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​Maxwell Leadership Podcast: Make Winning a Habit

December 29, 2021
​Maxwell Leadership Podcast: Make Winning a Habit

others. And, this week, we wanted to add value to you by teaching you how to make winning a habit in the new year. So, in this episode John Maxwell is going to talk about the importance of preparation and separation––preparation for the things that increase your chances of winning and separation from the things that hurt your chances of winning.

After John’s lesson, Mark Cole and Traci Morrow talk about the things they do daily to make winning a habit in their own lives. They remind us that the reason many leaders don’t achieve the success they dream of is because they focus too much on winning and not enough on the process.

Our BONUS resource for this episode is the Make Winning a Habit Worksheet, which includes fill-in-the-blank notes from John’s teaching. You can download the worksheet by clicking “Download the Bonus Resource” below.


Mark Cole:       Hey, welcome to The John Maxwell Leadership Podcast. If you're new, my name is Mark Cole and I get to partner with John to add value through this podcast. If you're a regular, welcome back, we are so glad that you're here today. I'm really excited today because we're in the holiday season. In fact, I hope that you've had a time of the year filled with fun, family, food because now it's time to get some habits in place. And that's what we're talking about today, making winning a habit. Now in the next few days, we will all be setting what is affectionately known as New Year's resolutions, and really we're trying to set habits that will make 2022 a better year. Now, what greater habit could you and I engage on than a habit of winning. And that's what John Maxwell is going to teach us today, how to make winning a habit in your life.

So if you're new, you're going to get to meet my co-host today, Traci Morrow. Those of you that are not new, you just did a Zoom applause or maybe a full out applause because you know that when Traci comes back and joins me after John has done teaching, we are going to add value to you and give you application on how we too, around Maxwell's world, are creating habits of winning. So if you would like to follow along today, we have a bonus resource for you. In fact, you can go to, click on the Bonus Resource button. You will get a fill-in-the-blank worksheet where you can follow along as John is teaching. Once John is done, Traci and I will come back and give you application. Thanks for joining us today. Now here is John C. Maxwell.

John Maxwell:  Robert Ringer in his excellent book, Million Dollar Habits, builds his thesis around this concept of habits. And one of his first premises is that, and here you go, I've underlined this statement. "Remember, life is nothing more than the sum total of many successful years, the successful years, nothing more than the sum total of many successful months. The successful month is nothing more than the sum total of many successful weeks. A successful week is nothing more than a sum total of many successful days. That's why practicing successful habits day in and day out is the most certain way to win over the long term." How true, how true. And habits either make or break us. Brian Tracy said, "From the time you get up in the morning to the time you go to sleep at night, your habits largely control the words that you say, the things that you do, and the ways that you react and respond."

As you know, I wrote a book called Today Matters and Today Matters basically is taking habits, taking things that are important to make your day successful, and doing them on a daily basis. When I was in high school, one of my favorite people to read, because I love biographies, I love history, I love leadership, but I love to read about Ben Franklin. And if you know much about Ben Franklin, one of his processes to improve himself, he developed things that he felt that he should do on a consistent basis that you can find in Poor Richards Almanac. And I don't know if you've ever read Poor Richards Almanac or not, but as a kid reading that, again, I had all this stuff put in my hands by my parents who just basically said, "This is the stuff you read in life to be successful."

And that literally became the seed thought for Today Matters for me, because Benjamin Franklin, he had it wired. He said, "What I have to do is, I have to figure out what will help me to be a wonderful person, a successful person and I've got to learn how to do that." And he developed a system, and again, I'm a major system person. I have a system for everything because I understand until you can develop a system and then put the right habits in the system, and then it just becomes automatic of what you do. And so this lesson is really, when I wrote it, it's very simple, but it also has tremendous potential for you because if I can just teach it well and you can just grab it and apply it. And by the way, what's exciting about this lesson, every one of you can do this. The cookies are on the lower shelf. Okay? Everyone can have some.

I wish somebody would've taught me this earlier. Winners value the process of winning. They really value the process. Stay with me in your notes. Losers over valuate the outcome and under evaluate the process. Losers think, "Boy, I'm going to get this," and they don't understand the process they have to go to get to it. You see, the process includes two things, preparation for the things that will help you win and separation from the things that hurt your chances to win. So whenever you're getting ready to develop the process of winning, there's preparation and there's separation, and we'll talk about both of them. Preparation, first of all, a big key to improvement in getting better can be summed up in three words, practice, practice, practice. Paul McCartney says, "We always wrote a song a day. Whatever happened, we always wrote a song a day. I think why we eventually got so strong was we wrote so much through our formative period."

