Building a Winning Culture with Alan Stein, Jr.

Reading Time: 17 Minutes

In this episode with Alan Stein, Jr. we discuss the winner’s mindset and how to perform at an elite level.

Takeaways We Learned from Alan…

Caring Matters

The number one leadership tip is the profound impact of caring. Leaders need to demonstrate genuine concern for their team members as human beings first. 

Respect and Appreciation for Basics

Elite performers understand the significance of mastering the fundamentals. Whether in sports or business, success is built on a strong foundation. Emphasizing the basics and avoiding the temptation to skip steps are crucial for achieving long-term excellence.

Confidence with Humility

High achievers blend confidence with humility. They earn the right to be confident through hard work and dedication, yet maintain a humble attitude that allows for continuous improvement. 

Focus on the Process, Not Just the Goal

The most effective leaders and high performers focus on the process rather than fixating solely on the end goal. Using the analogy of building a brick wall, Alan stresses the importance of concentrating on each brick, or daily behaviors and habits, with care and precision. Consistency in the process leads to the achievement of larger goals.

Winner Mindset 

Developing a winner mindset involves concentrating on what you can control and letting go of what you cannot. By focusing on one’s response to circumstances rather than the circumstances themselves, individuals can cultivate resilience and agility, ultimately avoiding the pitfalls of blaming, complaining, and making excuses.

Refocusing for Peak Performance

Alan Stein, Jr. introduces the nuanced concept of refocusing over sustained focus. In today’s world of constant distractions, the key is not to expect uninterrupted focus but to develop the ability to refocus. Awareness is the first step, allowing individuals to recalibrate and concentrate on what’s important now (WIN), aligning their attention with their priorities.

It’s Not About Me, It’s About You

Adopting a transformative leadership perspective, Alan encourages leaders to shift their focus from personal desires to the well-being of those they serve. Leaders become most magnetic when they care more about the goals, dreams, and growth of their team members than their own agendas. The concept of “it’s not about me, it’s about you” fosters a culture of servant leadership and enhances influence.

Next Play Mentality

The powerful concept of “next play” is introduced as a recalibration tool. Coined by legendary Coach K, it emphasizes letting go of past mistakes or successes and channeling energy into the present moment. By swiftly moving on to the next play, individuals can invest their energy where they can still make a positive impact, preventing the negative carryover from affecting future opportunities.

About Alan Stein, Jr.

Alan Stein, Jr. is a keynote speaker and author. He’s a performance coach with a passion for helping business leaders change behaviors. He spent 15+ years working with the highest performing basketball players on the planet including NBA superstars Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and Kobe Bryant.

Alan teaches proven principles on how to utilize the same approaches in business that elite athletes use to perform at a world-class level. Through Alan’s customized programs, he transfers his unique expertise to maximize both individual and organizational performance.

Read the Transcript

Allison: Welcome to Deliberate Leaders podcast, I am your host and executive business coach Allison Dunn. Our topic today is cultivating excellence. Our guest is Alan Stein, Jr. He is the author of Raise Your Game: High Performance Secrets For the Best of the Best. Here’s a performance coach with a passion for helping business leaders change behaviors. You spent 15 plus years working with the highest performing basketball players on the planet, including NBA superstar, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Kobe Bryant, which is very cool. He teaches proven principles on how to utilize the same approaches in business that elite athletes use to perform at a world class level. Alan, thank you so much for joining us here today.

Alan: Oh, it’s my pleasure. I’m excited to be with you.

Allison: I’m so happy to have you. I love to kick these off with a deliberate conversation. So what would be your number one leadership tip for our listeners today.

Alan: Number one leadership tip is that caring matters. And you need to show those that you lead how much you care about them as human beings first, and then as fill in the blank second, as athletes second as sales professional second, as, as employees second, whatever their title may be, but they need to know that you care about them, and that you care about their goals and their dreams and their future.

You care about their contribution, you care about utilizing their skill sets for the betterment of the team. So yes, caring matters a lot.

Allison: Yeah. Can I share? I don’t know who has actually said that. But one of my go to quotes often in leadership trading is no one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. And that is so true, in essence. So great tip, thank you very much. All right, I’d like to dive into some of the principles that you have inside of your book. So what are the three most important impactful traits for elite performance, whether on the quarter off the court.

