The people in your organization will shape its culture, starting with the attitude, mindset, behaviors, character, and competence of the leader. In turn, your culture they shape will ultimately determine your results, for better or worse. That being the case, it’s essential to fill your workplace with people who have the right attitude, level of urgency, and will to win. These attributes are all directly connected to one’s overall mindset.
It’s popular to speak today in terms of building a team of champions. But, as strange as this may sound, I don’t want people working in my organization who think like a champion. Rather, I want to build my business around those who have a challenger’s mindset. To use a martial arts term, I want the red belt mentality rather than the black belt mindset. Following are eleven reasons why. While it is dangerous to generalize, and there always exists exceptions to the rule, I have had far greater success over the years building great teams around the rule rather than the exception.
- Challenger’s mindset: hungry. Champion’s mindset: satisfied.
- Challenger’s mindset: humble. Champion’s mindset: arrogant.
- Challenger’s mindset: teachable. Champion’s mindset: know-it-all.
- Challenger’s mindset: Something to prove. Champion’s mindset: “Been there, done that.”
- Challenger’s mindset: prove themselves over again each day. Champion’s mindset: borrow credibility from what they did once upon a time.
- Challenger’s mindset: willing to serve. Champion’s mindset: wants to be served.
- Challenger’s mindset: try something new. Champion’s mindset: stuck in their ways.
- Challenger’s mindset: work with a sense of urgency. Champion’s mindset: pace themselves.
- Challenger’s mindset: play to win. Champion’s mindset: play not to lose.
- Challenger’s mindset: rattle the status quo. Champion’s mindset: defend the status quo.
- Challenger’s mindset: lives for the present and future. Champion’s mindset: live in the past.
There are other differences I could list, but these paint an adequate picture for the purposes of this article. Before you criticize or accuse me of settling for less than champion-caliber people on my team, please re-read the second paragraph of this article. I didn’t say I didn’t want champions working with me. Rather, I declared that I didn’t want people who think like a champion. Frankly, I endeavor to be surrounded by champions who still think and behave like challengers. This, indeed, is the perfect world for a leader. In fact, one lesson I teach to top performers in all fields is this:
Act like a challenger even when you’re the champ. Challengers are hungry, humble and have something to prove. Champs can become lazy, cocky, and complacent.
Do your team members have a challenger’s mindset? If so, credit their leader. If not, reevaluate their leader. Run the manager’s tendencies through these eleven points and determine which mindset is dominant, because you can rest assured that the leader’s pace will ultimately set the pace for the group overall.
Returning to the aforementioned marital arts analogy contrasting red and black belts, here is a fact: The most dangerous fighters in karate studios like those where I train are the red belts, not the black belts. Red is the rank prior to black, and the reds are still training with urgency, while the blacks have often let up and plateau into a maintenance mode. The reds don’t feel that they’ve “arrived” and it shows in their work ethic, teachability, and humility. If fact, it’s not uncommon to see red belts knock out the black belts during sparring sessions. They train harder, they’re hungrier, and they have something to prove. Back when I was training for my own red belt I lost 25 pounds in one 10-week period, solely due to the additional training and sparring time I put in at the studio. While black belts can still advance with 2nd, 3rd and 4th degrees, etc., their most common tendency after reaching their black belt goal is to gain weight! One friend passed his black belt test and then never even came back to the studio for six months. Parallel analogies in business abound. When “champions” get to the top of a mountain, their first reaction is to build a fence around what they have and protect it, rather than seek out a higher mountain.
Here are five suggestions for developing a challenger’s, a red belt’s, state of mind. Use them to shape your own mindset so that you can positively infect those you work with:
- Accept the fact that you’re never as good as you think you are. When you focus less on how “successful” you are, and more on reaching your fullest potential, you’ll create a positive tension that keeps you hungry and in motion.
- Work with a daily dose of paranoia. They key word here is “daily” dose, not an overdose. Slightly paranoid people never become complacent. The best way to develop a daily dose of paranoia is to act as though you’re behind and need to make up ground, even when you’re king of the hill.
- When you’re doing well, don’t sit on the ball, run up the score. Never settle for your “fair share” of the market. Go for an unfair share. Never seek to create a “level playing field.” Instead, work hard to make it so un-level that your organization has an insanely unfair advantage.
- Embrace urgency as a personal core value. Urgency is one of our five corporate core values, but it is also one of my personal values. You must convince yourself that there is power in now, not later. You may never get later. Act now!
- Live your life as an “and then some” person. Do what is expected and then some. Pay the price and then some. Do what others aren’t willing to do; go where they’re unwilling to go; try what they’re afraid to try, and you’ll get what they only dream about.
Work with the hunger, discipline, humility, intensity, and teachability of the red belt. Even if you’re a grand master, maintain the mindset of a challenger. This state of mind will put you on top and keep you there. It separates the legitimate champion from the one-hit wonder; a true martial artist from the partial artist.