Letters to my child. Leadership, Business and Kaizen.

The DNA of a Top Performer: Is “Greatness” hereditary?

Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath

Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath

This past weekend the family gathered at my parents for lunch. My sister said she is reading Gladwell’s David and Goliath. I decided to pick it up. His chapter on the difficulties faced by wealthy families raising their kids really made me think about a course I took last year called “The DNA of Top Performers”.

It also made me think about raising my own child. I am going to add a call to action in the form of a personal video at the end of this post.

The term “DNA of a Top Performer” is suitable as it refers to the traits, core values and key strategies observed in the best of the best. Even thought cloning people is not possible yet, the term also applies to the notion that if you know how top performers behave and what they did to get tot the top, assimilating that behaviour could bring similar results.

DNA gets passed down to your children. It is inherently hereditary. Does the DNA of Top Performers pass on from their parents to their children? Are the children of Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Jack Welch destined to be top performers?

In order to address this question I am going to look at the three components of The Performance Equation: habits, talent and opportunity.


David and Goliath actually makes the opposite argument when it comes to habits: the children of top performers are LESS likely to reach peak performance. Malcolm Gladwell told the story of a Hollywood power player who was raised in a poor family in the 50s. The fact he had to work as a child to pay for half his bicycle, work for his dad in the scrapyard as a teenager and watch basketball games from the bleachers in College created the habits that brought him success.  His kids will never have to go through that.

A strong drive to achieve the pinnacle is a trait shared by all top performers.

At the top: Competitive Greatness

At the top: Competitive Greatness

Michael Jordan once said his kid will never be a great basketball player because he had everything growing up. Jordan stayed up late playing basketball with his dad because he had incredible drive to succeed. He wanted to give his parents a better life.

John Wooden places Competitive Greatness at the top of his pyramid. That is what separates top performers from everyone else. What does that mean?

Top Performers have the habit of doing their best when their best is needed.


This is one area where your culture and your parents have a deep influence. Top performers understand and clearly observe a direct correlation between effort and reward. Some talents are inherent, but a LOT is conquered through practice.

A parent that understands the rewards brought by practicing the piano 10,000 hours or going to extra practice or getting that promotion after going to extra mile for the client or the company is more likely to teach that to their kids.

In Outliers: The Story of Success Malcolm explained that Asian countries are not better at math because they possess IQ well above average. He went back centuries and examined the rice fields… but in my inner group, I was better at math than my friends because every Saturday at 7AM I was in a private school with my sister practicing this:

Japanese Abacus

Japanese Abacus

In the meantime all my friends were either sleeping or getting up to watch television. Halfway through the video below the teacher mentions how he gets the students to do better. It is true.

When it come sot talent it all comes down to practice. Top performers go one step further and fully utilize deliberate practice (training designed to improve performance).


This is the tricky element. Family life definitely plays a role in the initial opportunities given to a child but it is a level playing field once we enter the work force. Seth Godin argued in Linchpin that it really does not matter what country your are from, your race or what your parents did for a living. We create our own opportunities in the long run.

As an adult, your work and career path become your environment for opportunity. In order to maximize your opportunities it is important to address three elements:

– Leverage feedback. Understand the power of self awareness. Enter a mentorship program. Find someone willing to coach you in your professional life.

– Develop a career strategy. Write down your goals on paper. Go back to school. Keep up with technology. Devote a good chin of your time to reading books.

– Manage your personal brand. Identify your core values. Align your values with your company core values. Find your purpose at work and in life. Google yourself.



Note that this is not a sum game. The multiplier implies that talent and opportunity without the good habits will get you nowhere. You can be given the opportunity but you are going to squander it away if you have zero talent. You can be the most talented person at work with excellent habits, but you are going to miss your chances if you don’t act on feedback, develop a career strategy and manage your reputation.

Maxwell on Leadership

Maxwell on Leadership

LEADERSHIP is central in a discussion of Top Performers. In that sense, it is my belief that it can be passed to your children. A good leader understands the importance of people development and also knows how to teach leadership.

This blog is built on the notion that I can teach leadership to my kids. I figured it would make it more fun if they learn as I learn… that should keep them motivated.

With that in mind, here is a video I prepared for my kids:

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Categorised in: Family, Sports and Leadership, Video

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