Alan: It’s been my experience having both a career in basketball and a career in the corporate space, that there’s probably about a dozen traits that most high performers tend to share, or at least are within a few degrees of, but I found three of the most common ones are, first and foremost, they have a strong respect and appreciation for the basics. They don’t try to skip steps, they know how important mastery of the fundamentals are to mastering their craft, and to leading with you know, high influence and impact.

Number two, is they learned how to blend confidence with humility. They earn the right to be confident by putting in the work to deserve success. But they maintain a humbleness that allows them to stay open to feedback, stay open to coaching, and certainly enough humility that no matter how good they get, they know they can still get better.

And then the third trait would be a strong respect and appreciation for the process. The highest performers and the best leaders I’ve ever been around, have a very clear vision. And they have a Northstar that they’re pursuing and they have goals that they’re trying to accomplish. But once they’ve crystallized those, they don’t focus on the actual goal, they actually focus on what’s right in front of them, they focus on the process that will get them closer to that goal. And the best analogy I use is, if your goal is to build a brick wall, you don’t need to worry about the wall, you need to focus on the bricks, you need to do everything in your power to lay each and every brick with care and precision exactly where it needs to go. And if you do that consistently, the wall will just take care of itself. So I’m happy to expand on any of those. But those are three traits immediately, that I’ve noticed among all high performers, and the most effective leaders I’ve ever been around.

Allison: I think that those are fantastic traits. I would love to dive into tips when you recognize that someone is focusing on the wall. And so how do you get them to focus on just the kind of the first steps that are in front of them like and to recognize when we’re focusing on the wrong thing?

Alan: Well, I certainly have a strong, you know, level of empathy and compassion for those that focus on the wall because I do believe we live in a society that glorifies outcomes. I mean, we absolutely live in a society that is always talking, you know, in sports, about wins and losses in business about profits and losses. And those things are important, and they usually are the driver of the eventual Northstar.

What I try to get folks to do is untether from the actual outcome, and focus on the daily behaviors, the mindsets, the habits, the rituals, the routines, the process, that will greatly increase the chance that you’ll actually reach the goal.

So I do believe goals are important, but They’re not what actually separates everyone. Because most people have at least vaguely similar goals. What separates people is action, its execution, its implementation. It’s the discipline to consistently lay those bricks. Because if you just take bricks and haphazardly kind of throw them at, you know, at your leisure, you won’t end up with the sound sturdy wall, you’ll end up with a pile of bricks. So, to me, it is all about that execution. And it’s all about the process. So trying to get folks to understand that focusing on the process will, you know, over time consistently yield the best result and give you the best chance of actually reaching that goal.

Allison: Yeah. Okay. Thank you that I think you dove into that? Well, let’s talk about what is a winner mindset. And how does one develop it?

Alan: I look at Winners mindset is simply doing the best you can with what you have, wherever you are. Full stop, like just putting your focus on the things that you have control over and learning to let go of the things that you don’t. So do the best you can with what you have, wherever you are, because circumstances and events will constantly change, you know that just like the climate will constantly change, but what we need to do is focus on the parts that we can make as consistent as possible. And that’s how we choose to respond to different circumstances and events.

So I want folks to put much more into the thoughtfulness of their response than to the event itself. And one of the reasons that I love, you know this, do the best you can with what you have wherever you are as a not only a mindset, but as an overall operating system for us as human beings, is it automatically eliminates a trilogy of behaviors that I know from firsthand experience, undermine performance, undermine productivity, undermine influence and impact, undermine optimism undermined fulfillment. And those traits are blaming, complaining and making excuses. And I intentionally use, you know, absolutes very sparingly. But I can promise you, you will never ever make your situation better, or move yourself forward by blaming complaining and making excuses.

So as high performers and as leaders, the sooner we can let go of the temptation to blame, complain and make excuses, the sooner we’ll reach another level of performance.

And, you know, when you when you do untether, from that, that trilogy of behaviors, it’s like taking an emotional weight vest off, you immediately become emotionally more agile. And if you’re not emotionally agile, then you’re emotionally fragile. And there’s no way that you can perform or lead to the level you’re capable of. If you’re emotionally fragile.

