The Winning Factor: A book review by Bob Morris

The Winning Factor: Secrets from a Veteran Olympic and Corporate Coach
Peter Jensen
AMACOM (2012)

How and why a “development bias” can help you to become very best you can be

Opinions vary as to what the decisive factor is for an individual to win or succeed but agreement is almost unanimous that efforts to win or succeed must be guided and informed, at times driven by what Peter Jensen characterizes in this book as “the role individuals choose to play in their own development.” According to decades of research conducted by K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University, peak performance is the result (with rare exception) of 10,000 hours of deliberate, iterative practice under strict supervision by an authority in the given field (e.g. chess, athletics, creative and performing arts), whatever it may be. Natural talent and luck are also factors but of much less importance. Jensen notes, “Coaches with a strong developmental bias are always concerned with encouraging their performers to engage their Third Factor [in addition to genetics and environment], to get passionate about developing themselves.”

Jensen explains how executives who aspire to become effective leaders can develop a Third Factor, the key to their own performance. Those who are results-driven pursue peak performance with relentless self-improvement. The aforementioned 10,000 hours of deliberate, iterative practice under strict supervision by an authority in the given field is one part of the occasion. Serendipity (for lack of a better word) is another. Ultimately, however, success depends on a third factor – the winning factor – and that is, as indicated, the role an individual plays in his or her own development. In competitive athletics, for example, that would be NFL players such as Jerry Rice and Walter Payton who exhausted those who trained with them during the off-season

As Jensen explains, supervisors (he uses several such terms interchangeably) must possess the scope and depth of experience, qualities of character, self-discipline, knowledge, and skills (especially communication and instructional skills) to provide the direction and support needed by those for whom they are directly responsible. Only when they trust and respect their coach can that person ignite self-motivation to take ownership of the process. According to Jensen, exceptional coaches all possess self-awareness, ability to build (and retain) trust, ability to use compelling imagery, ability to identify barriers that emerge, and finally, recognize the value of adversity as a necessary – and valuable – means by which to measure progress and reveal character.

All of the information, insights, and counsel that Jensen shares in abundance can be of incalculable value in almost any domain of human activity. I see almost unlimited applications in the business world, for example, notably (invoking horticultural terms) developing “gardeners” with “green thumbs” who are expert at “growing” high-performance people, many who later also become “gardeners” with “green thumbs.” All organizations (whatever their size and nature) need effective leadership at all levels and in all operations areas. In a single volume, Peter Jensen explains how to pursue that worthy goal. However, achieving it and then sustaining the consequent culture will ultimately depend on more than agreement to participate by those involved. They must also “buy in” and take full ownership, bringing a passion to their shared initiatives that simply cannot be denied. But only if it is their “garden” can they and it thrive.

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