The Winning Factor

Inspire Gold-Medal Performance in Your Employees

The Winning Factor

Author: Peter Jensen
Pub Date: May 2012
Print Edition: $24.95
Print ISBN: 9780814431757
Page Count: 240
Format: Hardback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814431764

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How did Helen Keller become such an iconic figure in our

cultural consciousness? How did Nelson Mandela emerge from

a lengthy imprisonment without bitterness, anger, and resent-

ment? How did Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn grow up a free thinker

in an oppressive culture? There is clearly some factor in the

development of certain human beings that transcends culture,

upbringing, and genetics. Sometimes the influence of another

person or persons plays a vital role. Helen Keller, for example,

was fortunate to have as her teacher Annie Sullivan, whose part

in her development was immense. And Nelson Mandela, in his

book Long Walk to Freedom, speaks of many people, including

writers and historical figures from the past, who strongly influenced

who he became.

But there was another factor at work in each of these remarkable

individuals—and others whose development has

been shaped by more than just genetics and environment. This

crucial “Third Factor” is the role individuals choose to play in

their own development.

We will soon see that this concept of the Third Factor has

broad application in any arena where pressure and the need for

excellence are equally present. For many this is the work world;

for others it is athletics, academics, or artistic endeavors.

Dr. Kazimierz Dabrowski, a distinguished psychiatrist and

my mentor in the 1970s, studied the lives of numerous exceptional

human beings and discovered that this Third Factor

played a major role in the moral and emotional growth of such


In my case, working with Olympic athletes and coaches has

led to an understanding of the profound power of the Third Factor.

Olympic sport provides the ideal “performance laboratory”

where the role of the Third Factor can be closely observed. In

the world of international athletics, the truly great coaches have

a strong developmental bias that is directed at the Third Factor in

the performer. Coaches with a strong developmental bias are al-

ways concerned with encouraging their performers to engage

their Third Factor, to get passionate about developing themselves.

Through my twenty-five years of involvement with the Olympic

movement, I have seen firsthand the remarkable outcomes this

produces—both at the Games and afterward in life.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton, former players of legendary

basketball coach John Wooden, wax eloquent about him.

But it’s not about the basketball skills he taught them. It’s about

the role Coach Wooden played in their development as human

beings, encouraging them to be the best they could be and to

take an active role in their own growth and development. John

Wooden is not unique in this regard. I have worked with many

coaches over the years and witnessed their developmental bias

and their skill at igniting the Third Factor in their performers. Doug

Leigh, one of the world’s top figure skating coaches, put it suc-

cinctly once when we were discussing a world-class skater late in

his career. “In the end,” he said, “all you have left is the person.”

The Third Factor

The concept of the Third Factor, critical in developing performers,

originated with Kazimierz Dabrowski, under whom I studied

in 1977 and 1978. I want to make it clear that I am borrowing the

concept—which he considered important in the development of

moral and emotional growth—and employing it in a much more

simplistic manner than he did. I use the term as a way of talking

about self-direction and the development of self-awareness and

self-responsibility in the people we coach and manage.

Dabrowski believed that developmental potential has three


1. Nature. These factors establish the physical and mental

“road map” of the individual. They include genetic as well as

other factors such as a mother’s alcohol consumption during


2. Nurture. These are the social and physical (environmental)

factors that contribute to the shaping of the individual, such

as parents, friends, school, financial status, culture, and national-

ity. “Nurture” modifies your “nature.” A good upbringing is ob-

viously an asset, but as we will see, a less-than-ideal upbringing

need not limit where you end up. The term ideal is also in need

of some definition in that a conflict- and adversity-free upbringing

sometimes can be limiting in terms of personal growth and


3. The Third Factor. This is the factor of choice. No matter

what the genetic and environmental endowments bestowed

on individuals, they have the potential to transcend these

endowments through the action and power of the Third Factor.

The individual can make a conscious choice to change and to

become a higher-level individual. Simply put, the Third Factor

is the important role that an individual plays in his or her own


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