How Marginal Gains Provide the Steps to Success

Currently reading Legacy: What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life by James Kerr.

This has been a fantastic read so far that shares the life and leadership lessons from one of the world’s premier rugby teams.

One of the chapters that I just finished talks about marginal gains which the author defines as “100 things done 1% better to deliver cumulative competitive advantage.” It is natural for leaders to focus on the big picture, to share the 30,000 foot perspective, and to constantly remind teams about the vision and mission. The struggle happens when that is the only focus and the daily grind is overlooked.

Great leadership carries the tension between the vision and the implementation. Between the dream and the details. Between success and sustainability.

How does a leader accomplish this? Through becoming an intentional role model in the area of marginal gains.

* Look at your dream or vision and begin to work backwards outlining the steps necessary to achieve success.

* Start with today, be the best you can be today, and measure what a marginal gain would look like.

* Review your day, resetting goals for tomorrow that include your desired marginal gain.

* Begin again with a new standard of achievement and keep the process moving forward one step at a time.

Whether you need to improve in vision casting, one-on-one relationships, writing skills, or project management, you will gain success as you improve slightly each day. A reality of growth is that if you are not moving forward, then you are in danger of being passed up, or even moving backwards. Don’t be overwhelmed by the dream, but take the small steps necessary to achieve your dream!

What are you doing today that if you improved by 1% each day the next week would make the greatest difference?

What about your team?

The cumulative effect of the marginal gains of your team will build momentum and carry you towards the success you are aiming for. There is definitely a place in leadership to sweat the small stuff and to celebrate small victories. The accumulation of many small victories leads to the ultimate success that we are all dreaming of!

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The Value of Letting Go

Man, I love comfort and predictability. The people who know me best would describe me as a person who is most peaceful when rhythms are established and followed. I want to wake up at the same time and drink the same cup of coffee. I love it when everything is in its place and accounted for. It can often be as simple as sinking into a comfortable couch and reading a good book.


The problem with my preferences is that real life rarely follows the course of predictability. Change happens, unexpected twists occur, and the status quo rarely stays the status quo. You might have discovered this in your own journey as well. As much as I want to plan my steps, the ground around me seems to be shifting on a regular basis.

This shifting can take many forms. Maybe you just received a tragic health diagnosis for yourself or somebody that you love. Maybe the house that you were set on buying is no longer available. Maybe your marriage has been shattered and divorce and singleness are now staring you in the face. Maybe the winds of change abound in your place of work and you keep waiting for the dust to settle. Regardless of the circumstance, all too often that which we thought we could count on seems to be suddenly pulled out from underneath us.

When life forces a new reality, there seems to really only be two options.

The first option is to hold onto the comfort zone, to fight for the comfy spot on the couch and to refuse to look to the future. While this might seem safer and even more logical, it is in fact highly detrimental and will greatly diminish your growth as both a person and a leader. The past, both good and bad, is in the past and will never come back to the present. We can learn from it, we can cherish the memories, but if we hold tightly to it, we will simply stop living and growing. Consider what a physical body that has decayed and atrophied looks like. We don’t want our lives to reflect this look.

The second option, and the one that I propose is the better option, is to simply let go. When change rears its formidable head, grab your surfboard and enjoy the ride. When I was a kid, I spent quite a bit of time at the beaches of Southern California on my body board riding the waves. The waves never stopped coming. It was up to me to decide if I was going to ride on top, or get pummeled underneath.

Letting go allows me to look forward to my next adventure. Letting go forces me to come to grips with what I no longer have and anticipate what I have not yet obtained. Letting go removes the opportunity for bitterness or malice to grow as a result of change. Letting go provides me the perspective that regardless of what has happened and what will happened, they are small steps in the grand scheme of things.

Letting go also provide me space to assess my part in the change. Did I act out of selfishness instead of servanthood? Did I become narrow minded and closed off to change and adaptation? Was change imminent as a direct result of my actions, or was change simply meant to be? These answers provide the energy and impetus to move on, to embrace the future, and to anticipate a new adventure.

Life moves quickly. Change is imminent whether we like it or not. As leaders, we must learn to embrace change, determine our new reality and continue to grow and develop. Do not let the shifting of life take you out. Instead, cherish the past, enjoy your memories and then forge ahead into the wild blue yonder.