For those who watch sports, we almost universally admire the “high-motor” players. It might be fans, announcers, teammates, but whoever it is, we love players who give an incredible effort on every single play. In baseball, it is the player who sprints to first base even on a pop-up with a 99 percent chance of being out. In American football, it is the player who runs 90 yards to tackle someone who just intercepted a pass before they score a touchdown even if the team is down by 35 points (who can forget Don Beebe in the Super Bowl for the Bills). In basketball, it is the relatively small player who gets more rebounds than the 7-footer because they want it more.
In this post, I want to raise the question: Are you a high-motor worker? If they did live commentary on the tech industry, would the announcers talk about your intangibles? I often write about how to lead or build a team, but today I want you to focus on you.
There are two questions:
- Are you a high-motor worker?
- Do you want to be? As with most of my posts, there is not a right or wrong approach. You can be a great leader or employee without being high motor; there are only a few in every sport. There is nothing wrong with not being one of them, as it depends on your priorities or needs.
The goal of this post is not to be critical of people or behaviors, but to help make you more self-aware so you can be the person you want to be.
Go hard on every play
There are two elements to being high motor. The first is going hard on every project, even when it seemingly does not matter. In a business setting, it is often referred to when people are acting with a sense of urgency.
In baseball, it may be a player not running at full speed because he does not feel there is any benefit. We just saw that in Game 7 of the World Series, when Alex Gordon of the Royals got a single to left field and did not initially run full speed, and when the ball was misplayed in the outfield he had to stop at third base rather than try to score.
In business, it may be taking a week to follow-up on a sales lead or releasing a product on schedule even if you can pull it in two weeks by pushing a little harder. These activities may not impact profitability or how you are viewed in the organization but they show you are not pushing all the time. But what if you make that sales call immediately and you have time to make 3 more calls that week? What if you get the product out faster and you can start on the next feature right away?
The other element of being high motor is preparation. In American football, Peyton Manning is arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. Manning, however, is far from the most talented athlete ever to play American football. Cam Newton, the quarterback of the Carolina Panthers, has a stronger arm and is much more mobile. Yet Manning has been a league MVP (most valuable player) five times and has won over 68% of the games he has played while Newton has about 50% winning percentage. Even though Manning is about ten years older than Newton and has had serious surgery, he continues to outperform drastically the younger Newton.
The difference is Manning spends hours every day watching film and preparing for his next game. Not that Newton does not, but Manning does it with such an urgency and to such a degree that he can overcome his physical limitations.
The same phenomenon occurs in business. There are people who spend their evenings and weekends preparing for upcoming meetings, training themselves so they can do their job better, attending seminars to understand developments in their industry and networking so they can learn what competitors are doing.
My business role model
When people ask me who my role model in business is, my answer universally causes quite a laugh. My role model is not Steve Jobs, Jack Welch or Mark Zuckerberg. It is Dennis Rodman. I will caveat this response with by saying it’s Dennis Rodman as a basketball player, not the Rodman we have seen hanging out in North Korea.
The reason I so admire Rodman is that when I was growing up watching him play, he was never the biggest player on the basketball court, nor the strongest, but he almost always led the team in rebounds because he just wanted it more than any other player. When he got the rebounds, so often he pushed the ball up quickly to his teammates so they would have a much higher chance of scoring, I have never seen another player so aggressively move the ball up. And finally, he never cared about his own scoring; it was all about helping the team win. There is a reason that Rodman has five championship rings (and only three were with Michael Jordan).
Is it for you?
I mentioned earlier that being high motor is not for everyone. There is clearly nothing wrong with doing a great job but spending your evenings focused on something outside your profession. It is just an interesting question to ask yourself: If you admire athletes who are “high motor,” do you want to emulate what they do?
- Athletes who are considered high motor, who try hard on every play whether it matters or not, are almost universally admired.
- The same attributes that make an athlete high motor can manifest themselves in the workplace and it is valuable to see just how high motor you are.
- The key elements to displaying a high motor are showing a sense of urgency with everything you do and dedicating yourself to being fully prepared.