For those who have been part of my world for a while you will know that I have a deep seated desire to want to understand what makes the extraordinaries stand out.
I am committed to identifying the characteristics and traits that make the elite who they are. To identify if we, those who maybe are yet to reach such heights can learn. To see if we can develop these attributes.
This was the reason why I have written my two books – where I explored the habits of the best. Where I developed simple daily practices we can all adopt to try and increase our capacity for performance.
So, recently I heard a phrase that in many ways summed up the unique characteristic that the best have. Indeed the phrase also gives insight into a continuum of performance – so less a binary have it not and more a “how much of this you have correlates to the level of performance and results you achieve”
The phrase? A radical commitment to the truth.
What does it mean?
Let’s break it down. Radical means far reaching or thorough – it’s fundamental. Commitment means a pursuit of, or dedicated to a cause or outcome. Truth being a quality or state that is accepted as being true, fact or reality.
So, a radical commitment to the truth means that there is a fundamental pursuit of facts or information that is known to be true and can be objectively verified.
When applied to performance this means that an individual will do whatever it takes to uncover, understand and evaluate the truth in everything they do. They will look objectively at their actions and measure them against specific, knowable standards. They will be accountable to the truth.
A case in point…
As you may know I recently trained for and ran the Venice Marathon. Completing a marathon is a major achievement – it is estimated that only 1% of people complete a marathon in their life time. Doing so at 49, 8 years after the last one was not lost on me.
However, this marathon really highlighted to me how far short I am when it comes to a Radical Commitment To the Truth. I have a long way to go. Let me tell you why…
The night before the race I was asked by a friend what time I was going for. My last marathon I did in 3hrs 36 mins – I was hopeful I could have completed this one in around 4 hours.
Yet, if I am totally honest with myself I knew sat there the night before that I was not going to achieve a 4 hour time. I had simply not done enough in training to complete the course in that time.
Do not mistake me I had trained for 9 months. I had ran nearly 700 miles in training. Yet I knew, despite these efforts it was not enough.
I finished in my slowest ever marathon time of 4 hrs 34 mins. It was a race that i found gruelling, massively uncomfortable and really left my lack of preparation nowhere to hide. I got found out – simple as.
Why the truth matters…
I am proud I competed the course even if it did not go as I would have hoped. What I am not proud of is the story I told myself in my head on the lonely Sundays when I should have pushed myself more, challenged myself harder and gone deeper.
I told myself I would be OK. I told myself I would get round fine – I had done it before. I told myself that because I could run miles at a decent enough pace I would be able to tough it out and come in around that 4 hour mark. I simply had not been truthful with myself.
I performed exactly how my training had indicated I might. OK the race ended up being hotter than I had hoped, and I did have a remarkable lack of energy from early the race that was unusual. But in the cold light of the truth, I did the marathon in a time that my preparation led to. The truth on this day was the clock – and no matter what I thought or believed you cannot deny the truth of the clock.
The best and the truth…
When you explore the way the best prepare themselves they create systems and process to make them accountable to the truth.
They understand that feedback – clear unambiguous and critical feedback is essential for getting to be the best they can be. They do not allow ego, fear or vanity to get between them and the harsh reality of where they are at. They know that any gap between where they are at and where they think they are will only get magnified in the cold light of consequential performance.
They know that we do not step up to the challenge, we step down to the level of our preparation and training. This is why a radical commitment to the truth matters so much. The truth will ultimately out – the is just as true in performance as it is in life.
Radical commitment to the truth in business.
What i see in too many organisations is a discomfort with really experiencing the truth. I see leaders afraid to really face into and hear the feedback they need to really improve and get better. I see ego protecting them from the potential discomfort of their shortcomings being exposed. Only to see these shortcomings laid out for all to see when it really matters! I see leaders pretending to welcome feedback, whilst showing dissonance to anything that doesn’t reflect their own exaggerated view of themselves.
I am a big believer in understanding your strengths and playing to them. It lies at the heart of high performance. Yet this doesn’t;t mean that we do not see where the edges lie and how we can get better. It does not mean we are deaf to the areas that need to be improved.
I once watched a clip of David Coulthard (F1 driver) reviewing a lap with his race engineer. His race engineer was showing him the areas of the lap that he had maxed and outperformed his team mate. David smiled and said “that’s great, but show me the parts of the lap where I lost time – I want to know the areas that I didn’t get the most out of the car”. This radical desire to see the flaws, to look for the gaps between where you are and where you want to be is one of the hallmarks of the greats.
The endless desire to want to improve – and to do so by examining the spaces where they fall down on what is possible.
I work with Matthew Syed and have heard him speak several times. He shares that when he was a former Table Tennis Champion he demanded radical truth from his coach. He says “imagine my coach came to me at the end of my career and said Matthew, there was a technique that you could have improved but I didn’t want to tell you in case it impacted your confidence or it upset you, how frustrated and damaging that would have been to my career”. Knowing that there was something I could have done better and yet the people around me didn’t let me know until it was too late to act on.
Yet I see this kind of thing happening all the time in teams in business. The fear of upsetting or impacting confidence means that we keep valuable insight to ourselves, rather than share it. The fear of being exposed or criticised means we are not open enough and embrace feedback that is given and so we miss out on the truth we really need to get better.
Some the best teams I have worked with have a level of honesty and candour that means they consistently operate from a position of truth with one another. This is one of the hallmarks of great teams that I have had the pleasure to coach. In fact it is one of the barometers I look at in any team I work with – what is the level of truth telling that is happening in this team.
What is it like in your team? How many unsaids remain holding you back from really knowing the truth? We have probably all heard the research from Google on psychological safety and its impact on team performance. Psychological safety is the mechanism to allow for radical candour – and it is radical candour that actually drives the performance.