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The great Coach John Wooden got it right when he said, “Competitive Greatness is being your best when your best is needed the most.” Rather than focusing on winning the game, he believed in concentrating on being the absolute best you can be in that moment. To him, that was winning. If the score of the game happened to turn out in the opponent’s favor, but you did your best, then you may have lost the game, but you won the battle.

The men and women who understand competitive greatness or “get it” practice four characteristics to keep their edge. Consistently applying these principles in your life, and you too can achieve competitive greatness.

Read. One of the best comments I have heard is, “The view is clearer when standing on top of the books you have read.” You cannot, and should not, stop learning. All the knowledge of the world it there for the taking. If you are reading this article right now, you are investing in your future success. We must learn from one another and from those who have gone before us. History will always repeat itself if we do not learn from our predecessors. Generations advance because of the knowledge passed by prior generations. There is no difference between the person who cannot read and one who does not read.

Discipline. The ability to accomplish little tasks daily is the basis for making great things happen later. Most individuals are event-orientated and forget the hours of practice it takes to achieve success at the event. They want the result, not the hard work. But it takes countless hours, endless practice, suffering defeats, and perseverance to achieve success. Life and business are a process, not an event. In life you will either pay the price of discipline or you will pay the price of regret.

Purpose. Outstanding leaders and organizations know where they are going. Money never creates a purpose, though it can be the result of pursuing a great purpose. Just like winning, money is a result of doing fundamentals correctly. Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal — your purpose, your “why,” your passion.

I once heard an unforgettable story about two little boys, eight- and nine-years-old. One winter day, they were playing on a pond that had iced over, when suddenly the ice broke. The 8-year-old fell into the dark water, and the ice patch slipped back into place — like shutting a door. Desperate to save his friend, and with nobody around to help, the 9-year-old boy ran to the closest tree, tore off a limb, ran to the ice break, and broke open a four-foot wide hole. He reached down and grabbed his friend by the back of his coat and pulled him to safety. As the crowd began to gather over the next few minutes and the boy was stabilizing, people began to notice the thickness of the tree limb and the thickness of the ice. How was it possible for that little 9-year-old boy to rip it off the tree, break the ice, and save his friend? How did he do it? An elderly gentleman from the back spoke up,

“He accomplished what he did because nobody was present to tell him it was impossible.” That is the essence of ‘purpose driven,’ you cannot listen to barking dogs along your journey.

Expectations. Finally, outstanding leaders have realistic and clear expectations for themselves and those they lead. They develop organizations that accomplish great tasks. These organizations seem to just get things done when other groups consistently fall short. Great teams never worry about who is right, just doing the things that are right.

Hold onto your vision, no matter what the distractions are. You will notice distractions when our eyes come off the target. Know your target clearly and persevere to finish. No matter what organization you are leading, you will find this principle is true.