John Wooden, I love his take of winning when asked about the foundation of training. "I created eight laws of learning: explanation, demonstration, imitation, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition and repetition." Preparation. If you win, you win because you understand there is an entire process before the day you win. And the winning habits of successful people is they understand that process. Preparation relieves pressure. It really does. When you're really prepared... That's why, by the way, that's why at 5:20 this morning, what am I doing? I'm up in my room. Now I've written this lesson. I've gone over this lesson. Guess what I'm doing? I'm going over the lesson again. Are you with me? So that when I teach it, I'm just as free as can be.

Well, you say, "Well, John, you're just off the cuff and you're just free, and you just...," no, no, no. When I started speaking, I realized that I had charisma and I realized that I had a gift in speaking. I realized that at the very beginning. And can I tell you something? I was tempted to wing it. I thought, "I have the ability to take some scripture, get up, smile at people, tell the story and away we go and develop a little chemistry going, and I can wing it." And I can remember in my first six months of really preparing lessons, I can remember coming to a crossroad. Am I going to be a wing it speaker or am I going to absolutely pay the process and the work and the study and every... and that's when I determined to write all my lessons out word-for-word, all of them.

Now, do I need to write a lesson out word-for-word? No, I'm good. But I still do. Gifts will only take you so far. And what separates the gifted is the preparation of those who go beyond those who are just gifted. Commitment precedes everything and resources follow resolve, always have, always will. And people who say, "I wish', and people who say, "I will," are worlds apart. Now that's the preparation part of process. But can I say something? There's a separation part too in the process of winning. It's not only what I do, but it's what I don't do. And to prepare and process correctly, I must pull away from, here we go, what is good to do, what is best.

You see every one of us in this room, we're not going to do bad. We're more intelligent than that. Our enemy isn't bad. Our enemy is good. I had somebody yesterday, because I hang with you during break so you come up and ask questions. I had a person say to me yesterday, they said, "John, my biggest challenge is I have so many opportunities. How do I sort out the opportunities?" The first thing I said is, "I just want you to understand that just because there's a need, or an opportunity, that doesn't mean I should respond to it." That doesn't mean I should respond to that because if you have any type of gift at this at all, can I tell you something? If you responded to every need, all you'd do all day is respond to every need. Isn't that true? We'd become overwhelmed very quickly.

So the separation is, I've got to pull away from, here we go, I'm going to read this through now. What is good to what is best, spending time with people, I need to pull away from that, to investing time with people. Huge, huge time waster, people who spend time with people. Dear God, at the end of the day outside of conversation, you've got nothing. Here we go. Settling for outside approval, you've got to pull away from that, to striving for inside approval, got to live with yourself. Waiting to get motivated, to motivating myself. I've got to pull away from occasional high performance to consistent high performance. And by the way, if you can perform occasionally high, you can perform consistently high. Are you with me?

If you've been able to do it once, you can do it twice. So what separates, what separates people that are in much demand to people that are in some demand, consistent high performance. Once you become successful, you don't have the privilege to be average again and you don't have the right to come in mediocre. Separation means you pull away from paying the price someday to paying the price every day. Now you know that I don't want to retire, but I have told my team that if I start to get lazy in my preparation, to start talking to me, because that's what's going to start to lead to the decline. Are you with me? So I said, "You just start talking to me because once you see me start to live like most people, it's time for me to get out, leave Dodge, because I can't even imagine me doing this if I can't do this on a consistent high level."

But if you can do it once, you can do it twice. So if you do it once and you don't do it twice, you are without excuse. You just got lazy and didn't do the process. Hey, you win the game before you ever play it. John Wooden told me, I said, "What do you miss most about basketball?" He said, "Practice." He said, "By the time the game came, that's why I was so relaxed. I'd sit there, roll up my program, sit on the bench and watch the team. It was already a done deal. The game was already won. I mean, we had to play the game to get it officially in the books, but it was already done." What's John Wooden saying, "The game is won before the game has begun if you understand the process. You got to set yourself up. You got to prepare and you got to separate.

Mark Cole:       Traci, I love what John shared today. Also, I just was reminded by John Rockefeller's quote, when he said, "Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great." And John just really challenged us in this whole lesson that there's nothing wrong with succeeding. There's nothing wrong with attempting, but winning sure is fun. And winning as a habit is impacting not only to us, but it's impacting to those around us. So Traci, I'm excited to break this down today and give application to our podcast listeners.

