The climb to the top Featured

11:46am EDT July 14, 2011
The climb to the top

In the sports world, there is a clearly defined champion each year. Every team strives to be the one that finishes on top, but most don’t make it. Many teams have good seasons and might be satisfied with that, but only one is the true No. 1.

The question to ask yourself is, what is your goal? Are you trying to be the No. 1 player in your industry? Or are you happy with just having the equivalent of a good season? A lot of you might say you are aiming for No. 1, but are you really putting in the effort to get there? Is everything you do focused on obtaining that goal?

Tiger Woods, Steve Jobs, Jack Welch and Warren Buffett know what it takes to win.

Building a championship team in any industry, whether it’s sports or business, is a full-time effort. Here are four observations on what it takes to get to the top.

Continuous improvement. Tiger Woods has a coach. One of the best golfers in our lifetime has a coach and works with him to get better. The coach challenges his thinking, pushes him to go further and doesn’t let him get complacent. Just because you are good at something doesn’t mean you can’t get better. The road to the top requires long hours of identifying every flaw in your organization and then working tirelessly to eliminate that flaw. Once you are on top, you have to work even harder, because all of your competitors will be using your success as the new benchmark. If you don’t work to improve even more, you’ll drop back to the middle of the pack. The day you think you know everything is the day you start to decline.

Look ahead. Winners identify trends before anyone else and are able to take advantage of that knowledge. If you are working on continuous improvement, you’ll obtain what you need to move quicker than your competitors. Why? Because you will have networked more than the next guy, talked to more of your customers and interacted with your employees on the front lines. You will have spent more time analyzing the data and reading up on the latest trends. When you put all this information together, you’ll start to see patterns that you can take advantage of. Steve Jobs of Apple has been ahead of the competition with almost every product he’s launched. In fact, some of his few failures have been partly because he was too far ahead of everyone and the market wasn’t ready yet. Jobs is able to look at consumer needs and combine that with technology trends to create new best-in-class products.

Desire. This one is simple. If you don’t have the desire to be No. 1, then don’t expect to be No. 1. To be a champion, you have to have the heart of a champion. Maybe this is something you are born with or maybe it is learned. Either way, if you don’t have it, you’ll never be the best. Jack Welch wanted to be at the top of everything he did. If he wasn’t going to win, then he had no problem selling off business segments and using the resources to build a champion in another area. There’s nothing wrong with just being a “good” business, but don’t try to fool yourself by saying you want to be the best when you don’t really have the desire to do what it takes to get there.

Commitment. One clue that you might be lacking the desire to be the best in your industry is a lack of commitment. If you are only working 40 hours a week, you are probably not committed to being No. 1. With the talent level of the CEOs who are out there, it would be almost impossible to work fewer hours than they do and expect to beat them. You have to be willing to outwork the competition and do whatever it takes to win. Warren Buffett would often start his day at 4:30 a.m., and he also saved $1,000 by the time he was 14 — a lot of money back in the 1940s. He was committed at an early age to being a success. Long hours and hard work are mile posts on the road to a championship. Do you have what it takes to win it all?

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or