December 2020
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Interview With Elite Performance Coach Brian Levenson

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

According to Brian Levenson, we have two different but complementary mindsets—one for preparing effectively and one for performing. Levenson is the author of Shift Your Mind and the founder of Strong Skills, an organization that provides coaching, speaking, and consulting to elite organizations, performers, and leaders. I recently interviewed Brian on episode 198 of my leadership podcast, The TalentGrow Show. In this edited excerpt, I’ll share some of that conversation.

In your book, you write, “Authenticity is elastic, not rigid. What’s most important to recognize is that you don’t have to be the same person in preparation and performance and in fact you really shouldn’t be. The goal is to be intentional about the shift.” What are these two mindsets and why are they important to separate?

I started my career in sports. There’s a great book by a head football coach named Tom Coughlin called Earn the Right to Win. In that book, he said we need to be humble enough to prepare and confident enough to perform. That just struck me as I was working with elite athletes and so I went down this rabbit hole of having conversations with my clients about what their mindset was in preparation, what their mindset needed to be in performance, and the differences between the two.

What I found was that we often say to our people, “Be humble.” “Don’t try to be perfect.” “Trust the process.” Or, “Be comfortable with the uncomfortable.” We have these sayings that we use inside and outside of sports that help us perform better, or are supposed to. As I started to dive deep with my clients, I realized that there needs to be a shift that occurs from the mindset for preparation to the mindset for performance.

We are not one person. We carry multiple things within us, and many of us embody polarities; we have different sides to us. Hopefully none of us are humble all the time, just like none of us are arrogant all the time. But we need to be humble in preparation and we need to step into our arrogance in performance.

I discovered something like 30 of these shifts while working with my clients and I drilled it down to nine that we really wanted to focus on for the book, because they were the most clean, clear, and free of redundancy.


Arrogance, for example, is a word people often think of as negative, but I define it as an unwavering, even exaggerated, belief that you are the absolute best person for the job in that moment. As leaders, we need to have this inner arrogance sometimes to make really hard decisions. I’m sure most people know, if you are arrogant in performance but you didn’t humbly prepare, that can be a recipe for disaster. So the preparation mind can fuel the performance mind, but we also need to leverage both of these shifts at different times. I really believe that greatness is understanding when you need to be one way and when you need to be another way. Both of those can be your authentic self. That’s why I believe it’s elastic.

The nine different mindset shifts you describe are humble and arrogant, work and play, perfectionistic and adaptable, analysis and instinct, experimenting and trusting process, uncomfortable and comfortable, future and present, fear and fearlessness, and selfish and selfless. Which one do you think leaders really struggle with?

We’re going to go into selfish and selfless in a minute, but before we do, I’ll just give a quick shout out to discomfort. With discomfort often comes growth. Preparation is all about growth. It’s all about learning. It’s all about getting better. It’s a process to really make yourself ready and competent so that when you’re in the arena and performing, you can be comfortable. You have to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. But when you do get that opportunity to perform or compete, that’s going to be much more about execution. It’s going to be about getting yourself into a pre-performance routine that gets you as comfortable as possible.


If you study elite performance, you’ll see this polarity that exists between discomfort and comfort. Same thing for a leader. You’re uncomfortable before a big meeting. You go over everything. Then when you step into the meeting room you need to step into comfort and get yourself as comfortable as possible.

Let’s talk about selfish and selfless now. I see selfish as an opportunity to be almost self-full: “How can I fulfill myself, and how can I do everything I need to do to prepare so that when I am performing I can serve other people?” For leaders, I believe if you’re not doing all of those little things to take care of yourself in preparation, you’re not going to ever be able to serve others and be selfless. I love the analogy of fill your cup and then give the reserves and overflow to your people.

I think high performance is the same way. Let’s just use a college athlete for example. They have to make decisions about whether to go out at night and party, what they eat, how much they sleep, whether they want to get extra reps in. They need to make selfish decisions to get to where they want to go. But when they are competing and it’s time to execute, I think really being in service to something bigger than yourself or your team is a really great way to go. Someone might be thinking, “How am I going to be arrogant in performance and selfless?” I really think that’s what the best performers do. They have this unshakeable belief in themselves. It’s unwavering, it’s exaggerated, and they are instilling that same sense of self within their team. Sort of instilling this confidence in their people by being selfless.

Your turn: Have you experienced these kinds of mind shifts between preparation and performance in yourself or those you have coached? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

About the Author

Halelly Azulay is an author, speaker, facilitator, and leadership development strategist and an expert in communication skills and emotional intelligence.

She is the author of two books, Employee Development on a Shoestring (ATD Press) and Strength to Strength: How Working from Your Strengths Can Help You Lead a More Fulfilling Life. Her books, workshops and workshops build on her 25 years of professional experience in communication and leadership development in corporate, government, nonprofit and academic organizations.

Halelly is the president of TalentGrow LLC, a consulting company she founded in 2006 to develop leaders and teams, especially for enterprises experiencing explosive growth or expansion. TalentGrow specializes in people leadership skills, which include communication skills, teambuilding, coaching, and emotional intelligence. TalentGrow works with all organizational levels, including C-level leaders, frontline managers, and individual contributors.

Halelly is a sought-after speaker at conferences and meetings and is a contributing author to numerous books, articles and blogs. She recently published two popular LinkedIn Learning courses titled Leveraging Your Strengths and 10 Mistakes Leaders Should Avoid. Halelly blogs at and publishes a leadership podcast at

In 2019, Halelly partnered with "the Titan of Training," Elaine Biech, to create an online course titled Building Your Successful Consulting Business for new and aspiring consultants.

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