Traci Morrow:  I am as well. And I love how John starts out by saying that he always leaves the cookies on the lowest shelf. And that just means he makes it easy for us. It doesn't mean you have to do a whole bunch of preparation in order to take in what John is teaching us. And you know, first of all, it blows my mind to read that quote from Paul McCartney, when he read that quote, saying that they wrote a song every day, no matter what happened. I am sure there are some songwriters out there or some people who write for a living. I'm sure that is very impressive and crazy. But that's why he's Paul McCartney. That's why they were the Beatles because every day they did the work. They put in the work. So I was just curious when he said that, I wonder what does Mark do every day? In order to benefit what was your sweet spot and your part of leadership that you really put in your time and effort and energy and heart and soul, what do you do every day?

Mark Cole:       So there's two things. You know, John teaches the rule of five and we could get into that whole subject. Maybe we can go into that another time, but there's two things that come to mind every single day that I attempt to do. One is, I attempt to grow myself every day. At the end of every evening, Traci, every evening I ask myself, where did I grow today? Now, if growth is a requirement, growth is an expectation and you look for ways to grow, most days I can identify something that challenged me to growth, to improvement. So what have I done? I've won at what I was trying to do. So every day I experience a win because every day I attempt to grow in some area. The second thing I try to do every single day, is I try to add value to someone. Now for me, let me tell you what adding value to me means. It means to motivate and inspire people to reach the next level of potential in their life.

So my goal today, I'll finish up today at some point later on and I'll go, "Did I add value to people?" And my mind, Traci, will go immediately back to this podcast episode. You and I partner with John Maxwell, we partner with Jake Decker, our podcast producer, to inspire people to reach the next level of potential. And I'll smile. I'll sit back. If it's very late, I'll lay my head on the pillow and I'll go, "I added value today through the podcast that Traci and I recorded." Having said that, if you have that mindset, that's how you make winning a habit. Now, I've had days where I make bad business decisions. I've lost dollars, in fact, millions of dollars. I've misled somebody or frustrated somebody. But if I put into my day, "Today I want to add value to people. I want to grow myself." I have found that I have made winning a habit by focusing on those two things.

Traci Morrow:  I love that. I have a question before I get to... Well, I'm going to jump to the end and ask a question because it ties to what you just said. But then I have a question for the middle of what he was teaching on. So if you're listening, you're thrown like, "That was the end of what he said," but at the very end, John talked about in order to prepare and process correctly, he needs to pull away from things. And he listed, I don't know, six things that he needed to pull away from. And at the very end he talked about occasional high performance versus consistent high performance, and then paying the price every day. Now, if you guys are like me and you're a type A person and you hear that, the first thing that I think of, in all transparency, I think, "That sounds overwhelming because I'm already all systems go in so many things, now I have to think of myself as bringing high performance to everything I do."

But let's not forget the very first thing that he said is, "What is good to do versus what is best?" So there are a ton of good things to do that come at us every single day. And having the discipline and understanding of what is the best. There's a lot of good stuff. That's one of the biggest learning lessons for me as a leader is learning that there are a lot of good things that I have to say no to in order to do the best and to bring my high performance consistently every day just to the things that are the best things or else I'm going to waste my time. John will say, "I do three things well. And I have a team around me who is great at all the things I'm not great at." But he works really hard to do those three things well.

And so I think it's freeing and something not to miss that we aren't supposed to bring high performance to every single thing we do in the day, but really to the things where we need that will get the most return. Am I saying that clearly? I mean, I know that's a lesson John always speaks to us.

Mark Cole:       Well, I love that you brought this up because what we do is we mystify success. We put a mystique to high performers. We look at John Maxwell on stage and we go, "Wow, that guy's incredible. I bet you it's awesome to talk to him at four in the morning." I've talked to him at four in the morning, and most of the time, four in the morning is not this great orator that is communicating this beautiful, memorable message. It is "Mark, why can't we get X, Y, Z done." Now, I say that because we mystify the performance. We put a mystique on the performance and don't realize that John is the same guy that says, "You need to be consistent in high performance." He's the same guy that teaches, "You can't be 100% all day, every day on everything." And so John is not speaking in paradoxes there.

