The Winning Factor
Inspire Gold-Medal Performance in Your Employees
Author: Peter Jensen
Pub Date: May 2012
Print Edition: $24.95
Print ISBN: 9780814431757
Page Count: 240
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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