15 2012

Playing Up: To Succeed at Your Highest Potential, Surround Yourself with High Achievers

Gary teaches you to use your relationships with high achievers to motivate you to success at their level.

You’ve heard it from your mom time and again – be careful of the company you keep. In the same vein, Oprah Winfrey once said: “Surround yourself only with people who are going to lift you higher.” We don’t know about you, but when both mom and Oprah say it, you better listen – because in all likelihood it’s true!

When your network of peers succeeds at a high level, their achievement is contagious. And you should be conscious of this in all of your relationships – personal, business, spiritual and financial – to reach your full potential.

But why are friendships with people who desire success more worthwhile than others? One word: motivation.

Like pets and owners who start to bear resemblance to one another, it’s a well-known fact who you spend your time with shapes you. And, a good relationship should provide far more than a buddy to fetch a Frisbee. As a matter of fact, relationships have been proven to inform your attitude, motivation and performance.

Need proof?

A study featured in the psychology journal Social Development, shows that out of nearly 500 school-aged participants with reciprocal “best friend” relationships, “children who establish[ed] and maintain[ed] relationships with high-achieving students experience[d] gains in their report card grades.” Further, high achievers with high-achieving friends “appeared to benefit with regard to their motivational beliefs and academic performance.”

Our conclusion: Go-getters naturally set the bar higher and push others to improve their own behavior and performance. Taking this a step further, when you’re in a reciprocal relationship with high-achievers, you not only gain their heightened goal marks, but also their support.

In youth sports, this is well-known and athletes with potential are often encouraged to “play up” rather than dominate their current level. For instance, Olympic medalist and World Cup champion Mia Hamm credited much of her development to playing soccer against boys as a young girl.

Similarly, Gary likes to tell the story of the New York Giants circa 1950, who routinely beat their opponents. Why? With future Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry running defense as an assistant coach and the legendary Vince Lombardi running offense, players later credited wins to playing their toughest games at practice. Who you spend time with matters (especially if you want to achieve at your highest potential).

Throughout the business world, there are examples that reinforce this idea as well. One of our favorite stories is about Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s. Thomas worked for Kentucky Fried Chicken in the 1960s, and helped turn four struggling restaurants in Ohio into profit-makers. The experience Thomas gained from both his time with KFC and his ongoing relationship with its founder, Colonel Harland Sanders, helped him tremendously when he established his own restaurant chain. In fact, he credited the Colonel as being one of the greatest influences in his life. And in 2011, Wendy’s became the second-largest hamburger chain in the world.

Warren Buffett is another business-great who has made a practice of surrounding himself with high-achievers. Take his relationship with Benjamin Graham – a major influence on Buffett’s life, first as the author of one of his favorite investment books, and later as teacher, employer and mentor. Today, Buffett credits him for much of his business success, and actually named his second child after Graham. Later, Buffett was immensely influenced by fellow “rock-star” Charles Munger. Munger became Buffett’s business partner at Berkshire Hathaway, where he encouraged Buffett to evaluate his investment philosophy. Today, many of Berkshire’s success strategies are a direct result of Buffett’s friendship with Munger.

Gary too understands the importance of developing relationships with top individuals. So much so that he not only lives it, but teaches it in a session called Quantum Leap. As he tells his students, “I make it a point to surround myself with people who are more accomplished than I am. I cultivate relationships with people I believe are successful in areas that are important to my life – from professional and financial to personal, spiritual and physical. By developing this network of role models, I learn to shape my behavior so that I can continually succeed to my highest potential.”