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“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.” -Archilochus
If greatness in leadership is what you seek, let this quote sink in.
Success is 80% training and 20% luck. And even then, the 20% is shaped by the 80%. Training is comprised of planning, preparation, and intensity, particularly when no one is watching. Luck is made up of whatever comes as a result of willpower and talent. Where many people go wrong is expecting that willpower and talent alone will get them the results they want. They expect to just flip a switch and success will come pouring in. Instead of focusing on proper training, they put all their eggs in the basket of luck, and wonder what went wrong when they fail.
Pep Guardiola, the manager of the Manchester City football club and considered one of the greatest managers of all time, is a leader who does not allow such a mindset to take hold. At each of the stops in his career—Barcelona, Munich, and now Manchester, he’s achieved fast and enduring success, winning 73% of his games on the way to winning 29 league titles, tournaments, and other world competitions in just 12 seasons. The man just knows how to win. But what exactly sets him apart from all the other great coaches?
A look into one of his team practices will tell you everything you need to know about his success. Each year, his team is expected to win, not just the league championship, but virtually every single game they play. But you wouldn’t know it by watching them practice. Pep has a fiery personality. He screams in faces, jumps around like a frog, and runs full speed back and forth across the field in an attempt to drive up the intensity for his players. He prepares his team as if they are the worst club in the English Premier League. It’s his way of keeping them from falling into complacency. He knows, better than anyone else, that we humans don’t usually rise to the level of our expectations. He knows that we always fall to the level of our training.
He combines his physical intensity with an extreme attention to detail. His teams are known for a painfully slow, but effective strategy of ball-control and aggressive defense. In practice, he expects this strategy to be executed flawlessly. If he sees any of his players give up the ball too soon, make a pass at a slightly wrong angle, or even make the wrong facial expression, he will make them redo the entire drill.
In addition, the team runs a lot. On top of their intense mental preparation, they are pushed to their physical limits. As a result, Manchester City has become recognized annually as one of the most well-conditioned teams in all of Europe.
Every week between games, the team is pushed harder than any other team because Pep knows that is what it takes to maintain the success that they have already achieved. Their practices are so intense, so extreme, and so meticulous, that by the time they get to the next game, everything they see and do is second-nature. They’ve already seen and experienced the game to the highest extreme in practice. And when it’s game time, when they enter the colosseum, all they have to do is play.
While outsiders expect Manchester City to win, treat them like winners, and shower them with compliments, Pep does the exact opposite. While he, too, expects them to win, he doesn’t make it obvious to his players. With success comes the expectation of more success, and he cannot allow them to think they can just flip the switch and ride the wave with just willpower and talent. He knows that luck does play a role in any success his team has, but he doesn’t rely on it just happening. He’d rather create it.
If greatness in leadership is what you seek, follow the example set by Pep Guardiola. There is no room for complacency. There is no room for contentment. There is only room for accountability, effort, and intensity, especially when the cameras are off and the world is not watching. (But don’t forget to keep it fun and engaging as you go.)
Like Pep, always keep the great quote from Archilochus in the back of your mind:
“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.”