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Talent might take you to the top, but it won’t keep you there. Staying on top requires drive and desire, says Molly Fletcher, speaker, author, and a former agent who’s represented some of the most successful people in sports.
“Those who stay at the top have an internal drive and desire to get better every day,” says Fletcher, who addressed the 2023 CUNA Lending Council Conference in Denver. “In sports, there’s no room for complacency. Complacency is the enemy of success.
“Those who get a little complacent and rely solely on their talent lose their jobs,” she continues. “I’ve seen that model repeated with athletes, coaches, newscasters, and others. Drive is a mindset successful athletes embrace every day.”
The same holds true in the business world, she says, offering five traits of a champion mindset:
One athlete Fletcher represented, baseball Hall of Famer John Smoltz, was a starting pitcher for the Atlanta Braves when the team asked him to be a closer instead.
He didn’t hesitate to accept the new assignment because his teammates, team, and fans needed him to do so. Despite being a starter for his whole career, Smoltz believed he could succeed in the new role, and put in the necessary work.
During his first year as a closer, Smoltz led the National League with 55 saves. He’s the first pitcher in major league history to record both 200 wins and 150 saves.
“Change is constant today—and it’s not slowing down,” Fletcher says. “The best athletes step right into change. They view obstacles as an opportunity. We’ve got to believe in our ability to evolve and grow.”
After graduating from Michigan State University, Fletcher moved to Atlanta to carve out a career in sports. Shortly after arriving, she discovered a knack for sales, talking her way into a job as a tennis instructor and partnering with a local pizzeria.
“Leaders need to be intentional about getting in the heads and hearts of the people we serve and those we lead,” she says. “We need to behave in a way that demonstrates the relationship really matters. When we anticipate the gaps in the relationships that matter most to us, we can do amazing things. It’s a powerful way to lead, sell, and grow.”
Fletcher recalls a former client who was especially draining. This athlete would call, and “the blood would leave my body,” she says. “I wouldn’t want to answer. She was compromising how I showed up to other clients.”
Fletcher recalled a coach who’d tell players, “You’d better be better than your problems—so good that you’re worth all of the drama off the court.”
This requires clarity about where you put your time and effort. Asking the tough questions ensures you’re making the right decisions for your clients and yourself.
“Good business leaders ask themselves where they spend their time,” she says. “But the best of the best ask, where do I spend my energy? Athletes are great at this, so they have energy in the moments that matter the most. But too many business leaders run their lives by the calendar. Managing our energy might be more important than managing our time.”
What’s the biggest difference between talented golfers and the best of the best? According to golf instructor Butch Harmon, the best players recover from adversity faster than the rest.
This takes discipline—a “linchpin to becoming a better version of yourself,” Fletcher says. “Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson miss cuts and make bogeys—but not two in a row. They recover quickly.”
While athletes typically watch film of their performance to make adjustments, there’s no film for business leaders, she says. They need a different way to recover and prepare for the next moment.
When Fletcher needs a boost, she turns to a “smile file” of positive messages, feedback, and photos. “We all have tough meetings, employees, and members. We need to reset ASAP. It’s about being present, controlling what we can in the moment, and picking up the rest later.”
When trying out for the Michigan State University tennis team, a coach told Fletcher to be more aggressive, step away from the baseline, and attack the ball.
“That’s a metaphor for life: Step up, lean in, and evolve,” she says. “When I started as a sports agent, there were no women like me trying to sign players. Step in and continue to go for it.”