Like many kids, I was an athlete until college. Tennis was my sport, which, as you know, would not fall into the definition of a team sport. Yes, we played on a team, in a league, but that was secondary to our individual contributions. Every day for nearly twenty years, I would practice, often alone, returning balls from a ball machine or hitting against a wall (how boring was that?). Tens of thousands of hours outside of lessons and team practice, where I was playing alone hitting against a cement wall with a white line across it.
As a tennis player, you learn quickly you can only count on yourself out on the court. There are no jerseys. There is no passing to a teammate. No set-ups. It’s you and you alone. (Doubles doesn’t count, people—at least, not as a kid or teenager.)
I don’t regret for a moment my sport of choice. I know of few 60-year-olds still playing basketball, soccer, or football. But I know a slew of people still playing tennis into their eighties and nineties, so I think I chose well for longevity. But I likely chose poorly from the lens of collaboration—delegating and counting on others to back me up. It drove both a resilient sense of independence and also a naive understanding of the interdependence essential to achieving critical business goals.
FranklinCovey’s chief people officer, Todd Davis, author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work, has written that often our strengths, when overplayed, convert to liabilities. And I realized this might be the case with my strength as an independent performer as I listened to Grant Cardone, the entrepreneur, coach, speaker, and author of The 10X Rule, in our recent On Leadership interview.
He explained that most leaders and entrepreneurs grossly underestimate the level of execution required to bring a vision to life, particularly how they must work more interdependently with other people to make it all come together.
I can’t do small. I excel at large. Epic. Memory making. I’m not ashamed of this, but I don’t always fully consider what it will take from others to turn my vision into a reality. Strangely this was a concept lost on me for most of my career, and I think it might have some grounding in my younger years as a tennis player trained to perform independently.
As we start the new year making plans for 2022 and beyond, I’m going to take Grant’s insights under advisement.
I will naturally underestimate the work required to execute my goals, so I need to double or even triple my initial estimates. And all that work will require me to work interdependently with other people, and I’ll need to check my natural impulse to be the only player on the court.
How about you—were you trained in your youth to become a star, or play with a high-performing team?
What’s your natural preference, and is it helping or hampering your goals for the next twelve to eighteen months?
The next time you decide to “climb a mountain,” look behind you. If nobody is following you, you’re not a leader, but rather, in John Maxwell’s words, more likely a hiker.
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