The greatest leaders aren’t content with second best. Patience, commitment, and an appreciation for competition are what set them apart.
It probably won’t come as a surprise to many who’ve read this column for a while that I like to push our organization to be the best in our space. Since the early days of Life Time, striving to be the leading health and well-being organization has been our goal. We’re intent on helping people achieve their healthy-way-of-life ambitions, whatever they may be, wherever people are on their journeys, by providing superior programs, performers, places, and experiences.
As we did with Life Time nearly 25 years ago, a person or an organization has to decide exactly what they want to excel at — this is not about being the greatest at everything. You can give your all to whatever you do, but to be the absolute best at anything, you must first choose and define the goal.
The idea of being the best can be daunting and challenging for some people. They might think it is unrealistic or that it takes more work than it’s worth. The best, some might argue, requires too many sacrifices.
For others, though, the time, energy, and effort that’s required to earn that hard-to-obtain title — and then keep it — is a driving force. They love the challenge it presents and are dedicated to making it happen.
For those who fall into this camp, I think it’s worth exploring what it takes to get to the top and stay there, and how to reap the benefits. And for those who aren’t as motivated by this, my hope is that this might help them understand where we’re coming from.
Let’s start with what “best” means: “That which is the most excellent, outstanding, or desirable,” according to the Oxford Dictionary. It can apply to just about anything — the best restaurant, the best athlete, the best [fill in the blank].
Becoming the best starts with research. You have to be willing to dig deep to find out who or what is currently leading in that category, sport, or industry. Once you know your competition, you’ll want to examine how they got there, what they’re doing, and how they do it with such precision.
Even the smallest of details need to be identified and mapped out. Imagine the triathlete who’s racing against the guy ranked No. 1 in the world, or the swimmer with a good shot at making it to the finals and competing against a reigning Olympic gold medalist. These athletes spend hours examining the race strategies of their competitors, watching videos of past events and noticing those little moments that move them ahead, and studying how they train.
The next step is putting yourself in the race, and being committed to catching up, matching, and eventually passing the competition. This includes hiring the best coaches (or innovators or thought leaders) and dedicating yourself to the hard work. It requires building your skill set and talents, and developing your unique plan or project.
In this phase, you’ll probably find that what works for your competition isn’t quite right for you. You’ll discover your own path forward, identifying nuances of creativity and hard work that generate new strategies and training techniques. It may take some time, but it’s here where you may find yourself nudging to the front.
Once you’re the best in your field — as determined by whatever the criteria are for your area of expertise — the work continues. Every day, you’ll be on the lookout for new techniques, tools, and ideas. You’ll think creatively about fresh strategies that will help you be even better than the day before. Continually striving to improve upon your own efforts is an absolute — because the minute you relax or ease off the pedal, someone else will be right there, ready to move to the head of the pack.
And therein lies the main motivation for reaching the pinnacle: When you’re the all-time best swimmer in the world, the best-known hotel, or the most successful car company, the potential for leaving a legacy rises. The possibility of making a meaningful difference increases and your ability to do more important work grows. New doors open; new opportunities present themselves.
Even better, by maximizing your potential and maintaining that high standard, you’re driving competition. That, by extension, inspires the next wave of performance, invention, and innovation that will continue to move us forward. That’s exciting.