The ultimate success secret – and the hallmark of all great leaders, athletes and business owners

In the next minute or so you are going to learn the Ultimate Success Secret.

Why is it important to learn?

Well, this secret has helped military leaders win wars, political candidates win elections and small businesses become global giants.  It is frequently used by championship-winning sports coaches, successful investors and world-class athletes.  And, this secret plays a key role in business growth and development.

Oprah Winfrey applied this secret to become a media magnate and one of the world’s most powerful women.  Warren Buffett uses it in his profession as the world’s most successful investor. Tennis great Serena Williams implements this secret in her career. And coach Graham Henry used this secret to help New Zealand win the Rugby World Cup in 2011.  So it’s powerful stuff.

The secret is a key step in my strategic planning and design thinking process because it strengthens the strategies you create and multiplies your chances of success by huge margins.

To help you gain an insight into the secret, let’s take a brief look at three big events in world history.

The first is the Gulf War and in particular Operation Desert Storm in 1991.  This is where the USA-led Coalition forces trounced Iraq’s military force in one of the most one-sided and short-lived battles in the history of modern warfare.

Next is the start and meteoric rise of Google, one of the world’s most dominant companies.

And finally is Barack Obama’s successful 2008 campaign to become the first African-American president of the United States of America.800px-20081102_Obama-Springsteen_Rally_in_Cleveland

These three events have several common threads, one of which is that the respective successes were all built upon the brilliant execution of good strategies.

Now, thanks to heavy media coverage we were able to watch first-hand the strategies unfold on our tvs, computers and newspapers. In fact, the Gulf War is sometimes referred to as the TV war because of the live 24 TV hour coverage it received.

Further, the 2008 US Election campaign had all the hallmarks of an expensively produced and tightly choreographed reality show.

The other common thread is the level of intensive planning and preparation that took place in the war rooms and the board rooms. Most of us only got to see the exciting parts where the strategies were executed.  We didn’t see all the crucial behind-the-scenes stuff.

And the third common thread is that in all these stories, the central figure or leader applied the Ultimate Success Secret. This secret typically takes place before the start of the formal strategic planning phase and the development of the strategy.

What is the Ultimate Success Secret?  Drum roll please.  The Ultimate Success Secret is….

Establish and use a strategy team

Yes, the ultimate success secret is to establish and use a strategy team.

Now, this team can be called by a number of different names including expert team, inner circle, leadership group and advisory board.

Best-selling author, Napoleon Hill, popularised the concept of the mastermind, which is a another name by which this team can be called.  For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to the team mainly as a strategy team. It doesn’t matter which term you use, but it is important to understand the team’s definition and purpose.

An strategy team defined? I define it as:

A team of highly-skilled individuals who come together to formulate strategy and pursue a common goal.

Members of the team perform several core tasks, which include:

  1. Helping the leader to analyse, create and plan an organisation’s or team’s strategy.
  2. Providing guidance for the execution of the organisation’s strategy.
  3. Working as coaches and mentors to up-skill others.

Yes, the strategy team works hard in pursuit of a common goal.  Like winning a war, growing a business or winning an election.

Let’s see how the concept of the strategy team or leadership group has been applied to the three historical events we’re focusing on in this lesson.800px-Colin_Powell_and_Norman_Schwarzkopf

In the Gulf War, U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf. Jr was the commander of the Coalition forces. And, as part of his role he tapped into the minds of some of renowned military leaders of the day, including General Colin Powell, Lieutenant General Charles Horner and Major General William G. Pagonis. (Pictured here are General Schwarzkopf.Jr (right) and General Colin Powell (left))

Larry Page and Sergey Brin formed a formidable team when they started Google in 1996 while still PhD students at Stanford University.  But other key figures in the early stages of the firm’s growth included Andy Bechtolsheim, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, and Craig Silverstein, a fellow PhD student at Stanford. Bechtolsheim invested $100,000 into Google in August 1998 before it was incorporated, and Silverstein was the firm’s first employee.

And Barack Obama’s leadership group included highly experienced political strategist and former advisor to President Bill Clinton, David Axelrod. Also on his team were David Plouffe, senior advisor and campaign manager, and Steve Hildebrand, the national deputy campaign director.  Both these men had significant experience as political advisors, strategists and campaign managers.

As highlighted, these teams contained a significant level of expertise.  Yes, Google’s founders were light on real-world business experience.  However, they offset that by linking in with the likes of Bechtolsheim.  Which is one of the key reasons to set up such a team.  Put simply, it allows you to offset your weaknesses with someone else’s strengths.

Other key reasons for establishing and using a group of experts?

  • You tap into the expertise, experience and wisdom of others
  • Potentially you create a synergistic – i.e 1+1 = 3 – effect.  That is, the combined talents produce benefits that exceed a typical 1+1 = 2 relationship.
  • Team members can bounce ideas off each other
  • You can better dot the i’s, cross the t’s

Yes, indeed.  The strategy team is the ultimate success secret.

How to apply this secret to business?  You need to establish a highly skilled business strategy team or leadership group.  This is a team dedicated to growing your business and focused on the analysis, planning and execution of your strategy.

Who should be on the team?  Well, for starters you want people who share similar values and will help build a strong, high-performing culture.

Next, prospective team members should have a high-level of emotional intelligence, or EI for short.  Popularised by American psychologist Daniel Goleman, emotional intelligence is defined by Psychology Today as follows:

“Emotional Intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your emotions and the emotions of others.  It is generally said to include 3 skills

1. Emotional awareness, including the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others;

2. The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problems solving;

3. The ability to manage emotions, including the ability to regulate your own emotions, and the ability to cheer up or calm down another person.”

In short, people with high emotional intelligence are not dickheads! They are decent people, highly motivated, work well with others, don’t crack under pressure, and don’t throw their toys out of the cot when they don’t get their way.

Third, you want a team of people who have complementary skills, thinking styles and personalities.  For instance, if you are a strategist then you need some sequential thinkers to work through some of the finer details of your strategies.  Your team can’t be filled with just accountants or administrators either.  You also need marketers, designers and other creative types.

Also, your team can’t be made up of just extroverts or introverts.  There needs to be balance.  Introverts are important as they do a lot of the mental and intellectual grunt work while extroverts help generate discussion and keep up the team’s energy levels.

Finally, a crucial member of your team is the master mentor or chief advisor.  This is the “wise owl” who can offer insights and advice built upon years of experience and learning.

How many on the team?  At the outset you need yourself and your master mentor/advisor. Then you add members based on a number of factors such as the current size of your organisation, your vision, growth strategy, and the skills and assets you need to add to the team.

At the end of the day you need good people on your strategy team with complementary skills to those you already have.  Other “nice to haves” are team members with access to resources and connections, but these “nice to haves” are secondary to the personal qualities and skills that team members offer.

Bottom line? You must establish a highly-skilled strategy or expert team.  This is the ultimate success secret and the hallmark of all great leaders.