24 September 2008

A champion’s work ethic

This article originally appeared in Issue 51 of InSight Published 24 September 2008

Two weeks ago there was a huge announcement in world sport - Lance Armstrong was making a comeback to cycling.

For those of you unaware of Lance Armstrong, he's the only man in history to have won 7 Tour de France's, road cycling's holy grail.

Just in case this isn't impressive enough, he won them consecutively and also fought back from a life-threatening bout of testicular cancer a germ cell tumour that metastasised to his brain and lungs when he was in his mid 20's.

Armstrong's battle with cancer is captured in his first book: It's Not About the Bike.

I recently finished reading Armstrong's follow-up book, Every Second Counts (with Sally Jenkins, Bantam Books, 2003), which details his quest to win the Tour de France. It's an inspiring and enlightening book for many reasons. The major revelation for me was how much of an ordinary person Armstrong is in many ways: He likes beer and Tex-Mex food, he struggles to make his intimate relationships work, he adores his children and he wants to make a difference in the world (through the Lance Armstrong Foundation).

Having read the book, it was very clear why Armstrong achieved the incredible success he enjoyed.  He was prepared to focus and work harder than any other rider on the tour. Nobody, but nobody, was more physically and mentally prepared for a cycling race than Armstrong.

Here's a few extracts from Every Second Counts that says it all about Lance Armstrong's success:

"There was no mystery and no miracle drug that helped me win that Tour de France in 1999. It was a matter of better training and technique and my experience with cancer and subsequent willingness to make the sacrifices. These were the explanations. If you want to do something great, you need a strong will and attention to detail. If you surveyed all the successful people in this world... the common denominator is that they are all capable of sustained, focused attention" (page 156)

"We spent most of May off in the mountains, training and we rode at such high elevations that we got snowed out.

One day as I was riding, Johan pulled up next to me and said. ‘there's snow six kilometers from the top, you can't get through the pass.'

‘How much snow?' I asked.

‘From an avalanche.' he said.

‘What if I keep going?'

‘You can't.'

‘Who says?'

That's what it took to win the Tour (de France)."

"One day I rode a huge mountain called La Plagne. I reached the top after six and half hours, then descended. At the bottom I just turned the bike around and went up again. I finished with more than eight hours of riding that day. It was dark when I got off the bike."

"Nobody could give that kind of confidence to an athlete, except himself. It couldn't be faked, or called up at the last minute. You got it from everything you did leading up to the competition, so that on the day of the race itself, you looked around at all the other strong riders besides you, and said, ‘I'm ready. I've done more than they have, bring it on'" (page 159 & 160)

It may seem to be a whole different world, but being a successful recruiter is no different in many ways to being an elite athlete. Preparation, sustained focus, attention to detail, hard work and self-belief all contribute significantly to coming out ahead of the competition.

The past week in the world's financial markets has been a week in which you could very easily have been distracted by alarming headlines, media worry-warts and other professional merchants-of-doom spouting off.

As I have said repeatedly in InSight, there's no point worrying about things outside of your control. As Lance Armstrong makes very clear throughout his book, all you can do is be completely focused on the things you can control and go out and do them.

Are you prepared to raise your own level of focus and hard work, for today? For this week? For this month? For this quarter? For this year?

It took cancer for Lance Armstrong to truly commit to doing everything necessary to make the most of his potential as an elite cyclist - what will it take for you to commit to make the most of your potential as a recruiter?

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