Allison: I’m sure that even working with top elite stars that they would get into a blame, complain and make excuses. Because we’re humans, right? Like sometimes that’s just where we are. How, what techniques do you suggest using if you find that people are using it in their language in their thought process in their actual, like communication style, to destroy their winning mindset, like what are the things that you suggest they do to pull it out? Well,

Alan: First and foremost, and I’m so glad you went in that direction. And you brought that point up. It’s important for folks to know that sports, business life everything in between is not a perfection game.

You know, I want folks to feel more inspired by progress than they do by perfection.

And, and I’ll certainly throw this disclaimer out. I mean, everything I’m sharing with you now, everything I share on stage, everything I share on page, I’m not coming from a place of mastery, you know, I’m not batting 1000. And I’m not getting straight A’s. I absolutely fall victim to blaming complaining and making excuses. But here’s what I can say with a tremendous amount of pride. I do that less today than I did a year ago and way less than I did five years ago or 10 years ago.

So I’m not immune to those same temptations. But I now have a level of awareness that I do it a lot less frequently. And to me that’s the most important part and then when I occasionally I do revert back to that old operating system and I I feel the need to blame or complain or make an excuse. I catch myself doing it really quickly now, usually within a matter of minutes. And I remind myself this is not going to help me move forward that I need to have an attitude of Extreme Ownership shout out to Jocko willing for the title of his book, but I need to hold myself fully accountable. And again it goes back to this paradigm. I accept and surrender to the fact that I am not responsible for circumstances events, what people say what people do, but I’m 100% responsible for my response to those things. And I don’t want my default response to be blaming complaining and making excuses because then I’m skirting accountability and personal responsibility. And that’s not the type of man that I’m trying to become. Yeah.

Allison: What you’re saying super resonates with me, I also have, I’m better than I was five years ago, and I continue to improve on it every day. And it is incredible to me how often even with the concept of I want to own everything that I choose to say and to do right and how I react to things. How often we just come up sometimes with excuses and excuses or reasons are still like, you know what I mean, deflecting.

Alan: Let me since we’re going to pull on this thread, and I love it. You were incredibly gracious for allowing me to be two minutes late to our zoom call. When I logged into zoom, zoom, started to do a series of updates, of course at 359 Eastern Time, right before I was supposed to jump on. And it’s funny, because for three seconds, I was going to say that to you, I was going to say I’m sorry that I’m late. But zoom started to do the updates. But then I realized I would just be making an excuse. If I would have logged in 10 minutes early, then even if it didn’t do the updates, I still would have been early so that the tardiness was not a result of zoom doing updates. The tardiness is 100% on me for logging in so late. And you know, you were incredibly kind and gracious for my tardiness. But it for a split second, I almost considered using that as an excuse to hide behind. But I chose not to, because that’s not the type of person that I want to be. And, and let me just say this to completely clarify this. It’s okay to have preferences in life, I have a long list of preferences, I have a long list of the way I’d like to see the world unfold.

And but I realized that I don’t always get my preferences, there’s a good number of things that happen every single day of my life, that aren’t what I would prefer.

So to me the sign of a real leader and a high performer and someone a very high character.

It’s how you behave when you don’t get what you want. You know, it’s how you behave when your preferences aren’t met, or things that happen that you don’t like. And I’m just working really hard that when those things happen, having a level of acceptance, but not letting that outer world dictate my inner world. And please know that 510 years ago, I was the absolute king of making excuses and blaming and complaining, you know, if anything didn’t go my way, or I didn’t reach a goal, I was a master at putting somebody else at fault. And it wasn’t until I finally had this new mindset, which I now find very empowering and liberating, that I’ve been able to say, You know what? No, it always starts and stops with my response. And to me, that’s been completely freeing. I mean, I don’t necessarily get my preferences met any more frequently today than I did 10 years ago. I just own my response to that, as opposed to deflecting and blaming and complaining like I used to do. Yeah.

Allison: Love that. So that is I just wanted to tie it back. Did that go? Is that under the? I’m sorry? I apologize. The impactful traits? Was that the third? Was that that a third one? Or is that just enter the like, do the best you can with where you’re at?

