The Discipline Every High Performer Knows


9th November, 2018

From an early age I was an observer of people. In particular of high performers. I held a belief that if someone was really great at something, they would have tips or secrets they could share. If I could discover what they were, it would be easy for me to be better at it too. I might not reach their optimum level but it would definitely fast-track me in the right direction.

Through school that approach worked for sports, preparing for exams and even talking to girls! While I didn’t appreciate it at the time, that belief would serve me well throughout my career.

A few years ago I undertook a research project as part of a course final exam. It required me to research a group of people who were already accomplished at a skill. I had complete freedom on the topic providing I followed the prescribed approach. I chose to study the disciplines of high achievers.

I arranged to meet my CEO at the time and asked him to nominate three high achievers. The people that, regardless of how busy they were, he could rely upon to consistently deliver. The CEO also agreed to ask each of his executive team to nominate their own high achiever. I interviewed all of them and looked for consistent themes to emerge. One theme stood out above all others. They described the discipline in different ways, however the approach remained completely aligned.

They all used the three-part discipline for managing their challenging workloads. They all used an approach of Plan – Do – Review.

1. Plan

They all described how they dedicated time, before jumping into action, to plan what was really important. My colleague, Ben Morton, calls it Slowing down, in order to speed up. He wrote about it recently and you can check it out here.

At the beginning of each week they ask themselves a series of quality questions that set them up for the week ahead. Questions such as:

  • What is my biggest priority this week?
  • How will I be at my very best all week?
  • What qualities do I want other people to experience from me?
  • What am I most looking forward to achieving?

The brilliant Peter Cook, author of The Thought Leaders Practice, recently wrote about the power of designing your week. In his words, “Design your ideal week. I think it’s important to have a template of what you’re aiming for. Without that you’ll just be responding to what’s in front of you or to other people’s agendas.”

2. Do

It will be of little surprise that high performers have a bias towards action. They are outcomes-focused in everything they do. Which means they only commit to action when they are crystal clear what will happen as a result of their efforts, and the impact this will have. If they do not have this clarity, there is no action to take.

Once they say they will do something, they do it. Their reputation for being trustworthy and competent is built on the foundation of keeping their promises.

They are fanatical about capturing their actions and priorities. Every high performer describes their own preferred system. The key is they had a system – it was personal to them and it worked.

Don’t mistake activity with achievement.  John Wooden

3. Review

There is a chasm of difference between being busy and being productive. Every high performer dedicates time at the end of the week to review achievements against their plan. For some it is a regular diary entry on a Friday, for others it happens over a glass of wine that evening.

Without clear sight of your achievements, a challenging workload will become draining. Once again, they find their own winning approach over time that fuels their personal fulfilment and energy. Their focus will be drawn to things like:

  • Their biggest single achievement
  • Their biggest learning
  • The thing they will do more (or less) of
  • The person whose contribution they will acknowledge

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals. Henry David Thoreau

Call to action

  • Make Plan – Do – Review one of your key disciplines. Design your own version and tweak your approach over a few weeks
  • Check out Peter Cook’s blog and his book The Thought Leaders Practice
  • Arrange a conversation in December about Brian’s 2019 Engaged High Performance programme. You can get in touch via


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