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Review: Dr. Bob Rotella’s How Champions Think in Sports and in Life

how-champions-think-9781476788623_hrThis review first ran in the May 25 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

How Champions Think in Sports and in Life

By Dr. Bob Rotella

Simon and Schuster


You’ve got a shot at doing something exceptional.

It’s your life-changing, career-defining, legacy-making moment.

But here’s the catch.

Success isn’t guaranteed. The odds aren’t in your favour. There’s a good chance you’ll fail with the whole world looking on. And lots of folks will make it their mission to remind you that you were being hopelessly unrealistic.

So do you step to the line or do you sit this one out and play it safe?

“Most people never commit themselves to doing anything that offers worse than fifty-fifty odds of success,” says Dr. Bob Rotella, author of How Champions Think and director of sports psychology at the University of Virginia. “Most people choose to live lives that are as safe and secure as they can make them. But then, most people don’t really think through the human situation. We’re blessed with one life, and that’s all we can be certain about. They take that one life they’re given and they drift through it. Maybe they’re satisfied with that.”

Rotella works with professional and amateur athletes who aim higher and push harder than the rest of us. They’re not satisfied with drifting. “The people I know who seek to be exceptional would not settle for a safe, secure and ultimately dull life. They have a different attitude toward their lives, a philosophy that impels them to go in the opposite direction, to seek excellence, to be exceptional.”

So why do they head in the opposite direction and shun a safe, secure and dull life? Based on his decades of experience, Rotella’s identified how champions think.

Champions learn to be optimistic. Regardless of what happens, find a reason to be hopeful.

Adopt a confident self-image. To borrow a line from William James, “people tend to become what they think about themselves.”

Respect your talents. “The most successful people have some of what we call natural talent but not so much that it makes them complacent,” says Rotella. “They’re brimming over with the character traits that promote patient, persistent hard work.”

Commit and persevere. Exceptional people honour the commitments they make to themselves and they learn to love what they’re doing even when it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

Dream big but also have goals and a process for getting there. “Dreams are cheap. Lots of people who never achieve much have dreams. Exceptional people go well beyond dreaming.”

Be single-minded. Have a passion for one thing and pursue it zealously. Be willing to lead an unbalanced life.

Evaluate yourself based on how well you’ve prepared and performed. Exceptional people are “process oriented not because they don’t care about outcomes, but because they know this attitude leads t the best outcomes.”

Be willing to go through the fire. “People who go for greatness are going to get knocked down a lot. The issue is not whether you’ll fail, because you will. It’s whether you’ll get back up and keep going.”

Work hard when you’re young and work smarter and more strategically as you get older.

Be patient while you’re working to do better and be impatient with the limits that others put on.

Surround yourself with the right people. When you find someone who believes in you and your ability, latch on and learn.

And stick with your bread and butter. “There’s a happy medium between listening to everyone and taking all the advice you’re offered, and listening to no one and stubbornly hanging on to the same flawed techniques and habits,” says Rotella. “It’s a subtle sweet spot, but it’s one that champions seem able to find.”

You and I likely aren’t going to win a Stanley Cup, Superbowl, World Series or The Masters. But we all have a shot at doing something extraordinary with our lives. The only question is whether we have the mindset to stop settling for safe and secure.

Review: Ron Friedman’s The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace

Best PlaceThis review first ran in the May 11 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace

By Ron Friedman

Penguin Group


Throw your kids for a loop at the dinner table tonight.

Skip the usual questions. Don’t ask if they had a good day or what they learned at school.

Instead, ask your pride and joy what they failed at today.

It’s also a question worth repeating during your next staff meeting.

Sara Blakely’s dad asked this question during every dinner.

“What he did was redefine failure for my brother and me,” Blakely said during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “Instead of failure being the outcome, failure became not trying. And it forced me at a young age to want to push myself so much further out of my comfort zone.”

Blakely is the 44-year-old self-made billionaire founder of Spanx. She credits her family’s dinner table conversations for giving her the courage to launch her company when she was 27 years old and had just $5,000 to her name.

“Blakely was taught to interpret failure not as a sign of personal weakness but as an integral part of the learning process,” says Ron Friedman, an award-winning psychologist and author of The Best Place to Work. “It’s this mindset that prepared her to endure the risk involved in starting her own business. When coming up short is viewed as the path to learning, when we accept that failure is simply feedback on what we need to work on next, risk-taking becomes a lot easier.”

Most of us don’t graduate from school with that mindset. We were discouraged from taking risks and punished for making mistakes. Top marks went to students with all the right answers.

At work, we’re told to take smart risks but left to guess what qualifies as smart, dumb or potentially career-limiting. In many organizations, it’s better to hit a single than swing for the fences.  Mistakes are covered up and best forgotten.

But when failure’s not an option, innovation’s not a possibility. When you and your team don’t talk about the mistakes you’ve made, you won’t learn from them and you risk repeating them.

On a personal level, you’re not growing if you’re not failing. And if you’re not growing, you’re likely bored out of your mind and thoroughly disengaged.

“Accepting failure doesn’t just make risk-taking easier. In a surprising number of instances, it’s the only reliable path to success,” says Friedman.

Some companies get it and reward employees who screw up. SurePayroll, a U.S. payroll-processing company, has an annual employee awards program that includes a best new mistake category. You can win gold, silver or bronze plus a cash prize.

“If you don’t encourage people to take risks, then you end up with incrementalism forever,” company president Michael Alter says. “Mistakes are the tuition you pay for success.”

Software development company HCL Technologies has executives create failure curriculum vitaes. If you want to get accepted into the company’s internal leadership program, you need a failure CV that highlights your biggest strikeouts.

“To advance in their careers, potential leaders must first show that they have the ability to turn failure into progress,” says Friedman. “Those who can’t seem to identify any mistakes are presumably told they now have something to put on future applications.”

Rewarding failure is one of dozens of evidence-based and sometimes counterintuitive recommendations that Friedman makes for building a workplace that’s loaded with engaged employees and driven by constant innovation.

“We now have striking proof that many aspects of the modern workplace are outdated, counterproductive and even psychologically harmful. Which is why it should surprise no one when Gallup reports that over 80 per cent of employees worldwide are disengaged. They’re working within structures that make it nearly impossible to thrive.”

So when it comes time to shower your best and brightest with awards and accolades, don’t limit your praise to employees who hit grand slams.  Show some love for employees who go down swinging yet have the courage to step back into the batter’s box and the smarts to adjust their swing.