The Latest From Dr. Jim Loehr

Updated: Jan 4

Podcast: What Got You There with Sean DeLaney.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Episode Link: Episode #221 - Pioneering Elite Performance Psychology for Sports, Business, and Life



Episode Notes from Sean DeLaney

Key Takeaways

“The more I understood it the more I realized that is how you create an extraordinary impact in a person’s life, is that every moment you are with them it’s not the amount of time you have with them but what kind of energy did you create in the time you were there.”

Jim received his doctorate to go into the mental health field of psychology, not sports surprisingly. During his time as a Chief Psychologist, Jim quit his job and pursued sports psychology, working at two different tennis centers which he credits to teaching him the value of two PhD’s.


“I began to get a sense of how the human system was designed, how it performs well under pressure, what are the pitfalls, and it was a massive learning curve for me.”

After working with the tennis center, Jim and his business partner started the Human Performance Institute. One of the primary focuses in working with the elite athletes at the Institute was understanding everyone’s story and what their purpose is.


“We want to demonstrate to them that they can change their lives, they can change them significantly and the way you start that is you get the right purpose and that purpose goes to the centerpiece of this new story.”

Jim says that the biggest insight he has had is realizing that our most important resource is energy. What we give energy to is what we give life to, and Jim believes that giving energy to someone is the greatest gift.


“I began to realize that the most important resource you have as a human being in terms of getting something done is your energy and recruiting the energy of others and surrounding yourself with really extraordinary people.”

“You have to have enough humility but you can’t be dealing with too much insecurity, so insecurity has to be balance with confidence and confidence has to be balanced with humility.”


4:21 Foundational Routines

Jim’s morning ritual that sets the stage for his day is getting up early, he has to make his bed, he responds to urgent emails, overviews his calendar and to do list. When he was writing his book, Leading with Character, he would wake up at 2 in the morning and write until 8 before going into work.


“In writing this book, I got up at two in the morning every morning for over a year and wrote until eight and then I went into the Human Performance Institute and did my job.”

Jim’s nutrition and daily tennis is what he uses to maintain his energy.


“Energy for me was the most important thing and all of these rituals help me to mobilize it to make sure it’s directed in the right direction.”


7:41 Jim’s Childhood

As a kid, Jim loved adventure and pushing the envelope. He has always had a passion for the wilderness and outdoors – calling himself a “reborn frontiersman.”

8:27 Jim’s Discovery of Sport Psychology

Jim received his doctorate to work in the mental health field but was introduced to elite performance through a track and field coach while he was working as a Chief Psychologist for an elite training facility. After conversations with the track and field coach, Jim resigned and decided to pursue sports psychology which was not a recognized job title at the time.


After opening up a private practice, Jim says:

“Very quickly I realized that I didn’t know anything, I literally didn’t know anything.”

Jim then went to the Jimmy Connors Tennis Center for two years and then the Nick Bolletierri Tennis Academy for six years, where he says:

“It was by far the most prolific period of player development I’ve had in my entire life.”


12:42 Lessons of a Fast Learning Environment

Jim had access to fantastic players every day for six years, and he began to understand the human system when it comes to elite performance.

“I began to get a sense of how the human system was designed, how it performs well under pressure, what are the pitfalls, and it was a massive learning curve for me.”

Following his time at Nick Bolletierri Tennis Academy, Jim then went on to start his own business with Dr. Jack Groppel called the Human Performance Institute.

“I try to have one foot in the practical world and one foot in the scientific world and I think that that has really helped me to stay practical, relevant, but to really make sure that I’m anchoring in good science.”


14:51 Pioneer Mentality

Jim still looks back at his resignation from his job as Chief Psychologist with surprise in himself for taking the leap to pursue sports psychology.

“I began to realize that the most important resource you have as a human being in terms of getting something done is your energy and recruiting the energy of others and surrounding yourself with really extraordinary people.”

Jim says that he is most proud of the amazing talent base that he assembled for the faculty of the Human Performance Institute.

“Everyone benefits when everyone performs at a higher level and does it in a way that’s sustainable.”


17:09 Feeling the Magic Within the Team

Jim says that people from his faculty when creating and working for the Human Performance Institute refer to it as their ‘camelot’.

“When we were there everyone felt that this is probably the pinnacle of anything they could ever come to be involved in because they could see the changes that we were making in people’s lives.”


18:44 A Winston Churchill Quote Jim Loves

Both Sean and Jim talk about the great Winston Churchill quote,

“History will be kind to me, because I intend to write it”

Jim says that he loves the quote because one of the main elements of human performance is the story.

