Kathy Murphy

There is a lot to admire when someone is at the top of their game. Whether it is in business or in sports. Typically, what they are doing looks like they are doing it with ease, and a finesse which is often hard to describe. Do you know someone like this, and do you know how they got there?

I’ll grant you credit for being able to name a few things which have made the people you admire, and who are at the top of their game, but I bet you will be surprised by some of the other reasons. Why? Because the truth is there is no one particular way for anyone to be at the apex of their “game” or profession. However, there are some fundamental and common denominators which most top performers have in common.

If you were to take a look into the lives of top athletes, you will find one of the most common traits they have is a desire to always be competing at something. They thrive when they are challenged to strive and to do what it takes to win. Achievement is a byproduct of being competitive, but it doesn’t always mean winning. However, being focused on achievement is also another trait athletes have in common. Neither being competitive or achievement focused should be surprising elements of successful athletes, but some of the other reasons might surprise you.

After working with and being around athletes and top business people for decades, the single item they all possess is the desire to always be learning. The type of learning they individually do varies significantly, but most of the time it is related to the work they are doing. Both athletes and business people can benefit from understanding and applying leadership principles, and this is one of the areas they are often focused on learning more about.  

Since there are various types of leadership approaches and styles, most will focus on one that is most suitable for their personality and the environment they are in. Considering leadership takes place both on and off the court, and in and outside of the office, it is a skill which needs continuous refinement and practice. It is also why you find many successful athletes pursuing second careers as high achieving executives. This of course applies to both men and women.

Another common reason top performers attain their levels of success has to do with their ability to focus on the big picture. To be able to do this requires a certain amount of strategic ability. Although some strategy can be taught, the best strategists are innately gifted in this area. Learning about strategy and how and when to apply it is also one of the other factors contributing to people’s success at the height of their respective careers, but not always.

Top performers are also supported as they are perfecting their skills by many others, and they also have the ability to recognize which ones will contribute significantly to their success. Again, this is a skill honed by years of subtlety observing how other people’s skills can contribute to making your skills stronger. This isn’t taught, but it is something top performers are able to recognize and extract from those who coach, support, work and play with and manage them.

If you are tasked with determining who will become a top performer, or seeking those who are what I will refer to as being “under the radar” as a top performer on the performance field or in the working world, here are some questions to ask to find out if you are in front of a top performer in the making:

  • How have or do you stand out from others?
  • What motivates you to strive for top performance?
  • Tell me about your leadership philosophy.
  • Talk to me about the types of content which inspires you to grow.
  • What does achievement mean to you?
  • How would you describe the feeling of being competitive?
  • What vision do you have for yourself and others you play/work with?
  • Do you know how to inspire others? If so, how do you do this?
  • Do you know which people to include or exclude from your circle of excellence?
  • What happens when your performance isn’t consistent? Do you know how to course correct this?
  • How engaged are you with your teammates/colleagues/leadership group?

I could add numerous other questions, but some or all of these should be helpful in identifying top performers in the making. More importantly is to be sure not to only lean on reviewing pure performance stats, as there will be many top performers who may not have the typical stats or the traditional professional experience yet to identify them.

Keep in mind that many top performers begin to shine later in their sports and professional careers, so it is critical to not rule people out who are the “under the radar” top performers in the making.