In sports you hear much about an athlete being “in the zone,” where their focus is sharper and performance excels. But being in the zone doesn’t apply only to athletics; it’s relevant in any job or endeavor where performance matters.
The “zone” is defined as: a temporary heightened state of focus that enables peak performance. With that in mind, our objective should be to make the state of heightened focus less temporary, so that peak performance can continue—and to help our people do likewise. In order to get in your zone more often and stay there longer, it’s important to identify the things that can put you there, or take you out of a heightened state of focus. Following are five things we have to give up to get in our zone more often and stay there longer, so we can then go up to the next level of performance and results.
- Excuses. You can’t focus on what you can control, maintain a play-to-win mindset, or operate at peak levels while you’re making excuses. Excuses waste time and energy as you rationalize why you’re not responsible, rather than: owning your results, staying in your zone, and moving forward. If you dropped the ball or fall short just say, “I screwed up. I own it. I’ll be better because of what I’ve learned from it, and I’m moving on.” There is no retort for that brutal honesty, nor is focus lost on achieving the objectives that matter most. Excuses are zone-busters. Owning your results heightens focus and enables peak performance.
- Procrastination. Procrastination breaks momentum and wastes time as you continually revisit matters that should have already been decided or executed. Nor can you maintain a state of heightened focus when you’re going in circles. Action keeps you in motion and enhances focus. Even wrong action can benefit you—if you’re paying attention, realize your error, learn something in the process, correct your course, and then restart progress towards your goals. Procrastination is a zone-buster. Taking action on what needs to be done heightens focus.
- Obsessing over competitors. In one of my workshops I describe the differences between caretakers, playmakers and game changers within an organization. Caretakers hope they can measure up to expectations, or to what a competitor is doing. Playmakers study the competition and devise a plan to counter them. Game changers act as though they are the competition and set a pace others must study, counter, and combat. Of course, you should be aware of your competition; but, you can’t focus on what you do best and operate at peak performance levels when you’re obsessing over them.
- A focus on external conditions. The weather, economy, manufacturer’s decisions, product recalls, interest rates, a competitor’s advertising and actions, the time of year, and factors like these are among external conditions that can impact results but are beyond your control. There will always be external conditions you can blame for a lack of results, and by doing so lose a sense of heightened focus on what you can control—taking a giant leap out of your zone in the process. As a leader it’s essential that you get this—you are still responsible for results, and when you blame external conditions to justify your failures you are confessing two things: you don’t have control of your destiny, and you don’t have a solution. And leaders get paid to be in control and find solutions. By resolving up front that you will not allow external conditions to dictate outcomes, you heighten your focus on what you can do and control to get the job done. Navigating through obstacles with a locked-in focus on results keeps you in your zone. Blaming external conditions is a zone-buster.
- Complacency. By its very definition of being calmly content and smugly self-satisfied, complacency is an obvious and brutal zone-buster. Your chances of having a heightened state of focus that enables peak performance while calmly content are nil. A heightened state of focus activates energy, creates urgency and drives alertness; not something you’re likely to feel when smugly self-satisfied.
Excuses, procrastination, obsessing over competitors, focusing on external conditions and complacency are common conditions in even ultra-successful dealerships, from the top down to the front line. This is why so many businesses, while “successful,” also miss their potential by a mile. People go out of their zone too often, and take too long to find their way back in, often requiring a deadline, incentive, threat, or end of the month push to create the heightened state of focus needed to finish well. And while we’re all human and can expect to take the bait and step out of our zone throughout our lives—engaging in factors like these and others like them—if we are going to grow to our maximum potential two things must happen:
- We must increase awareness of what our zone is, how to get in it, and then recognize when we’ve come out of it so we leave it less often.
- When we do bust out of our zone we need to recognize it faster, and return to it as soon as possible.
If we can do those two things consistently well, we will far surpass our past results as an organization, as well as improve over our former self as a leader.