“More important than what happens to you is the story you tell about what happens to you.”


19:45 The Importance of Story

With over 400,000 people that went through the Institute when Jim was there, the main element is for them to write their ‘old story’ that is holding them back. The optimal number of times that the Institute found for people to rewrite their story is 6 times.


“Writing it frequently, reading it, it’s a form of indoctrination.”

Jim read every single story that went through the Institute and he began to understand that purpose is the centerpiece of our lives. This is where Jim got the inspiration for his book, The Power of Story.


“We want to demonstrate to them that they can change their lives, they can change them significantly and the way you start that is you get the right purpose and that purpose goes to the centerpiece of this new story.”


25:30 Self Esteem Hindering Elite Performers

Jim says it’s the full spectrum that blocks elite performers from being able to perform their best, but typically it comes down to self esteem and what the athlete believes they are capable of.

“What if the person you were, met the person you could have been at the end of your life?”


30:30 Balancing Confidence and Arrogance

Even after great success, Jim still has a nagging feeling that he can do more.

“You have to find an area that you’re willing to take risks and a pathway that ignites your passion.”

Jim always wants to help people find what is going to open up that excitement and feeling of adventure for them.

“It’s a balance between confidence and arrogance and the modulator there is humility.”

Jim believes that humility is the most important quality for people to have.

“You have to have enough humility but you can’t be dealing with too much insecurity, so insecurity has to be balance with confidence and confidence has to be balanced with humility.”


34:22 Next Steps After An Epiphany

When talking what happens after Jim has an epiphany, Jim bluntly tells Sean:

“Sometimes I have these epiphanies and they turn out to be complete train wrecks.”


35:55 Facing Hard Truths

Jim explains how self reflection opens up a risk. When Jim is self reflecting he looks at his performance skills and his moral and ethical skills.

“Our self esteem is so closely allied with our character.”

He explains how he didn’t learn this in his education but throughout observing data.

“Awareness is the window to which we all have to go to make changes.”


40:56 Jim’s Process with Elite Performers

Awareness is part of the process that Jim and the Human Performance Institute work with their athletes on. The first step in the process with the athlete is determining what’s reality,

“There’s the real world and then there’s the one you’ve created and I can’t work with anyone unless we go to what’s real.”

The next step is talking with the athlete about how they hope to look back on their life. Jim says that during this exercise no athlete or performer says that they got first place in something or got the CEO job, the answers all come down to how others will remember how they treated them.

“The most important element in one’s self esteem is your treatment of others.”

It’s a backwards process, after they have looked at the end of their life then Jim brings the focus to the present.

“How can you use your achievement skills in high performance to actually build that pathway?”


46:22 Structures Jim Recommends

Jim recommends a similar process for people that might not be at the elite performing level. Outline who you are now and who you want to be and confront if you’re currently on the path to what you want to be remembered for.

“You start with purpose.”


49:37 Mindsets We Can’t Train

Jim explains that early abuse in someone’s life can be very difficult to mentally recover from throughout an entire lifetime.

“If you have a lot of that scar tissue from your early years, you have to work harder.”

Similar to a damaged muscle, you have to recover and slowly bring back in stress to that area in order to grow.

“If you don’t go in and stress it you’re never going to grow, and recovery is when you grow, so you have to have this balance of stress and recovery.”


53:24 The Importance of Energy

Jim says that the biggest insight he has had is realizing that our most important resource is energy.

“We’re not going to be judged by how long we live, in terms of the value of our life, it’s going to be whatever time we had, the energy we brought to that time aligned with what we really thought was important, what our values were.”

Aligning our values with energy will bring us a sense of fulfillment. Renewing our energy is important to continue the sense of connection to what is important to us and ensuring that we don’t burnout.

“You want to be a big spender you have to have great recovery mechanisms in your life.”


59:51 The Value of Recovery Time

When working with the top tennis players in the world, Jim studied what players were doing between points and how their recovery within the short amount of time impacted their performance.

“They were strategic in how they used the 25 seconds for brilliant recovery.”

When meeting with a Spanish Bullfighter, Jim learned the importance of posture and body language when it comes to maintaining confidence and calmness in performance situations that may cause the heart rate to spike from anger, such as a bad line call from the referee.

“I spent hours teaching players how to walk, how to develop this matador look on the court, how to carry their rackets, how to walk down the courts relaxed but showing great belief in themselves.”


1:04:43 Body Language

Jim explains how changing your body language to appear more confident does not only apply to elite athletes in competition – this is something we can all apply to our own lives.

“We have opportunities to practice everyday.”


