart of their success. This elusive element is what I am calling the X-FACTOR and it is that which makes the difference between the average ones and champions.
The “breakthrough” came one day as I sat in my office. My screen-saver scrolled across my laptop – “WORK LIKE YOU DON’T NEED THE MONEY; LOVE LIKE YOU’VE NEVER BEEN HURT BEFORE; DANCE LIKE YOU WOULD WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING”. And I had one of those moments that you can only describe as a “Eureka” moment. I suddenly saw something in this statement which I had seen every day for quite a few years and yet I did not even know who originated this statement. Rigorous internet research threw up the fact that this was attributable to a gentleman who played baseball in the 1920s, called Robert Leroy Paige (nicknamed Satchel). And to me, it seemed to capture the various elements of this X factor. In case you are wondering about the connection, let me share what I saw in Satchel’s statement.
To me, WORK LIKE YOU DON’T NEED THE MONEY means you have a passion and love for what you do, and strongly believe that your product or service fulfils a real need in the marketplace. Your prime focus is on being excellent in everything you do. This excellence results from combining the gifts and passion you naturally possess with discipline (the time, effort, and hard work you are willing to invest) and your beliefs (the translation of your thoughts into empowering actions and outcomes). You have determination, patience and a positive attitude in abundance such that when others throw in the towel, you are more determined than ever to press on. This motive or force is the quintessence of all your drive for achievement and not financial return.
In contrast, if money were to be your sole driver, the discipline and sacrifice needed to succeed will become a burden and the patience that is required to build great things will be a struggle. Shortcuts will become attractive and compromise will be your preferred modus operandi as the quest for cash causes you to lose focus and re-order your priorities. It can lead to the sacrificing of customers, staff, family, competitors, values and ethics on the altar of cash. You are more at risk of losing your uniqueness as you are likely to rush to copy those who you think are making it financially.
So this first concept proposes that there must be a higher ideal that serves as the clarion call for your efforts and not one as base as money. If one sincerely identifies this and it becomes the reason for everything that you do, success is very likely to attend your hard work.
The next element seems even farther removed from the world of business; after all, what does love have to do with it? But digging beneath the literal meaning of this statement reveals what LOVE LIKE YOU’VE NEVER BEEN HURT really means.
Successful people understand that business success depends critically on the quality of human interaction – with customers, colleagues, partners, financiers, suppliers, staff, regulators, etc. The most successful people I know are fastidious about building, nurturing and preserving solid relationships with all stakeholders. The key message here is that one requires strong relationships as a prerequisite for success…. Relationships that have suspicion, mistrust and hidden agendas as their defining characteristics cannot be productive relationships.
One of the nation’s top CEOs always reminds me that if one claims to like — if not love — your fellow man, then this will be demonstrated in respect, honesty, integrity and empathy towards others. This is a fundamental truth which enables us to get along with and relate well with different types of people irrespective of class. If you understand the mechanics and application of good relationship building, you will demonstrate certain distinguishing behaviours, including the following:-
- You are not over-eager to be the “BIG BOSS” with staff waiting on you hand and foot and people scurrying for cover when you appear.
- You retain the confidence and humility that truly great leaders have and as a result, people will be eager to work with and for you (not out of fear).
- You operate in a cocoon of trust. In other words, you give trust and expect trust. You understand that trust is a function of two things: Character (integrity, motive, intent) and competence (capabilities, skills, results, track record). You demonstrate these in everything you do and expect those around you to do the same.
- You don’t expect the worst from people until they give you an abundant reason to do so.
Great people generally tend to give back generously and widely without keeping a balance sheet of their giving. This trait stems from their understanding that success cannot be achieved without the help and support of external players e.g. staff, the community, etc. So, yes, as counter-intuitive as it would initially appear, loving generously (and of course, sensibly) results in an environment that is highly conducive to achieving success through excellence.
The last dimension says DANCE LIKE YOU WOULD WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING. If you’ve ever watched a lousy but enthusiastic dancer, you can imagine what this seeks to communicate. They appear to be dancing to a sound that only they can hear…and they definitely appear to be having a lot of fun to boot. Indeed, when you are all by yourself, you pull off dance moves and gyrations which you will never dare to repeat in public. Often, we stop ourselves from doing or saying things that we really want to because we are concerned or even intimidated by what others will say about us. For those who never reach their full potential, they must wonder how different their lives might have been if they had taken that opportunity or voiced that opinion.
For me, the big insight into this element is this; this is not a dress rehearsal, it’s real life. It is therefore important that every effort is made to enjoy the ride. To do this, successful people carry their own sunshine. They dance their own way, find their own beat and exude their passion. In living their lives in this manner, they recognize that there are many options to choose from in anything that they do. They look, not only at the obvious and trite options, but they create new ways of doing things and in so doing earn descriptors like maverick, eccentric, deviant, non-conformist and the like. They cherish the freedom to question the usual definitions of success and imagine possibilities other than the ones that are familiar to all.
The other profundity hidden in this seemingly simple statement is that it is essential to be absolutely true to yourself as you pursue success. There must be consistency about everything that you do, driven by the realization that pretence is only a self–delusion. Whilst it is helpful to look at role models and mentors, it is important to accept that you cannot succeed as someone else. A cursory examination of success reveals that successful people are confident & comfortable in their own skin, freeing them to carve their own path, chart their own course and create their own legacy.
This is my attempt at defining the X-Factor; the sublime essence of the successful person. I hope that, to some extent, I have achieved my objective of capturing something which is quite difficult to define. The seemingly obscure inspiration (Satchel Paige’s statement) for this insight only confirms the elusive nature of the X-factor. Although I think I have found a perspective to look at this complex trait, I still believe that there is more to the secret of success than this. I cannot shake the feeling that success cannot be prescribed in a formula.
At best, the markers that indicate the path to success can be identified but there remains a single, significant element that does not lie in our control; the gift of the blessings of God, which perfects the hard work that of necessity attends the quest for success. All that we can do therefore is prepare ourselves as best we can so that we will be ready and worthy of this free and generous gift, whose granting no human mind can encompass.
Remember, “WORK LIKE YOU DON’T NEED THE MONEY; LOVE LIKE YOU’VE NEVER BEEN HURT BEFORE; DANCE LIKE YOU WOULD WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING” and watch out for the grace that will deliver the success which you so deserve.
By Martyn Mensah