Why talent isn’t enough to succeed

Max Gartner of Gold Mettle focuses on high performance and leadership coaching in sports and business

Max Gartner is president and co-founder of Gold Mettle, which focuses on high performance and leadership coaching in sports and business.

Max Gartner

Besides pure talent, what makes for a truly successful athlete and businessman?

Gartner: What is talent? If we consider ‘talent’ as natural ability, to me it’s only a starting point. I have always liked working with people who have to maximize their full potential of their entire skill set to succeed; they don’t rely on talent alone.

In fact, I have never seen a consistent top performer relying solely on their talent. The key elements of success for everyone I’ve worked with can be found in their vision, determination, an enormous amount of perseverance, self-awareness and their strength of character or mettle.

My wife, Kerrin Lee-Gartner, is a prime example of not relying on talent alone. As a downhiller, she had to overcome serious injuries and setbacks, failures and disappointments. There is no question she had talent, but she won the Olympics because of her mettle.

What are the key things you tell executives they need to do that they’re not doing today?

Gartner: I definitely don’t ‘tell’ them anything and I sure don’t come in with a set solution! My approach with executives is very much like I coach athletes: it’s a partnership. Together, we have an exploratory conversation that determines the areas of potential growth and opportunities to enhance performance.

A primary focus is always on increasing self-awareness. I guess that’s something I would tell them! I’m a real believer in teamwork and connection amongst team members. The benefits of expanding the awareness of self and team are crucial for optimizing performance.

My coaching philosophy has always been to focus on the positives and on people’s strengths. When I moved into executive coaching and team building in the business community, I did so with the goal of bringing the sport coach mindset to the business world. Gallup’s Strengths Finder has been a great tool to immediately increase self awareness and team awareness.

Does a person need to fail to truly understand what it takes to succeed?

Gartner: Failure, who really likes to fail? I sure don’t! Although I’m not sure one needs to fail to succeed, I question just how successful somebody can be if they haven’t failed? Have they really reached their maximum potential? Have they really pushed their limits? How is their success being measured?

As an athlete, Kerrin had a major fear of failure, which limited her potential. She had already been on the World Cup podium and by most standards was very successful, but she had yet to reach her true potential. Letting go of the fear of failure allowed her the reward of true success.

Many of life’s greatest lessons are learned in our failures, which in some twisted way makes them a success! So yes, to become your very best, to reach your greatest potential, I believe failure is not only inevitable, it is a great resource.

What’s your sense of the mood of business people and executives in Alberta?

Gartner: Obviously, this is a very difficult time in Alberta for the oil and gas industry, which has a major ripple down effect throughout our communities. Big business is hurting, small business is hurting and there is no doubt that multiple charitable and not-for-profit organizations are in need. This is a time where frustrations are high and the future is questionable.

This also a time when the strong get stronger. This is a time when coaching, mentoring and support are crucial.

I moved here in the mid 1980s and lived through that economic recovery. There were some great success stories coming out of that era. My approach and my coaching advice through times like this comes from my time in the sports world. We are always striving to develop a more resilient athlete; the same should hold true for business leaders: Control the controllables, focus on the basics, strengthen the connection with your team members and find the positives, as difficult as that may seem.

Short-term goals may change, but remember, every crisis provides opportunities.

In sports, people often talk about athletes getting in ‘the zone.’ How can business executives do the same?

Gartner: So true, all elite athletes strive for ‘the zone.’ It’s the mental state of auto pilot, complete trust, connection, action without thought, flow without force and it all results in a seemingly effortless performance.

Athletes make it look easy, but it takes years of practise, self-discovery and trust to compete in the zone. The zone is a feeling and can be quite different from person to person. For me, I feel completely present and connected when I’m in the zone.

Kerrin mastered the mental components of being a downhill racer and 25 years later she can flow in and out of her zone at will. She initially reached her competitive zone through trust; trust in her knowledge, preparation, skill, judgment, tactics, coaches and equipment. A recent challenge for Kerrin came following a car accident that left her recovering from a brain injury and completely out of the zone. As she healed, it was natural to focus on her limitations and her fears; her ‘zone’ got further away. It became clear to me that Kerrin needed to get back to leading with her strengths and focus on what she was able to do.

Initially, she got moments of her zone back on the golf course, but ultimately, she relearned her zone by having a good understanding of self and trusting her strengths.

We can all access the zone, but only through the self-awareness of our strengths, our tendencies, our emotions and our reactions to circumstances, will we be able to purposely and intentionally work in the zone.

– Mario Toneguzzi for Calgary’s Business


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