𝗣𝗲𝗮𝗸 𝗧𝗵𝗿𝗼𝘂𝗴𝗵 𝗢𝘂𝘁𝘀𝗶𝗱𝗲 𝗔𝗱𝘃𝗶𝗰𝗲
Updated: May 27
Most Olympic-level athletes, admired leaders, and professionals, even when at the top of their game, rely on outsiders to keep pushing them further.
There is a trope about how persistent practice leads to expertise after ten thousand hours. While repetition may lead to improvement, we will often start to plateau. Optimal performance comes from being driven past our known limits by outside coaches:
“This is a fundamental truth about any practice:
If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone,
you will never improve.”
– Anders Ericsson
Let's talk about pushing the boundaries, seeking outside influence, and striving for continuous improvement to obtain peak performance.
Push the Boundaries
In athletics, many of your boundaries are physical. In entrepreneurship, many of your limitations are psychological. As a fractional COO, I see many founders who are unwilling to listen to feedback or unable to manage projects, limiting their ability to reach the next level.
I once worked for the founder of a family-operated business. The company lasted a long time in its space, but its market crashed. I made several suggestions around ways to pivot, such as operating in parallel industries, seeking new partnerships to combine resources, and exploring new locations. The responses were always a version of “We’ve done it the same way for decades.” That business lasted only another few years.
Founders will become stagnant and eventually irrelevant if they are unable to hear feedback and ignore even the best-intentioned advice. To keep developing, apply times of self-review to invite the advice of others about our performance and behaviors.
Some founders peak when it's time to pivot as the business expands. This phenomenon creeps up on the founder. It can be tough to recognize because the skills that bring initial success eventually need to change or develop to keep the company growing. Sometimes, the required change is dramatic.
I once worked with two co-founders who did a fantastic job starting with only $5,000 and creating a $2 million business. However, the business plateaued when they hired many innovative, high-potential leaders across creative, technology, strategy, and business operations (well, that guy wasn't so swift). The leadership team made inroads into some exciting enterprise accounts, but they felt unsupported and unheard. Six of the seven leaders left in one year after realizing their development was limited.
If I were your COO, I would explain that what made you successful initially (e.g. rigid control of every detail) is now a detriment to your further growth. You need to focus on vision, strategy, and successful outcomes and delegate many responsibilities once embraced.*
To avoid this plateau, seek and consider advice from mentors and experts. Find people who are pushing you to develop as a leader. If you hear similar opinions from several people, that should be a prompt to listen and a catalyst to grow.
Once you are open to taking advice, you want the right type of advice. Ideally, find experts who have experienced a journey like the one you hope to take (e.g., other founders who are several stages ahead of you and leaders in your industry).
Seek out advisors who will listen and tell you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear. You may not want to socialize with this person, but you profoundly respect their advice. Finding someone who will respectfully tell you how to grow is incredibly valuable.
You may hesitate due to being fearful, flustered, or defeated. Ironically, we may only ask for help when we feel on top of things. Push that boundary and realize that strong mentors want to help the true you—not the person you project as successful but the person who, like everyone else, has hopes, fears, and limits.
Reach out to mentors with a specific problem because a tight focus makes helping less formidable and shows you have already tried to define the issue. Here is a sample approach: "Hi _____, I'm facing a particular challenge and have some ideas on how to proceed. I’ve outlined the background, current status, some options, and my preference below. Can we talk about this next week?”
Be mindful of their time and look to talk infrequently—possibly once a quarter—unless there’s an emergency.
While you may lean on your mentors only occasionally, there are many other ways to keep improving. Work with advisors and your leadership team to set personal and company performance expectations. Designate clear objectives, expected outcomes, and progress.
Here is one sample approach: "Hi _____, last time we spoke, we covered the following areas ___, ___, and ___. When we meet again, I’m looking forward to talking about my progress in each area and one additional way I should be thinking about a new issue. I’m listing the original goals below.”
Finally, be mindful of the feeling that continuous improvement is a waste of time. It’s hard to train for peak performance, and it’s easier to focus on our existing strengths or to get caught up in day-to-day activities.
I worked with one great founder who, when the company struggled in sales, focused on the financial model and metrics instead of pressuring the sales team. For him, it was more comfortable to dig into numbers than to confront people and hard decisions.
Scrutinize these feelings and commit to what is best for you and the company. If you see an area of growth and know it needs to happen. Still, you may not be the best one to handle it. Consider other options—such as team leaders or a fractional resource—to push through.
Key Takeaway: Opening yourself to change is often demanding but always rewarding. Outside advisors, mentors, and coaches can push you to develop further and faster in reaching incredible new heights.
Photo by Pixabay
See the book 𝗣𝗲𝗮𝗸: 𝗦𝗲𝗰𝗿𝗲𝘁𝘀 𝗳𝗿𝗼𝗺 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗡𝗲𝘄 𝗦𝗰𝗶𝗲𝗻𝗰𝗲 𝗼𝗳 𝗘𝘅𝗽𝗲𝗿𝘁𝗶𝘀𝗲 by Anders Ericsson for more information.
* More on Delegation here
𝗦𝗰𝗮𝗹𝗲: 𝗥𝗲𝗮𝗰𝗵 𝗬𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗣𝗲𝗮𝗸 offers over 130 independent articles across 500 pages including leadership, growth, sales, marketing, operations, finance, and teams. In five minutes, learn the best methods and practical options to activate your dreams.