Thoughts on Leadership: The Mindset to Succeed

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me in Salt Lake City for the Berkshire Hathaway Energy 2020 Executive Leadership Conference (ELC). This year’s conference covered cross-business panel discussions and presentations related to key challenges and opportunities for Berkshire Hathaway Energy leaders. In particular, the agenda highlighted teamwork and how it can help advance and grow any organization.

To me, teamwork is fundamentally about accountability. Remember, when performance is measured, performance improves; when performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates.

But accountability must also be paired with an incredibly strong mindset. As far as my career goes, mindset was so important. I always tried to find those tiny advantages in a business where victory would mean getting the next deal and defeat meant coming in second. It’s important in any business and for all leaders to maintain the right mindset to become strong, positive and in control. Early on in my real estate journey, I heard a piece of advice that has guided me for decades: Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits and your habits become your destiny. In essence, your mindset determines your destiny.

I often speak about one of my favorite Olympic athletes and one of my favorite coaches, Michael Phelps and Bob Bowman. What Bowman gave Phelps that separated him from the other competitors in the pool wasn’t physical – it was 100% mental. Bowman helped him create the right mindset to win. He designed a series of behaviors that Phelps could use to become calm and focused before each race, to find those tiny advantages in a sport where victory can come in milliseconds, would make all the difference.

Even if you don’t have the perfect build or physique like Phelps, your mindset can create the advantage necessary to become a champion. Writing for Stanford University, Carol Dweck, Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology, examined the effect of mindset on sports prodigies. She wrote: “Many of the scouts in the sports world scouted for naturals, for people who looked like superstars, that is, were shaped like superstars and moved like superstars. If they didn’t look the part, they weren’t recruited.”

But some of the greatest athletes of all time didn’t necessarily look the part. Ben Hogan, generally considered one of the best players in the history of golf, was not a natural at the sport. In the beginning, he had a long, loose swing that produced wild shots, hooks and slices. No matter his swing, he persevered. At an early age, Hogan sold newspapers and was a caddy at Glen Gardens Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. Sometimes, he’d save a few newspapers and make a bed in the bunker near the 18th green just so he could sleep on the course and be the first caddy available in the morning. He worked diligently on his game, immersed himself in all things golf and was confident in the growth he could achieve. Soon the PGA wins started coming.

There are other examples of athletic greats who defied the odds to achieve excellence. Professor Dweck explains: “Muhammad Ali actually did not have the build of a natural boxer. He did not have a champion’s fist, reach, chest expansion, and heft. People gave him no chance against Sonny Liston, who seemed to have it all.”

Yet when Muhammad Ali floored Sonny Liston in their title-bout rematch on May 25, 1965 in Lewiston, Maine, Time reporter Ben Cosgrove said, “a legend was born.”

So, what’s the message? In the end, it was Phelps’ mindset that allowed him to become the most successful and most decorated Olympian of all time. It was Hogan’s mindset that provided the edge he needed to win 64 PGA Tour events, including nine of the 15 majors he played in between 1946 and 1953. It was Ali’s mindset that gave him an advantage in the epic fight against Liston. All of these incredible success stories resulted from a strong, positive mindset. As Napoleon Hill famously once said, “If my mind can conceive it and my heart can believe it – then I can achieve it.”

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