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The Only Way to Become a Business Rock Star

Natural talent only takes you so far. This is what carries you the rest of the way.
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Some business people are like rock stars: Richard, Warren, Bill, the late Steve—all rock stars.

Why are they like rock stars? Even without the last names, you immediately recognize them.

And just like rock stars, many people dream of being like them.

It’s certainly possible to become a rock star and achieve excellence in just about any field we choose, but excellence comes with a price. Natural talent only takes us so far. Excellence requires incredible focus, massive effort, and an almost superhuman drive and work ethic.

I'm lucky to know a few incredibly talented and successful people. One is a speaker. I once attended five consecutive engagements with him. Even though the basic makeup of each audience was the same, I was surprised by how different his speech was each time. I asked why.

"I've worked and reworked that speech a number of times," he said. "I can give that speech on auto-pilot. In a good way, because I don't have to think about what I'm saying. That frees me up to me read the audience, cover any mistakes I make, adapt to venue or equipment problems, digress when it feels right, and pull the plug on a segment that's not working. All that prep work lets me focus on the audience instead of on myself."

"How many times," I asked, "is a “number” of times?"

"I have a 20 Rule," he said. "I run through a new speech 20 times in my office. Then I do it 20 times in an empty auditorium. Then I do 20 more, one person at a time, begging friends, colleagues, family, and anyone I can get to listen and critique me. Then I pick 20 small organizations and deliver it for free so I can work out the kinks with a live audience. After that I think I'm ready, but it still takes 20 or so real gigs before I feel I'm really on point."

Since his average keynote runs about 70 minutes, that means he typically spends almost a hundred hours rehearsing a speech—after he spent several weeks writing it.

I told that story to a friend who wants to be a speaker. He said, "There’s no way I would put that kind of time into a speech." Then he paused. “Well, I guess I would if I was as successful as he is.”

And that, of course, is the problem. Successful people don’t work hard because they are successful. Successful people are successful because they work hard.

Most of us fall into the same trap. We think, "Sure, if I was in (my dream spot) I would work really hard too.” But we only reach our dream spot by first working incredibly hard and doing what few other people are willing to do.

How driven and focused would you be if, say, you owned a $10 million company? How hard would you work if you were, say, Branson or Buffett or Gates?

Would you work harder than you currently are because the effort would then seem worthwhile?

The key is to turn the equation around: Don’t wait until you somehow fall into your dream spot to start working hard. Start working hard now. While there's no guarantee that incredible effort will make you a business rock star, it's certain that if you don't put in the effort first, you never will be.

IMAGE: Fotopedia
Last updated: Jan 31, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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