Alan: That’s basically the winner’s mindset.

So our winner’s mindset is do the best you can, what you have where you are and this concept of holding ourselves fully accountable, not blaming complaining and making excuses.

All Fun falls under that paradigm of a winner’s mindset. Okay,

Allison: awesome. You have had the opportunity to work with some incredible talent on the basketball court. And obviously, you know, the desire to have peak performance is a big part of that. So what role does refocusing play, have in peak performance?

Alan: We talk a lot about focus, or at least society talks a lot about focus. And what I find interesting, it’s a little more nuanced than that. Because I don’t know that in today’s day and age. It’s a realistic expectation for any of us to have long periods of uninterrupted sustained focus. We just have too many things vying for our attention. And a good portion of those things are, are due to technology. You know, it’s those little devices that most people choose to be tethered to 24/7. Yeah. So I think what instead of worrying so much about focus, what we should do is concentrate on the ability to refocus the lens and have some cues and some triggers that allow us to recalibrate and refocus that lens throughout the day. You know, and it always starts with awareness. You know, first and foremost, the first step to improving any area of our life is awareness. And that’s because you’ll never improve something you’re unaware of, and you’ll never fix something that you’re oblivious to.

So if you want to improve the skill set of being focused, the first thing You need to do is have an awareness of when you’re unfocused of when you’re distracted of when your mind wanders of when you’re not fully present. Because then and only then a consciousness of that, can you dial it back in and refocus the lens on what’s right in front of you. And, and as a as another operating system that I like to use as part of a winning mindset is the acronym win win. And that stands for what’s important. Now, I first heard this a decade ago from Lou Holtz, the former football coach at Notre Dame. And that acronym is when what’s important now, at any given moment, of any given day, you should be able to take a deep breath, take a beat, take a pause and ask yourself, am I choosing to place my attention and what I believe is most deserving of it in this moment, and I’m going to say that again, because it’s really powerful.

And it’s really important. Any given moment of any given day, you should be able to take a quick beat and ask yourself, Am I intentionally choosing to place my attention in what I believe is most deserving of it in this moment? So in other words, if you’re sitting with your family at dinner, and you believe giving them your full attention is what’s most important? Do you catch yourself looking at your phone and scrolling through social media or returning an email? Because in that moment, you’re not giving your attention to what you say is what’s most important to you, which is your family. So to me, that’s a recalibration exercise. I do dozens of times over the course of any given day is making sure I’m placing my attention exactly where I think it needs to be.

Allison: When I love that acronym, I have not heard that one. And so that’s a that’s a winner. Hmm. I love it perfect. Ellen, what unique perspective Do you encourage leaders to adopt?

Alan: By her heard the foundational mantra of transformational leadership several years ago, and it really opened my eyes up to an overall approach that I believe is most effective for leadership in general. And that is the concept of, it’s not about me, it’s about you, this really actually ties a nice red thread to how we opened up the conversation, talking about caring, you know, it’s important for leaders to understand that it’s not about them, it’s about those that they serve, it’s about those on their team, it’s about the culture.

And when you can shift your focus away from what you want from people and shift it to what you want for people, then you become the most magnetic leader in any room.

And, you know, this doesn’t mean that you think less of yourself, it just means you think of yourself less often. And that those on your team, you care about their goals and their dreams, you care about them feeling safe and valued and respected and appreciated. You know, you show them, as we said earlier, that you care about them as a human being first. So for leaders, if you want to increase your influence and impact, start caring more about those that you serve, than your own personal agenda and your own personal preferences.

Allison: When you see leaders are doing that, how do you like what’s the trigger that you can pull them out of like, what are we focused on right now.

Alan: Just remind them and here’s an example. Let’s just say for you’re the president and CEO of 100 person company, I remind them that you don’t have 99 people that work for you. You work for 99 people, it is your job to set the vision and set the mission and put people in the right position so they can succeed and to create a safe and inclusive culture like that is your job, you are working for those people so that they in turn can best serve your customers, or your clients or your members or however your business is structured. But it’s important to realize that you wake up every day, and you lead from your ivory tower, and you think that everybody is there to serve you. I just don’t think that’s how you get the requisite buy in and believe in to develop a championship caliber culture and a winning team. So the best leaders that I’ve ever been around in sport and in business, have a servant’s heart and are there to serve others to the best of their ability.

