In case you haven’t noticed, I have a preoccupation with understanding high achievers. It came from an early recognition of how much greater others were, and because I am pretty competitive, it looked sensible to try to learn from legends.
Of course, I’ve been blessed by being at the forefront of the small business boom of the 1990s, which brought with it the proliferation of the computer, the Internet, hi-tech companies such as Apple and Microsoft and disruptive entrepreneurs, such as Steve Jobs, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and, here at home, the likes of Aussie John Symond.
And then there were the smarties who saw that we were changing as human beings, so Anita Roddick of The Body Shop tapped into those who wanted to look good with good products, while someone like Janine Allis saw we might want to drink juices that helped us look good on the inside with her Boost Juice business.
Apart from interviewing many of these high achievers over the years, I’ve always been happy to get my hands on a book that gives me insights about these legends of business high performance.
It was a happy coincidence when I bought my son, Alex, a book called Tools of Titans for Christmas, to find he had already bought it for himself. I didn't know the author, Tim Ferris, which, after research, I realised was a guy I should have known.
For starters, this book has the tag “#1 New York Times Bestseller” but this isn’t the first time this has happened. Ferris is a prolific writer and podcaster. His other books include the
The 4-Hour Workweek, Tribe of Mentors and The 4-HOUR BODY.
He’s huge worldwide. Wikipedia says “Ferris has been called the "Oprah of Audio" due to the influence and reach of his podcast.” As of 2016, The Tim Ferris Show has had over 80 million downloads!
Even if this guy has a little more hype than substance (though I’m not arguing that), his efforts to promote himself and his body of works shows he’s exceptional.
The New Yorker magazine (which isn’t easily impressed), has described him as “this generation's self-help guru,” comparing him to personalities of similar influence in earlier times, such as Napoleon Hill of Think and Grow Rich fame and Steven Covey, who wrote THE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE.
But that’s enough on Tim, I now want to tell you about something I read, which I thought came from Ferris but actually were the wise words of Arnold Schwarzenegger! He started with: “I’m not a self-made man.” This surprises many because he damn well looks like he’s turned that body into something unique, and that couldn’t have happened by a freak of nature.
He addressed his point this way: “Every time I give a speech at a business conference, or speak to college students…someone says: Governor/Governator/Arnold/Arnie/Schwarzie/
Schnitzel — depending on where I am — as a self-made man, what’s your blueprint for success?”
He’s blunt on the subject and he reckons it shocks a lot of people. “I am not a self-made man. I got a lot of help.”
He says it’s true that he lived in Austria without plumbing, that he arrived in America with just a gym bag and worked as a brickie, but he also made a million out of real estate “before I swung a sword in Conan the Barbarian.”
Invoking a message I shared with a business audience on Thursday in Sydney for the property and funds data research firm, SQM, Arnie said: “Like everyone, to get to where I am, I stood on the shoulders of giants.”
These were the exact words that 2005 Australian of the Year Dr. Fiona Wood said to me, when I asked how she went from science research to creating a product that saved many of the burns victims of the Bali bombing, to eventually be the CEO of a publicly-listed company selling her famous product. She modestly answered: “If I have seen further, it was upon the shoulders of giants.” She acknowledged that this came from another legend — scientist Sir Isaac Newton — and while some argue he might have used it in a cynical way to answer critics, I think the world after him has seen the merit in recognising that greatness is seldom a work of one individual doing it all.
The old line that there is no “I” in the word “team” is not only a great message for those young people, who can be so full of themselves because of their meritorious achievements. And if they want greatness within a group environment, it’s essential that they respect the contributions of others who have helped them.
Arnie said it respectfully and nearly lovingly when he wrote: “My life was built on a foundation of parents, coaches and teachers; of kind souls who lent me couches or gym back rooms where I could sleep; of mentors who shared wisdom and advice; of idols who motivated me…”
He concedes he “had a big vision and …fire in my belly” but he stresses he needed the smacks from his Mum, his Dad’s commands to do things that are useful and so on.
His honest admission of what made him a high achiever needs to be shared with as many young people as possible, and there are a few oldies who could do with some Arnie coaching in keeping it real.
“So how can I ever claim to be self-made?” he asks. “To accept that mantle, discounts every person and every piece of advice that got me here. And it gives the wrong impression that you can do it alone.”
The role of bosses, parents, coaches and educators is to encourage the people we lead to look for other leaders and thinkers that give them the legendary lessons that lift these people to being better at work and better at life.
One of the fundamental lessons of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits book was about the importance of right living. Being an outstanding citizen with great values should be a critical lesson we teach the people who we lead.
Covey believed a great way to lift your own game to be a great leader was to “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. This principle, he argued, is the key to effective interpersonal communication, which is critical if you want to help make great people in the future.
This habit is about communicating with others. It's about developing the habit of listening carefully and really understanding the other person before giving your thoughts.
After considering what Arnie told us about how he treated the “world as my classroom. Soaking up lessons and stories to fuel my path forward”, it becomes clear that best lesson from most legends is that they are often great listeners and they have wisely given their ears and their contemplations to really great influencers.
So that’s the plan, is it not? Seek out great people who can teach you stuff and listen your way to greatness.
And the final piece the Terminator taught us is: thank the people who helped you make your own ‘self-made’ greatness happen! Gratitude is the price you pay for the help you receive. All it usually costs is recognition, respect for those who have given you a leg up and the word “thank you”.