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8 Lessons for Entrepreneurs From an Olympic Performance Coach

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I was excited to interview Todd Herman because he’s a common denominator among my other guests. As in, the best of the best turn to him for strategy, consulting and coaching. I couldn’t wait to pick his brain.

Herman is a “farm boy from rural Canada” who excelled at sports and mental toughness. His passion for those two topics led him to become a leader on and off the field, later bringing his gifts to the hospitality industry. After winning a small hospitality award and a chance encounter with legendary enterepreneur Jim Rohn, he changed his life and launched his speaking career -- by speaking 68 times in 90 days.

In the 18 years since, he’s been personally mentored by Rohn and Harvey Dorfman -- two of the world’s leading performance experts. He’s worked behind the scenes as a coach with Olympians and Fortune 100 companies. He’s become an in-demand speaker, traveling to over 80 countries to consult and give presentations. Now, he offers his goal achievement system used by athletes, entrepreneurs, high-profile companies and government agencies around the world as an online program called The 90-Day Year.

Here’s how Herman achieved such incredible success in two decades and the top eight lessons entrepreneurs can learn from him about mental toughness, building a coaching empire and launching a successful online business.    

1. Jump at opportunities.

Before you jump to the “oh, he was only successful because he got lucky and met Jim Rohn” conclusion, listen to the story. Herman was at a banquet where his uncle was being recognized and happened to sit next to Rohn, not knowing who he was. As they started to chat, Herman explained he hoped to go into training and speaking like Rohn had done.

“He challenged me to do three things,” Herman recalled. “That was a Saturday night. Monday at about one o'clock in the afternoon I called him. . . . I said, ‘Hey Jim, it's Todd Herman calling, I don't know if you remember me, but I'm the guy who sat next to you for five hours.’ (Of course, he remembers). . . . ‘I did the three things, now what do I do?’”

Rohn called Herman back the very next day, and said, “Okay, you're officially the only person who's ever called me back."

What a lesson for all of us. How many other would-be coaches had the same conversation with Rohn and never followed through?

2. Use what you’ve got.

At the very beginning of his career, Herman landed two speaking gigs -- this is one of the assignments Rohn gave him -- by leveraging the fact that he’d recently won a “little award” in the hospitality industry.

In the same vein, his commitment and results with his local and regional high school athletes led to a referral to a professional player. Then word spread organically and he expanded to other professionals and Olympians.

Futhermore, his presentations at high schools led to his corporate training gigs.

“You’ve got to remember anytime you're getting a message, even though you're really targeting it towards a niche, whoever is sitting in the audience is always gonna filter it through their life,” Herman explained to me. “So I [had a lot of people approach me] after and say, ‘Todd, love what your talk is all about, but I'm dealing with something inside of my business . . .”

Herman went on to explain that if you want to be a successful entrepreneur you have to be brash and believe in yourself. Even though he didn’t have a set curriculum or system for non-athletes, he would always say yes to the new opportunities.

3. Make your own opportunities.

I love the story of how Herman got Harvey Dorfman to become his mentor. In short, he called him up cold and asked to shadow him for free and do all of his administrative work for a few months. He said he had an aunt and uncle nearby but in reality stayed at a $29 a night Motel 6. He admits this was a bit creepy, but Dorman agreed.

Herman still believes that if you’re able, you should humble yourself, ask for the apprenticeship and make the time to shadow the best of the best in your industry.

“I just don't think that there's a better way [to learn] than apprenticeship. I think that there's no path to success that's faster than going and sitting with someone.”

If you’re reading this thinking, man, he got lucky, Herman agrees, which was a refreshing perspective from a such a gritty, bootstrapping entrepreneur.

“The really, really big leaps that I've ever made in business, were on the back on some incredibly serendipitous, weird moment where I just met the right person at the right time . . . anyone who tells you that luck isn't a part of the process, is just flat out lying.” He added, “You can't control luck, but what you can do is take care of your actions, so that you're taking care of. That's what I try to preach as much as I can is, the one who takes the action, even if it's bad action, you're going to learn way faster than everyone else.”

We should all probably re-read that last sentence again. Taking action is probably THE common trait of the stories of the massively successful people I interview.

4. Master the mental game.

Of course you cannot interview a high performance coach without talking about psychology and mental toughness. Herman dove deep into studying the mind and the power of mindset. What he told his early coaching clients applies to entrepreneurs as well.

"You don't need to do more cone drills, you don't need to do more wind sprints; that's not gonna help you on the field. It's not that you don't have the physical skills or you don't have the speed -- what's falling apart for you is you got no routine, you don't have the ability to focus, you don't have some good training patterns."

If you’re focusing on webinars and funnels and marketing when you haven’t mastered your mindset, routine and daily habits, you will not reach peak performance for yourself or your business.

5. Find your (few) key metrics.

Part of mastering the mental game is blocking out the ever-growing list of distractions. Herman explained that a key to success, especially at the beginning, is to focus on the top few areas where you want to excel, set goals and track progress. For Herman, this was speaking.

“There's so many ways you can grow your business . . . . Find the one that you know you can really drive home . . . one or two main activities that you do, that are really going move the needle,” he explained. Once you pick your top areas, make sure that you focus on them every single week.

“You can have a bad day; you can't have a bad week when you're starting out 'cause you only get 52 of them in a year.”

6. Work in focused sprints.

Remember that to launch his business, Herman did 68 speaking gigs in 90 days, unpaid. That’s three months of incredible focus. As entrepreneurs with many ideas and the desire to go fast, many of us struggle with focus.

“[Entrepreneurs are] diffusing their energy -- then they wonder why they grow so much slower than everyone else.” He explained that it’s not because competitors are smarter or more skilled. It’s usually that they are “making a series of choices that are more aligned and tighter, that are leading them forward faster.” Herman knows it sounds cliché, but he is adamant that the art of focus is critical, especially to early-stage success.

7. Get self-aware.

Another common theme among the massively successful entrepreneurs I interview is self awareness. Herman likened it to a superpower. He explained that you can work smarter, better and faster when you know your skills, weaknesses and what makes you tick.

This includes making sure you know how to recharge. A true extrovert, Herman knows that he can’t hole up in his office, even during a launch week, or he’ll reach burn out. He makes sure to schedule in-person meetings and coffees with friends, clients and mentors throughout the week. 

I believe (though some of my guests disagree) that we can get better at self awareness. Ask yourself tough questions. Think through the childhood hopes and dreams that have stuck with you. Analyze your preferences -- why do you prefer things a certain way? Analyze your performance -- do you do better under pressure or at a relaxed pace?

Related: 12 Self-Awareness Exercises That Fuel Success

8. Stay grounded.

If you’re not convinced that gratitude is a key component of success, read my recent article on the topic. Again, my guest mentioned a gratitude practice. Herman starts every single day with a handwritten note to someone.

“A lot of people talk about gratitude journaling [but rather than contain the energy] I much rather take the energy and pass it through . . . . Anybody who I've ever read their books, I always sit down or write just a small handwritten note,” he shared. “Then I have a little wax seal. I drip the wax on the envelope and I stamp it . . . . Yeah, I'm old school.”

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