Five Actions will Help You Reach the Top*

October '18 | William A. Cohen, PhD, Major General, USAF, Ret.

reach-the-top.jpgIt is true that if you expect positive results, you may still not actually achieve them due to circumstances which may be beyond your control. However, it is equally true that if you do not expect to achieve positive results you will probably not get them. So, while expecting positive results may not always lead to success, failing to expect positive results will more often lead to failure. As Drucker wrote, you don’t need to be outstandingly successful every time you attempt anything. You can still reach the top. But you do need to be adequately successful overall to continue progressing toward the top, and that is within your abilities.


Learn to Expect Positive Results Even after Failure

Bill Gates started his first company, Traf-O-Data, expecting success. Its purpose was to process and analyze the data from traffic tapes. However, the process was flawed, and the company failed. Gates didn’t let this failure hold him back from starting famed Microsoft only a few years later. He expected success with Microsoft even though he had a major failure in the past, with Traf-O-Data and he got it with Microsoft. How did he do this?

Here five suggestions based on Drucker’s teachings:

1.    Develop Your Self-Confidence

Few start right out in life accomplishing what we think of as big goals. We all start as infants and accomplish “trivial things” like learning to walk, talk, and later maybe to read, write, and reason. Obviously, these are not actually trivial things. The truth is, even with these “small things” we started out by doing still smaller things first and slowly increasing the difficulty of the subtasks until we could accomplish a larger task. Things like rolling over and sitting up. 
Today, there is no longer any doubt that when you stand, put forth one leg and then another, you are going to walk. As you read these sentences, unless you are just learning English, there is little doubt but that you will understand what you have read. You automatically expect positive results.
With the more complex and challenging tasks and projects of adults, many fail to expect to succeed for only one of two reasons. Either they have been unsuccessful at similar tasks or projects in the past, or they have never tried to accomplish them in the first place. And by the way, those who have never tried usually haven’t tried because they feel they will fail if they did try.

2.    Become a Positive Thinker

You can think positively, or negatively. It’s your choice. However, most negative individuals do not expect positive results. They frequently expect the worst to happen . . . and so it does. I don’t know whether this is black magic, a self-fulfilling nightmare, or what. It doesn’t matter. It’s a fact, what we think of we usually get, whether it’s positive or negative. It’s not that Drucker recommended that you become a wishful thinker or Pollyanna and always think wonderful things no matter the situation. Not at all. You can be a steely eyed-realist. Still that shouldn’t stop you from thinking positively. And that will help you to expect to be successful.

What I noticed about positive vs. negative thinkers was this. Positive thinkers keep their eye on what they want, that is, their goals, tasks, etc. and not what they don’t want or want to avoid. To do this, they first ask themselves - “What is the worst that can happen?” Then they accept that as a result if all goes wrong. Next, they act and do what needs to be done. 
3.    Visualize Positive Results

If you want to learn to expect positive results, you’ve got to see those results achieved in your own mind first. Psychologists call this mental rehearsal or visualization, and it is amazing what can be done with it. Mental visualization seems to work best in a very relaxed state, and I have witnessed as well as been involved in many experiments which illustrate just how powerful mental visualization is.
I’ve attended a number of seminars on hypnosis. Under a hypnotic trance, a subject is extremely relaxed and open to suggestion. One sequence while so entranced is to have the subject imagine himself in a lemon grove, pick a lemon, slice it in half and squeeze a bit into his mouth and taste it. 

The amazing thing is that if a subject does this, his lips invariably pucker as he imagines the sweet-sour juice from the lemon in hid mouth. One theory about hypnosis is that all hypnosis is really self-hypnosis, and anyway to enter a trance yourself is quite easy. In fact, if you found yourself pucker your lips when you thought about the lemon juice now, you hypnotized yourself!

But there is more. When in hypnotic trance, a subject, after some visualization techniques, can be told that a cube of ice applied to the subject’s bare skin is red hot. Believe it or not, it can raise a blister on the subject’s skin!

If you are preparing yourself to give a speech, imagine the applause as you are called forward to begin your presentation in your mind. Imagine looking out into the audience and visualize the eager and expectant looks on the faces of those who are about to listen to you. Now, give your speech in your mind and note the audience’s rapt attention. See yourself connecting with the audience, and see the audience responding to what you have to say and hanging on to every word. Now see yourself coming to a powerful conclusion, and see the audience leaping to their feet to give you a standing ovation in their enthusiasm.

After you have done this once, repeat the whole sequence again. If your project is several days ahead, I recommend repeating it several times a day. The night before your performance, you can repeat it a dozen times or more. You will be pleasantly amazed at the results you achieve in your presentation by expecting success through mental visualization.

4.    Be Who You are

You can’t be someone you are not. You’re stuck! We are all. But, the reality is it makes no difference. We’re all different, but we all have the potential for being successful. 

A. L. Williams was a $18,000 a year high school football coach in Georgia when he founded a life insurance company based on a new concept. Most insurance companies make their largest sales through emphasizing ordinary life insurance. Williams pointed out that you can buy a lot more insurance for less money with term insurance and you can make even more by investing the difference. 
Williams had no MBA and no corporate business experience. Still, his company became one of the largest of its kind in the world in less than ten years with over $81 billion in individual life insurance. Williams wrote a book on his experiences. Its title was All You Can Do is All You Can Do, But All You Can Do is Enough! (Nelson, 1988) What Williams said with this title was that our limitations make little slight difference. What we have is still good enough to reach success.
Unfortunately, some try to be what they are not. They may be kind and thoughtful, and yet are afraid to display these qualities. They may have read management books somewhere that promoted a tough management style. So, they want to be tough. Or maybe they heard that a leader should have a participatory style.  So, they strive for participation, even when it is inappropriate. Or maybe they try to be over friendly, when by nature they are more reserved.

For example, calling senior managers by their first names is neither bad nor good. In some organizations that works just fine. Drucker used to tell his graduate students “call me Peter” and this worked in a classroom. But doing this when inappropriate for an organization can be a problem.  

5.    Be Enthusiastic

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."  Drucker believed even more emotional investment was needed to reach the top. He thought that not only enthusiasm, but that passion was essential. 

One thing I can assure you. If you aren’t enthusiastic about something, no one else will be. That’s a fact. You can’t expect others to enthusiastically accept a challenge that you haven’t enthusiastically accepted yourself.

To greatly increase your chances of success in any situation that you face:
expect success. Be like Drucker and do this:

  • Develop Your Self-Confidence
  • Become a Positive Thinker 
  • Visualize the Results You Want to Achieve
  • Be Who You are – Don’t Pretend that you are Someone Else
  • Be enthusiastic

*Adapted from Peter Drucker’s Way to the Top (to be published November 2018 by LID, and syndicated)


Extraordinary Speeches, Seminars, Training,
Consulting and Coaching with IATEP

William A. Cohen, PhD
Major General, USAF , Ret., President​​

Loading Conversation