1:06:05 Jim’s Most Important Insight

Jim says that one of the greatest insights he has learned throughout his career has been that most people are unaware that their energy is what makes everything happen.

“Every moment of consciousness you’re giving life to something and it could be something that you really want to grow but often it’s exactly the opposite.”

Jim worked with his athletes on understanding their inner voice that no one else hears.

“You have to be much more conscious that whatever you’re giving your energy to, you are giving life to.”


1:09:10 Jim’s Reflection


When reflecting, Jim says that he has gotten on the wrong path throughout his career that wastes his time and energy but that it has taught him humility.

“When I look back on my life I wish I had been more aligned with these understandings. I would give anything to have these insights much earlier in my career.”

Jim also wishes he had given more energy and been more engaged, which he believes is the greatest gift we can give.

“The more I understood it the more I realized that is how you create an extraordinary impact in a person’s life, is that every moment you are with them it’s not the amount of time you have with them but what kind of energy did you create in the time you were there.”


1:12:10 Who Jim Would Choose to Have Dinner With

Jim says that the book Man Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl, has impacted him drastically and that is who he would choose to spend an evening with.


Jim’s Resources

Book – Leading with Character


Originally Published in CEOWorld Magazine, October 14, 2020


I’ve spent the last 40 years of my career coaching – and studying – some of the most successful people in the world. I’ve trained 17 #1 athletes in their respective sport, numerous CEOs, NAVY seals and hostage rescue teams, and more than 400,000 leaders through the company I built and sold. I’ve worked with people who have failed, who have succeeded. More importantly, I’ve seen them struggle on the way to success, and helped them make a few life altering changes that transformed their lives.

Over the years, I’ve been asked one question more often than I can count on my work with these elite performers. And that is, “What’s their secret to success?”


I’ve always loved that question, or a version of it. Studying what makes an elite performer – whether in sport or in business – has been most of my life’s work. I’ve published 17 books and contributed to many original pieces of research related to performance psychology. But what each athlete and each CEO was looking for from me, wasn’t “how do I succeed?” but rather “how do I succeed for the long term?” If you think about it, no athlete’s ultimate goal is to just win a match – it’s to win the title. No CEO’s goal is to have one profitable year, it’s to succeed in that role for years to come and make an impact. That nuance – from thinking about success to sustainable success is a big part of what takes people from good to great, and is often how I challenge those who ask me the question to think about it, too.


So, what makes a top performer?

What makes a successful leader? What does it take to win? And above all, how do you sustain that performance? After 40 years, I’ve learned it is one thing: character. Discovering the importance of character in leadership and top performance was… an accident.


Ideal Performance State™: what allows a person to perform at the highest level they are capable of, under stress. Character proved itself to be the nucleus of it all.

What does that ideal state look like? How do you get there? How do you sustain it? But over the years, over countless encounters with some of the most talented people in the world, and over countless clinical studies on achieving and sustaining high performance, character proved itself to be the nucleus of it all.


Have you ever wondered why some of the wealthiest people in the world can seem unhappy? Or how many of them turn to philanthropy for their second acts? The reason for that is that first and foremost, we are social beings, and we are wired to connect with others. When we lose sight of that – when we think achievement equals more success, more money, more fame – and we keep trying to fill the void with more work thinking it will bring happiness and fulfillment, we find ourselves spiraling with no end in sight (other than burnout). Connecting with others is what makes a meaningful life, regardless of achievement.


Redefining Success

Before I go further, let me address the elephant on the page, which is that people with poor character succeed all the time. That is (in a sense) correct. You can take shortcuts. You can cheat your way to the top. You can fudge a little here or there, and not get caught. This happens all the time. But poor character reveals itself over time, and more often than not will lead to something catastrophic. That is because no one has poor character traits “some of the time” or “at work but not at home.” They are there – and with repeated use, they become the new normal, until one day it affects them in irreversible ways.


I like to challenge the very definition of success. Is it financial gain or a promotion? Fame or recognition? I argue that success isn’t exclusively about what you achieve, but also how you achieve it. You can make a $15M profit for your company (what you achieve) by scamming your way there (how you achieve it). Some people would indeed define that as successful, even with cheating and unethical practices. I wouldn’t. I’m not even really sure they would, when they are thinking about their life in their last moments on this earth.


