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How to identify the hidden flywheel that drives your success

Photo by Harry Shelton on Unsplash

I presume because you are reading this that you are ambitious, self-motivated, and have achieved success so far in your career.

But if I were to ask you, what is it that makes you successful? To what would you attribute your past, current and future successes? Is there a secret sauce? Hint: Your innate, natural-born talent isn't the answer.

The most successful people understand a simple truth: we need an edge to succeed and differentiate or risk marginalisation, as our skills and knowledge steadily lose value.

So, whether you are thinking about yourself, your team or your business, what is your edge?

The Flywheel Concept

In his book "Good to Great" Jim Collins introduced the flywheel concept as the wrapper around his framework that explains how good companies can substantially improve their performance and become great ones.

As he says, "Good is the enemy of great."

The high-level steps within the Good to Great framework are:

Disciplined People

  • Level 5 leadership: personal humility and professional will focused on their organisation, not themselves.

  • Getting the right people on the bus: any problem or challenge can be solved with the right people.

Disciplined Thought

  • Confront the brutal facts: don't stick your head in the sand, and be open to genuine debate and constructive conflict.

  • Focus on one simple concept and do it with excellence and imagination: don't try to be everything for everyone.

Disciplined Action

  • A culture of discipline: remain focused on your top priorities, control your boundaries, and be prepared to say no to people and opportunities that take you away from what you are focused on.

  • Technology is an accelerator of momentum, not the creator of it. Great companies are unlikely to be early adopters of new technology until they know which technologies will provide leverage and scale.

The most significant insight for me from this framework was not a step but what underpins and, in some ways, wraps around the framework - The Flywheel concept. As Jim Collins says,

"In creating a good to great transformation, there's no single defining action, no grand program, no single killer innovation, no solitary luck break, no miracle moment. Rather, it feels like turning a giant, heavy flywheel. Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward. You keep pushing, and with persistent effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn. You don't stop. You keep pushing."

This metaphor resonated and made me ponder and reflect on whether individuals, as well as businesses or organisations, can have a personal flywheel.

I think they can. In fact, I think this is one way to provide clarity and focus on what we do to differentiate from the crowd and get ahead in our careers.

Personal Flywheels

I haven't seen the flywheel concept used for individuals. Still, I believe that it is equally valid for people as it is for teams and businesses.

From a flywheel diagram, we can gain clarity on what drives our success, our PERSONAL FLYWHEEL. The insight this brings to the table will help focus your attention, starting on how to spend your scarce time and attention.

What is your Personal Flywheel?

It's your extraordinary combination of skills, interests, and values.

Photo by Johannes Weber on Unsplash

You likely undervalue and underestimate the benefits you have already received from this combination. And in fact, the benefits the people around you, your team - your colleagues - even your bosses, get out of you because of them.

This isn't about being the only person that does what you do. Instead, it is about clarity from distilling five or six things that you do consistently, with discipline and excellence that propel you onwards.

In a world of distraction and noise, having the clarity of a personal flywheel may be the thing you need that helps cut out the clutter so you can focus on what helps make a bigger impact and strive for answers, actions and accountability in your career.

This framework has helped me grow and develop as an independent executive coach.

My Coaching Flywheel

The excellent little book that delves into the concept in more detail "Turning The Wheel" lays out the six core steps to capturing your flywheel:

  1. Create a list of significant replicable successes.

  2. Create a list of failures and disappointments.

  3. Compare the two lists and ask, "What do they tell us about the possible components of our flywheel?"

  4. Using the components identified, four to six only, sketch the first draft of your flywheel.

  5. Consolidate any components to keep them to a maximum of six, as otherwise, you are overcomplicating it.

  6. Test the flywheel against your successes and failures. Iterate.

My flywheel is displayed in the middle of the whiteboard next to my desk. It is always present, especially when I sit back and lift my hands from the computer keyboard. It aids with my reflection while in my office. It helps me to remain focused, especially when people and organisations come knocking with ideas and opportunities that may distract me.

The six components of my flywheel emphasise:

  • One-to-one coaching, which is at the heart of what I do.

  • Protecting a significant amount of time for learning and research to continually develop and improve as a coach.

  • Leveraging and building upon my business, commercial and organisational experience and acumen.

  • Being an independent, strategic partner that provides structure and accountability to busy people.

  • Reading and writing, including the continued development of my second brain.

Your flywheel need not be entirely unique. More than one person can have similar flywheels. What matters most is how well you understand your PERSONAL FLYWHEEL and how well you consistently use it over the medium to long term. As Jim Collins says, "The big winners are those who take a flywheel from ten turns to a billion turns..." When you reach ten turns, go for a hundred turns, then a thousand.

Your personal flywheel is just one of the ways coaching can help you make a bigger impact and strive for answers, action and accountability. Please feel free to get in touch if you want to find out more.


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