Allison: Let’s talk about the concept of next play. Why is it so powerful?

Alan: This is one of my favorite recalibration tools as well. The concept of next play I first heard from legendary coach, Coach K the all time winningest coach in the history of college basketball, former coach at Duke and he has this concept of next play that you don’t worry about the play that just happened because there’s nothing you can do about it. Now it’s over. It’s in the rearview mirror. It’s in the past it’s unchangeable, but you quickly refocus your lens on the next play that’s right in front of you. So you know using basketball as an example, you know if you just missed the shot, oh well next play You just turn the ball over. Okay, next play, you know, if the referee doesn’t make the call that you’d hope, next play, because any, any mental physical or emotional energy you waste on something that is in the past and is unchangeable means you don’t have that energy to invest in the present moment where you can still make a difference.

And that’s, that’s really the whole concept of next play is being able to invest your energy where you can still make a difference. And, you know, if, let’s just say for the sake of arguments that you had multiple podcast interviews today, and you had three podcast interviews scheduled, and the very first one kind of went a little sideways, it didn’t quite go the way that you had hoped. Maybe you were having some tech difficulties. Maybe the guest wasn’t as cooperative as you would hope. But for whatever reason, that podcast did not hit the target that you had hoped. Well, are you able to quickly move to the next play and refocus the lens on the second and third interview? Are you going to drag some of that negative energy with you, and now detract from your ability to have a good second and third interview? So you know, when you put your head on your pillow tonight? Can you say yes, the first one went a little bit off the rails, but I quickly regrouped, move to the next play. And the second and third interviews, were two of the best I’ve ever done. Or do you put your head on your pillow saying, Man, today was an absolute waste? A colossal, you know, misfire, all of the all of my interviews went really poorly today, because you chose to keep focusing on the first one that maybe didn’t go to your preference.

Allison: Powerful concept, for sure, in this book, raise your game, what is your favorite nugget or takeaway, that is the reason people should run out and buy it?

Alan: Well, as an overarching view of the book, I wrote the book from a few different vantage points, because I wrote it from the vantage point of what would help players quote unquote, players or teammates, team members, employees, what would help a coach you know, or a boss, a parent, any leader, and then what would help the actual team, you know, getting everybody on the same page and playing nicely together. And, and I do that for I did that for a very specific reason. Regardless of your vocational role, at present, we all tend to weave in and out of those different areas. Throughout our lives. I mean, you, you might be an employee or a teammate at work, but then you come home and you’re a spouse and a parent, where you’re responsible for your children.

So you know, you, you need to be able to do both. And, you know, even if you’re someone that doesn’t consider themselves part of a traditional team, even if you’re a solopreneur, you know, myself, I’m, I’m a professional keynote speaker, but you better believe I have people that helped me do what I do on stage, I mean, I have a manager and an agent, I have an admin assistant, I have someone that helps me with my social media content, you know, I have people that are very much behind the scenes working really hard, that allow me to do what I do. And for that, I’m incredibly thankful. So I don’t believe that anybody is in complete isolation and does anything, you know, in a silo on their own, we’re all a part of something bigger than ourselves.

Even if you’re just a member of your local church community, or the PTA, or anything else, you know, we all jockey in and out of being players, being coaches and being on teams. And, you know, the other part that I hope makes the book helpful and as a useful resource is there’s a action steps at the end of each chapter. Because as a former coach, I’m a big believer that it’s not the knowledge that helps us improve our lives. It’s the application of that knowledge. So reading raise your game covered a cover, but not changing any of your behaviors, or mindsets is the same as not reading it at all, because nothing in your life will change. So I put those at the end of each chapter as hopefully a helpful and useful prompt to get people to start changing some of their behaviors and most of the important ones we’ve had the pleasure of talking about during this conversation.

Allison: Fantastic, Alan, I have thoroughly enjoyed this conversation. Thank you so much for joining me here on deliberate leaders today. I listeners, I’m going to include all of Alan’s contact information in the show notes. So look there, follow him and connect with him there.

Alan: Thank you so much. This was fun.

Allison: Thank you.

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

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