A is for Achieving An A Grade In Your Chosen Arena

Great workers aim to achieve their version of an A Grade in their chosen arena. They may aim to do this when encouraging another person, playing a sport, leading a project or whatever.

The word arena is chosen deliberately. It signifies the place where you want to do your best and it also has elements of being on-stage.

It is about delivering the goods when it matters. Some athletes are good on the training field, for example, but may have difficulty in performing well in more challenging situations.

Your chosen arena may be facilitating a counselling session, running a workshop, giving a keynote speech, singing in a choir, managing a crisis, solving a tough problem or whatever.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific arena in which you want to aim to achieve an A Grade.

Describe the specific benefits – for both yourself and other people – of achieving an A Grade in your chosen arena.

Clarifying Your Version
Of Achieving An A Grade

Different people have different versions of what it means to deliver an A Grade. Some sports people, for example, focus on aiming to be the best they can be, rather than beat the opposition.

Pete Carroll, the American Football coach, explained this approach in his book, Win Forever. He was strongly influenced by Abraham Maslow, plus coaches John Wooden and Bill Walsh. Tim Galwey, who pioneered ideas about ‘the inner game’, was another influence.

Pete was particularly attracted to Tim’s view that athletes perform best when they have a ‘quieted mind’. This approach helped him to define his own philosophy of excellence. Below is Pete’s view of being competitive.

Competition for me it not about beating your opponent. It is about doing your best; it is about striving to reach your potential; and it is about being in relentless pursuit of a competitive edge in everything you do.

The essence of my message about competing has nothing to do with the opponent. My competitive approach is that “it’s all about us.” If we’ve really done the preparation to elevate ourselves to our full potential, it shouldn’t matter whom we are playing.

Once I understood that we were competing with ourselves, it changed my view of future opponents. Many people confuse ‘opponent’ with ‘enemy,’ but in my experience, that is extremely unproductive.

My opponents are the people who offer me the opportunity to succeed. The tougher my opponents, the more they present me with an opportunity to live up to my full potential and play my best.

Benjamin Zander offers a similar view of success. A conductor with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, he is also a popular performer on the business speaking circuit.

During his lectures Benjamin draws parallels between his role as a conductor and the leader’s role in business. One concept he describes is the idea of getting an A grade.

Benjamin tutors hundreds of students who travel from around the world to pursue their musical studies in America. They are often financially supported by families who have saved to provide the necessary funding.

Naturally enough, the students feel nervous on their first day in college. Anxious not to disappoint their parents, they are worried about passing their final exams.

Benjamin greets the assembled students by saying something like the following.


You Have An A Grade 

Let me put your minds at rest. You already have an A grade. But this is dependent on several things.

First, write me a letter dated May next year – the end of your time in college – titled My A Grade.

Imagine you are writing the letter after completing the course. Start with the words:

‘The reason I deserve an A Grade is because I have done the following things over the last year: …’

Describe the specific things you will have done to deserve the A Grade.

Second, you and I will meet to discuss your proposed achievements and whether these deserve an A. If not, we will agree on what you must do to get your desired grade.

Third, it is then up to you to reach the agreed grade.

You can discover more about Benjamin’s work at:


Looking at your own life and work, can you think of specific situation where you would like to aim for your version of an A Grade?

In my own life, for example, many of my aims have focused around the theme of encouragement. This has often involved asking the question:

“How can I help people to achieve their picture of success?”

If I am doing a mentoring session with somebody, for example, I want to make the person feel welcome. After clarifying their picture of success, I then aim to offer practical tools they can use to achieve their goals. Bearing this in mind, here is my goal.

My A Grade

My aim is that after session the person will, in
their own words, say something like the following.

The session was enjoyable. It was:

Personal – It related to me and my agenda.

Practical – It provided practical tools that I can use in my life and work. 

Profitable – It was, in the widest sense, profitable and helped me to achieve my goals.

You will have your own view of what might constitute success. If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific arena in which you would like to achieve your version of an A Grade.

Describe your definition of achieving an A Grade in this arena.

Achieving Your
Version Of An A Grade

Imagine you have defined your version of an A Grade. How can you achieve it in your chosen arena?

Different people have different approaches to doing their best. Great workers often start by clarifying their purpose and then do the necessary preparation. Going into the arena, they aim to follow their chosen principles and achieve peak performance.

Peak performers spend many hours mentally rehearsing ways to achieve success. This is in addition to the fabled 10,000 hours spent doing purposeful practice.

Different people prepare in different ways. You may go through some of the following steps to prepare properly.

Slides Achieving An A Grade.006

Great workers follow their own individual rituals to snap into action when entering the arena. They then aim to follow their chosen principles to achieve the picture of success.

Sports coaches often encourage athletes to keep pursuing the agreed strategies in a professional way, for example, rather than worry about the results. Paradoxically, the athletes that do this properly are more likely to lift the prizes.

Let’s return to the situation where you want to achieve your version of an A Grade. You will do the preparation and follow the principles in your own way. How can you then do your best in the arena?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific arena in which you want to achieve your version of an A Grade. 

Describe the specific things you can do to aim to achieve an A Grade in this arena.

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