It is apparent to me that people everywhere, especially leaders are all under the same pressure- get to the next level. Whether it's growth, efficiency, strength or speed, the status quo is the enemy. Managers want staff that understand that, and can contribute to achieving the right results at the right time. Senior managers want managers that understand what results their teams should be achieving, and can drive their teams to meet those goals. CEO's want senior management to deliver results, while operating with minimal direction. It doesn't matter what type of organization you work for, what team you are a part of, or if you are operating as an independent entrepreneur, we are all expected to get to the next level. Individuals that fail to understand this dynamic are at risk of being outpaced in their organizations or teams. Those that recognize the need to get to the next level, and can consistently achieve it will benefit in their quest for continued advancement.
How do you do it? For starters, you need understand that to get to a new level requires advancing from the current level. We will call the current level normal. Normal isn't the goal. If you have come to believe that it is, then let's pause here and do a quick mental reset. Normal isn't the goal or the expectation for very much in life. Somewhere beyond normal is the goal.
How do you get there?
In order to get beyond normal you must understand three things. The first thing you have to figure out and accept with honesty is to know where you are. Knowing where you are will tell you what normal is. If you are struggling with that knowledge you cannot progress. Whether you work for a large corporation, you are an entrepreneur, an athlete, soldier or you are just trying to progress on personal level in your sport or hobby, you have to be absolutely sure you understand where you are. I'll use an example from the Military. The Army's SF Selection course (SFAS) is famous for land navigation tests, called the "STAR Course". Each STAR course can cover 15-25 Kilometers, and you are required to pass them multiple times. You are tested in the daytime, night time, good weather, bad weather and all while carrying a heavy ruck. When you are navigating really long distances at night and with a 60-70 lb. ruck it can be very easy to lose track of where you are, on a detailed level. The darkness, hunger, fatigue and weight of the ruck on your back are all factors that can easily disorient you. You'll keep track of the big pieces of information normally and probably remember that you are in the US, in the State of North Carolina and near Ft. Bragg. But those facts are not sufficient when you are aiming for a single, very small point in the distance, and in the dark. You have to know where you are down to a specific, very precise position on the map if you expect to find your destination (usually a grumpy retired Green Beret in a tent). When you are desperate to pass a STAR course and you become disoriented, you have to stop, maybe take your ruck off for a minute, and do a map check. You HAVE to figure out where you are. There is no other way you can move forward if you don't. Each of us has our own unique factors in our lives that constantly disorient us in our pursuit of advancement. We have our own darkness, fatigue, hunger and heavy rucks to carry. How you do your own map check at your job, with your business or your own performance goals will differ based on your unique circumstances, but you must figure out where you are. You need to spend enough time on this step to make sure you really understand it. You have to remove the emotion, attitude, pride and ego from the equation, and get down to the bare bones facts of your situation. Find your own way to disconnect and gain perspective. On a STAR course, at night that means pulling out your map, small red light, and crawling under a poncho to ensure that no light escapes while you try to figure out where you are. How you perform your personal map check will be unique, but it will probably require a serious pause in your current routine, getting some sleep and finding a place you can stare at your own map for as long as you need to in order to orient yourself.
"Somewhere beyond normal is the goal"
The second thing you have to understand is what goal you are pursuing. Where are you trying to get to? What are you expected to achieve (what does your boss, or team expect of you)? What do you want your business to do? If figuring out where you are can be compared to a map check, then figuring out where you need to go is like your own personal mission brief. Only don't expect to be spoon fed the instructions or handed your mission brief by your boss or those in charge. Sometimes that happens but often especially in corporations, in business or in our personal goals, we don't have the benefit of having a clear plan handed to us. Even in cases where we are expected to perform in such a way as to achieve goals that are clearly part of someone else's plan, you cannot expect to have the instructions handed to you. This is just the way it is, especially in the modern era. Accept it and move on. You have to realize that you must create your own personal or team mission brief to guide you. You've done your map check and figured out where you are, now devote the time necessary to learn where you need to go. If you work in a large organization, you have plenty of resources available to help. Personal dialogue with those above, behind and to the left and right of you, online information from your company's website, business journals, industry news and company events are all things you can access to improve your knowledge of your organization's goals. Start volunteering for more and be present in more places, especially if it puts you in position to improve your situational awareness about your organization's goals. If you are an entrepreneur or on an individual quest, use your mentors or trusted friends to help you understand where you need to go. Remember, you've got the heavy ruck on, and it's digging into your shoulders while you are rushing to your destination. Pause and ask those in your life who have already passed the STAR course to help you understand where to go. It is important to have at least one, very clear and very specific objective in the near future that you are aiming for. Next level performance requires immediate or short term performance improvement. This isn't the time for your 5 year plan. Daily, weekly and monthly are the time frames you need to operate in, to move into the next level.
The third, and perhaps most critical thing you have to figure out, in order to get to the next level, is what action is necessary to move from where you are to where you need to go? Achieving next level performance often requires a combination of boldness, strength, endurance and skill. Let's go back to the STAR course example. When you've drifted off course, and figured it out, your not "out of the woods" yet. There's a few things you've got to do if you want to fix your errors and pass the course. The first is you've got to put your ruck back on and start moving (boldness). If you've made a big error, then you've probably got to move faster than you were previously because you are now behind schedule (strength/endurance). You've then got to move in a direction that gets you back to your original course while keeping track of your time, distance and how fast you are traveling and maintain the focus necessary to negotiate new obstacles and avoid making another mistake (skill). On a STAR course it's easy to know what you need to do. The skills required to be successful are walking long distances, with a heavy pack, while reading a map and compass and following an azimuth that is leading you towards your objective. It's often much more complicated than that in other parts of our lives. Most of the time only you, once you've figured out the first two steps in getting to the next level, will understand what action is required in your individual life to get there. Do you need to invest more time at work? Do you need to invest more in your education (whether formally or informally)? Do you need to learn new technology? Do you need to hire more or build a different team? Do you need to have more adventure or create more balance so you can stay in sync with how you want to live? Do you need to simplify your life, and focus on the one or two things that are most important? Do you need a new teammate like David Rutherford to motivate you, or a training plan from Mountain Athlete to focus you? Do you need to climb a mountain? Once you figure out the first two things, you can, in fact only you can, build your own mission plan for getting to the next level.
Beyond normal limits requires aggressive action and specific skill applied towards bold objectives.
Now get after it!