Winners Play to Their Strengths, Stand Out as Leaders

Winners discover a way to stand out among the competition. The easiest way to do that is to play to your strengths.

Singer Neil Diamond takes his songs personally. If they don’t mirror his feelings and emotions, he says, they won’t be any good.

“The main objective in any song I write,” says Diamond, “has always been that it reflects the way I feel. That it touches me when I’m finished with it and involves me in what its saying. And that’s really the only rule I use when writing.”

In all, Diamond has 31 gold albums, making him second only to Elvis Presley among male solo artists in that category.

When fans flock to Diamond’s concerts, they feel he’s one of them, giving voice to the things they feel themselves. It is surprising, then, to learn that Diamond nearly didn’t make it in the music business.

After writing songs through high school and college, he achieved his first copyright in 1960 for a song called What Will I Do? His next few years were like a roller coaster. He associated with several publishers, including Columbia Records, but he couldn’t sustain a long-term relationship. He became frustrated, but he didn’t give up.

Diamond eventually decided that he had been trying too hard to write songs for other people’s tastes. He began to compose and sing songs that satisfied his own feelings and desires.

“I began, for the first time, to write songs that I wanted to write, that I felt, that moved me, that I cared about,” says Diamond. “And it became exciting to me again. I felt that there was no more necessity for me to fail, that I could do what I wanted.”

And so he did.

“To expect security is to take a holiday from history.”

When people place security as their highest priority, the results are scary. For example, almost nobody gets fired from a federal government civil service job. Regulations shield incompetent and negligent employees so that only five State Department employees out of 28,000 were fired in 16 years (1984-2000). The process can take 18 months or longer. Meanwhile they continue to be paid and are obviously resented by those whose workload increases.

Those who bring out their best put themselves in competitive situations and do not depend upon artificial regulations, quotas or tenure. The only security is what you create for yourself.

“The perfect bureaucrat is the man who manages to make no decisions and escapes all responsibility.”
—Brooks Atkinson, drama critic, essayist

Too many people count on somebody else to tell them how they are doing and what they should do to improve. You will get a jump on your competition if 1) you are honest with yourself about your own basic behavior and 2) you learn to initiate action for change on your own, without depending on others to do it for you.

The first step in this process is to evaluate your self-confidence level. Ask yourself these questions:
• Am I goal-oriented? Am I dedicated to reaching the goals that I have established?
• Do I demonstrate self-reliance or, in times of stress or crisis, do I back away?
• Do I use a creative approach to reach decisions or solutions to problems, or do I rely on old ways with which I feel comfortable?
• Do people usually trust my decisions?
• Do people tend to assist me willingly?
• Do people usually react positively to my suggestions?
• Do I make an honest effort to encourage feedback from others?
• Do I continue doing a good job even when there is no immediate reward?
• Do I support those who must help carry out decisions I made?
• Am I optimistic? Do I bounce back quickly?
• Do I feel like I am in good health?

If most of your answers are “yes,” you tend to see yourself in a positive light and are in a good position to begin the deliberate process of building a personal progress plan for yourself.

Pace your race

The Ohio River flows at a speed of eight miles per hour. If you are standing beside the river and decide to jump in, you know you’ll be moving at that speed.

The lesson: If you don’t want to travel at that pace, find a slower river. Or better still, a lake.

When you go too fast you may burn out quickly. When you go too slow you may never be a contender.

Two basic principles are involved in pacing your race:

1. Failure is determined by what you allow to happen, success by what you make happen.
Keep your cool. Control your emotions in reaching tough decisions. Before you blow your top in public, talk it out with yourself. Reduce anxieties by acting out the situation alone. Ask yourself: What’s the worst that can happen? Then let your answer guide your actions.

Another benefit: You avoid the tendency to run others down or place blame irresponsibly. None of this happens by chance. A negative approach puts the brakes on progress.

2. Success and failure have the same root: the desire to achieve.
But avoiding failure is not the same as success.

Knowing how far you’ve traveled on the road to success is the first major step. An effective way to pinpoint your current position is to answer these questions:
• What are my major strengths?
• What weaknesses have I identified that may inhibit my progress?
• What have been my major achievements in the past 30 days? The last quarter? The last six months? The last year?
• What did I learn in the past year that will help me most in the future?
• Who, other than myself, contributed significantly to the accomplishment of my objectives? Have I thanked them?
• What outside factors influenced my success or failure?

Once you understand where you are, it is possible to establish more realistic, specific objectives based upon what you have learned about yourself and the work you must do.

To move in the right direction, your objectives must meet these tests:
• They must be realistic. Can they be achieved within a reasonable length of time? What costs are involved?
• They must be specific. Do they specify when results can be expected? Do they state what results are being sought?
• They must ensure improvement. Are they a challenge? Will they overcome problems and capitalize on opportunities?

When you have selected a destination, the next step is to select a route to get you there. Being prepared is more important than speed. Write down the objectives you have established. Prepare a written, step-by-step outline of actions you plan to take. Give yourself a time limit. Estimate the costs. Determine the type and amount of support required.

The vital phase of a plan for success is the action phase. Not only does it provide a clear-cut route to your objectives, it helps to minimize the chances for error.

To keep your plan on course, it is important to check for changes needed, or new opportunities requiring immediate attention. Then you must act!

Roger Fritz is the founder and president of Organization Development Consultants. His consulting (over 350 clients), writing (48 books), and seminars focus on renewing personal and business growth. This article is excerpted from his book, “100 Ways to Bring Out Your Best.” For more information, call 630-420-7673 or visit his web site (

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