We take a point that should be meant to improve our consistent aspiration of high performance. And we cause it to lose credibility because we think we got to do that all day long. And it overwhelms us. Traci, I've been around you. We've traveled the world together as co board members in John's nonprofit and you supporting John and I through all the different things that you do. You are a high performer consistently. And so I'm glad you brought this up because if you, knowing you like I know you, are sitting here hearing John teach that today and go, "Man, I'll never measure up to high consistent performance," then certainly there are others in our podcast family that's feeling the same way. And I'm just going to challenge you. Don't try to win the championship in one day.

Traci, I'm going to take us back to the very beginning of what John said, because he said, "Winners value the process of winning." Hold that thought, because I'm going to come back to it. And I'm going to teach for a moment. Winners value the process of winning, value the process of becoming a consistent high performer without the burden of becoming that overnight. If you got impacted by something John said today, wake up tomorrow and be a little bit more consistent in your pursuit of high performance rather than waking up tomorrow discouraged because you failed at X, Y, or Z. Going back to the point of, winner's value the process of winning value. Value the process of improvement. I am an Atlanta, Georgia native. There's not many of us. I love sports. What being an Atlanta, Georgia native and loving sports means is there are 99.9 seasons of every sport in our city that I'm disappointed, 99.9%.

But today, December, the last podcast of December, I can say right now that the Atlanta Braves are the world champions. Oh yeah. I know that was about two months ago. But forgive me, I'm still living in the glory of being world champions. But listen to this, listen to this. I'm thinking as we record this podcast, I'm thinking of the interviews with our coach and with a couple of our champion performers right after the World Series. And I don't know if any of you stayed up East Coast past midnight to hear the interviews. But I did because I was reveling in the moment. You know what every one of them said, Traci, they were like, "Man, we were awesome tonight. Oh my, the sweetest thing about tonight is the win tonight." No, it was six games into the World Series. It didn't us seven, but it took us six. It wasn't the fact that we finished it in six, rather than seven, you know what every one of them said, "The sweetest thing about this victory is, in August, we were not even a 500 winning percentage team."

The Atlanta Braves of 2021 that are the world champions were the latest team to ever get to 500. In other words, just as many wins as losses in the history of the World Series. We were the latest. And what they said is, "The most sweet thing about this is, we couldn't even play 500 ball in August and in two months we turned it around and became world champions." You know what they were saying? "We love the process more than the win tonight. We love the fact that we were bad, but now are good, better than we love the great experience of championship." Guys, winning is a habit. You know what the most favorite part of this subject title should be for all of us, the word habit, not the word winning, but most of us want to focus on the word winning as if it is the formula. The formula is not winning. The formula is habits that take you to winning. That's the secret sauce.

Traci Morrow:  That's amazing. And they have had a lot... Winning the World Series, that's beautiful and congratulations to all you of Brave fans.

Mark Cole:       Thank you. I'll take it. Thank you. I'll take it.

Traci Morrow:  But it really is, winning is not necessarily winning the end. It's all the wins along the way, the successes that you find along the way so that you enjoy the process. And so some of you are thinking like, "Man, I have some bad habits." I quickly grabbed, while I was listening to John, I grabbed off my shelf this book Today Matters. And John referenced it, but I want to encourage those of you, if you don't have it, get this book. If you do have it, go pull it off your shelf. And this is what it'll look like on your bookshelf, red and white, for those of you who are watching us. But in the first page, before he even gets to Chapter 1, he says, "Just For Today," and he makes a list of 20 things maybe, 20 things to do. If you're like, "I'm not really sure how to create healthy habits. I've just been one of these people who, like Traci, tries to go 100 at everything. And then I realized I don't need to go 100 at everything."

Mark talked about when we travel for Transformation to these countries and we are with the people and you're all giving 100%, and then you get back on the bus and you go to the next event. And on the bus, we're all very kind of... well, John is talking and teaching always, but in that moment, we're quieting ourselves because we don't need to be at 100 when we're on the bus. And so there's those moments in the day where you can give yourself permission that you don't need to bring 100, except for those moments where it really is going to bring the biggest return. So if you're looking for a launch pad for that, or to try to wrap your head around those habits that Mark talked about, open up Today Matters and look at Just For Today, the list that he put there, which I think is so powerful.

There's this quote, Albert Einstein says, "Try not to become a man or woman of success, rather become a man or woman of value," and that's not at the day where you win the World Series. That's every time, are you a person of value every time you show up where it's going to bring the biggest return. He then goes on, it leads me to the next one. Are you okay if I ask another question?