Many of you know about the speed-skater Dan Jansen who because of his repeated failures was destined to become one of the greatest chokers in sports history only to later win the gold medal and break an Olympic record. (In the same event, he came in 26th two years earlier.) Dan and I worked hard on several things together. One of the biggest was his definition of success. It’s not uncommon for incredibly ambitious people to tie their worth and identity to a specific accomplishment – a promotion, or a win. But ahead of the gold medal around his neck, he explored what success really meant. To separate success in achievement and success in life, Dan found peace. And it became much more about the journey, what he learned, who he interacted with, and how he acted that transformed everything. This was character training in practice. “There’s more to life than skating around in circles,” his father once told him. I still think that is the perfect analogy. His legacy will be so much more than his historic win.


The Role of Legacy

Legacy can sound self-absorbed. But legacy isn’t only about what people will think of you when you’re gone. Your legacy is the sum total of the impact your life made on others. Have you ever recalled someone from your past in terms of what they achieved? (“She was so wealthy.”) Or who they were as people? (“She so warm and easy to talk to.”) Certainly, wealth and fame will be remembered, but they will be secondary. Secondary to how you made people feel. How you showed up (or didn’t) when you needed to. How you behaved when the going got tough, and how you treated people especially then. So, we think of legacy in terms of the impact you want to leave for others when you’re gone. How you affected and enriched their lives. The way in which you connect to others – with honesty, integrity, empathy, humility. Those traits are in fact character traits. They are the how.


I worked with a particular highly-recognizable CEO in business for a few years, to try and understand where the misalignment in his life was that was leading to his lack of personal fulfillment. He led a global company, and a strong corporate culture was very important to him. He traveled almost constantly to rally his workforce and make them feel heard, to visit with them and meet with them, and be more than just a figure sitting out in Headquarters. It was easy to see how much energy he was putting into his role as a team leader, and it was certainly appreciated by his many staff around the world. When we dove deep, talking about his legacy, I asked him what he would want to hear, should he have the impossible opportunity to listen in on speeches given at his funeral. He didn’t miss a beat when he told me he just wanted his family to remember him as loving, caring, nurturing, supportive… present. There was no mention of what his colleagues would say about his corporate success. The shift was immediate. Once he started to think about his purpose and his subsequent legacy in these terms, it was clear that his family was the most important thing to him. He resigned soon thereafter, and to this day continues to believe that was the right decision for him.


Character Today

Character has always been important, but it is more important in leadership today than it has perhaps ever been. Leaders are facing gut-wrenching choices and unprecedented pressure from boards and consumers alike. Shareholders can be short-term focused, and competition in the marketplace is as fierce as ever. Over the last few years, many media outlets have been covering the increase in CEO dismissals for ethical lapses, the increase in CEO turnover, and the rise in leadership failure within the first year and a half of a CEO assuming their new role.

Character is being challenged left and right, and it is often under the most difficult conditions that character strength and weakness come to light. Anyone can make a decision when the consequences are few, but it takes a special kind of strength to do the right thing the right way when all eyes are on you and the pressure’s on. That strength is character strength.

Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss, candidly and publicly talks about the importance of character very often, believing (and proving) that he and his company would deliver great results not just because of what they did, but because of how they did it: not being afraid to speak up on tough issues or voice unpopular opinions, making the hard decision instead of the easy decision, and taking a bigger role in leaving the world a little bit better than they found it. That will, more than his financial success, be his legacy.


Character is the foundation of exceptional leadership and extraordinary sustained success. Leading with Character, the name of my new book and its accompanying journal, explores this notion in depth. It establishes the true meaning of legacy, connecting it to ethical and moral character. Using concrete habit-forming tools, it will help leaders in identifying the flaws in their ethical/moral operating systems and motivate them to both confront their weaknesses and then take decisive action to address them. It will also help leaders recognize the critical role character health plays in sustained individual and corporate performance.

After 40 years and 16 books published, this is by far the work I am most proud of. I believe Leading with Character will have the greatest impact on the current and next generation of leaders, and my hope is that it helps reset how we define success as a society.


Get the book and journal combo pack: Leading With Character

Also available in Audiobook - Leading With Character Audiobook

Updated: Jan 4

Transformational Leadership with Henna Inam - A Podcast Episode with Dr. Jim Loehr


How will you navigate uncertainty and challenges during this time? How do you balance stakeholders, shareholders, and customers?


If we do it right, this time will be a turning point, shaping our lives for the better.

Listen to the podcast where Henna Inam and Jim Loehr discuss the often-overlooked dimension of health is the way we treat other people.


The skillset that enables us to be trustworthy, honest, caring, grateful, humble, and respectful is vehicle that ultimately generates our long-lasting satisfaction.


We may think the secret is greater achievement, but the real driver of success is character.


© 2020, Jim Loehr, EdD.
contact@jim-loehr.com