Mark Cole:       Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Traci Morrow:  Okay. So he talked about when he decided whether he was going to be a wing it speaker and this... ugh, sorry, that was on my microphone, pierced my heart because I know that there were times as a young speaker that I winged it. I called it in because I knew I had charisma. I knew, I knew my topic. I could teach it like that. If somebody said, "Hey Traci, can you stand up here and talk on this?" I knew that I could do that. But there came a time where the first time I ever heard John say this, it was very convicting to me because I think I was relying on my natural gifts rather than developing my gifts.

So, I want to ask our podcast audience, number one, what are you winging that you need to put a little bit more preparation into to knock it out of the park, to really honor the moment where you get to influence other people? What are you winging that you need to put more time into and take away time from something that's less of value, but really where your sweet spot is that you need to not wing, but really prepare for so you just kill it. And then my second question is for you, Mark. And I'm just curious, what are you tempted to wing in the day? And how do you keep yourself from relying on your natural gifts and talents, because you have many.

Mark Cole:       Thank you for that. I love this question. I love how you highlighted it. And I love how you challenge our podcast listeners to identify where they're winging it. I want to say one thing on it before I answer the question and that is, most of the time we wing where we are naturally gifted. In other words, John is one of the greatest connectors I've ever met. Now, what I really mean by that, he's one of the greatest communicators I've ever heard, but he doesn't see communicating as getting a message across. He sees communicating as connecting with the audience. That's why I call him the greatest connector I've ever met. He connects with people from stage better than I've ever met. What John was saying is, years ago, he could have winged it because he's so good at it. Yet, he decided he wanted to be excellent with it.

So most of us struggle with the winging it syndrome on the things that we really have the opportunity to be unforgettable with. See, you won't be unforgettable by just being good. You will be unforgettable when you are better than anybody else. John's good because he decided he wasn't going to settle with being great at a natural gifting. He decided he was going to go to the next level of greatness by being unforgettable. Back to your question, which is probably true for most of us podcast listeners. I wing it with relationships. I'm a relational person. I'm naturally gifted to be relational. But I have found that if I rely on relationships, the higher the level and competence of relationships around me, the least effective I am because I was not intentional with that.

And so I'm convicted with your question to go most often, whether it's a leadership moment with my team, whether it's a moment to communicate with a president or prime minister of a country, I don't always spend a lot of prep time on relationally connecting with people, doing a little biographical research, finding out what they like, what they don't like, because I don't need all that information to connect with people. Yet if I spent time to get to know their interests, coupled with my natural gifting, I would be unforgettable, but I'm not unforgettable sometimes relationally just because I'm good. I'm only unforgettable when I take good and make it exceptional and unforgettable. The way a relational person, i.e. me, becomes unforgettable is when I bring my natural talents with my preparation and I create unforgettable moments. And I'm not doing that extremely well before you ask me that very pointed question in front of tens of thousands of people, Traci, so thank you very much for the conviction.

Traci Morrow:  Well, I was just going to say, I'll let you close this out, but I want to just say when you are raw like that, and honest, you aren't sharing something that you struggled with last year or five years ago and how you're so great at it now. You're sharing what you're struggling in today and that just so humanizes you and makes you so relatable, and it makes me feel okay. And I'm sure our podcast listeners to feel okay about like, "Hey, you know what, I've been winging it a little bit in some areas too. What can I do to next level it." So thanks, as always, for just your honesty with us.

Mark Cole:       Well, and that honesty and that authenticity is the characteristic of our podcast family. Let me highlight today because I love highlighting people that connect with us and that make a comment on our website. [Henny 00:31:24] has been listening to the podcast for several months, and they said, "Over the past few months, I started listening to the John Maxwell podcasts. And I have to say, it has on many occasions pulled me through very challenging situations. Keep up the amazing work that you guys are doing." [Henny 00:31:43], it is that kind of authenticity. And Traci, thank you for what you just said to me, that is a characteristic of this podcast of what we try to do. So not only is [Henny 00:31:53] being impacted, but many of you. Do us a favor, it is fuel for us when we hear from you on what we're doing well, and by the way, give us some critique on things we can be doing better.

Go to Give us a comment wherever you listen to this podcast. Give us a rating, we like five star by the way, is what we like. But give us a rating, let us know how we're doing, and we will continue adding value so that we multiply value to others. Hey, for 2022, here's our challenge. Let's make winning a habit and have an incredible 2022. Thank you, Traci. Thank you, John Maxwell. Thanks Jake and to our entire production team. Have a great two final days of the year if you're listening to this live or upon release and let's go make 2022 together a best year. Let's change the world. Let's listen, let's learn. Let's leave.

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