Top of My Game

Leaders in business, sports, media and the arts share what it takes to achieve peak performance

Written by Interviews by Kara Kuryllowicz

It pays to be the best entrepreneur you can be. That’s why PROFIT asked some of Canada’s brightest lights in business, sports, media and the arts to share the techniques and resources they use to achieve peak performance. Borrow their best practices, and you’ll be a more effective leader in no time.

Picture success

Roy Halladay

All-star pitcher
Toronto Blue Jays

“Baseball is 90% mental. To go from being a regular player to a lot better player in this game, you have to have a mental advantage.

“[Early in my career] I struggled a lot, confidence-wise. I’ve learned over time that confidence is something you can create yourself. Knowing that I’ve prepared myself better than whomever I’ll be competing against helps me build confidence.

“Success also comes down to simplifying things. I need to focus on that one pitch and not be thinking about the guys on base, what the score is, that we’re down by this or up by that. You make the one pitch, you evaluate if it was a good pitch or not, then you have to respond properly. It takes a while to learn to do that consistently.

“If you tell yourself you don’t want to think about something or do something, it’s the first thing you’re going to think about or do. Your mind doesn’t hear the ‘Don’t.’ Instead of saying, ‘Don’t think negative thoughts’, you have to think positively. Because I have a hard time sitting down and actually going through things in my head, I have a 15-minute videotape of good pitches I’ve made. I play it before I go to sleep the night before I pitch and at least once every five days. This gives me a reference point. It helps me develop those mental images.

“There’s one concentration exercise that works for me. It’s a 10-by-10 grid, and each box contains a number through to 100. [Starting from 1], you have to find the numbers consecutively and cross them out. I time myself to see how quickly I’m doing it. To make it harder, I’ll play music — the lyrics distract me. I do it once or twice a week plus the night before I pitch, and the day I pitch. When I first started, it used to take me longer; I’d forget what number I was on because a thought would pop into my head. It has helped me learn to concentrate on one thing at a time, which helps me during the game.”

Find the silver lining

Leonard Asper

President & CEO
CanWest Global Communications Corp.

“The most important things you can bring to any job are an infinite amount of drive and passion, and a sick — even obscene — work ethic. I work out like a madman. I do six sets of push-ups three times a week. You can do them anywhere. On a recent 16-hour flight to Australia, I did them up against the bathroom wall. Feeling fit makes me feel invincible.

“I also listen to loud, ear-splitting heavy metal music like Metallica or Linkin Park on the drive to work. It gets me so pumped up that I want to kill someone — in a positive, figurative way. Also, knowledge is power, so I read like a madman. The more you know, the more effective you are.

“I have an unbridled sense of optimism and I find the silver lining in every cloud. If you don’t, there are plenty of self-help books to help you see the glass as half-full instead of half-empty. Years ago, my dad [the late Izzy Asper] was in a sales meeting listening to people complain about how U.S. firms were buying up Canadian companies, meaning more ad-buying decisions were going to be made south of the border. My dad said he happened to know that American firms spent a higher percentage of their revenue on marketing and advertising, which made this trend a good thing. His response was a product of his attitude, as well as knowledge gained from reading.

“I’ve learned I can’t work all the time. I have to have fun, go out and blow off steam. I like going out to a pub with friends and telling stupid stories. You can’t be a constant partier and still be in the game, but you can’t feel like you’re missing all the fun.”

Stay in touch with technology

Donald Ziraldo

Inniskillin Wines Inc.
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

“My BlackBerry is indispensable. With it, I can work anywhere. It alerts me to who is calling, so I can take any critical calls I’m expecting. I used to go into meetings and return to numerous pink phone message slips. Then I had to find a phone and I’d be sweating because it would always put me behind schedule.

“I’m one of those people who loves to multi-task. I can be working out on a machine, a bicycle, and still be actually working, thanks to my BlackBerry. I don’t find it distracting.

“I also read incessantly. I read all the newspapers. I love PROFIT because I’m more of an entrepreneur.

“Networking is another way I stay plugged in and get so much done. At a conference or a reception, I can quickly pick out the people I want to speak to and get it done and move on. I also attend events like ideaCity [an annual Toronto conference dubbed a “Mecca for lateral thinking”], which is brilliantly stimulating.

“There is a lot of noise out there in the world today. Technology dumps a ton of info in front of you, so you have to surround yourself with good people. I have an amazing staff. If I get a request, the information I need is with that request by the time it comes to me.”

Find breathing room

Heather Ogden

Principal dancer
National Ballet of Canada

“I exercise for a living. So I have to take really good care of my body and give it enough fuel to get me through a full day of dance, which starts at 10 a.m. and goes until 6:30 p.m., with an hour for lunch. I start the day with a really good breakfast. I’m also careful about getting regular physio and massage. I try to cross-train a couple of times a week, which includes riding a bike, Pilates and yoga.

“To keep myself balanced, I need to get out of the ballet studio. I’m so passionate about my career and my dancing that it’s good to get some perspective. I try to hang out with my family and people outside the company. I make sure that I get some breathing space. I have at least one day a week that I let my body rest.

“I have great coaches at the company, but I still watch tapes of myself, particularly after I do a role for the first time. Some people hate watching themselves, but I’d rather watch and deal with it and improve on it.”

Revel in information

Bonnie Fuller

Editorial director
American Media Inc.
New York

“I think it’s hard to perform at 100% for 100% of the time, but what you want to do is be at that level as much as you can. I do a few things to accomplish that. First, I work out almost every day — a mix of cardio and weights and abs. A workout first thing in the morning really jump-starts the day. I feel physically rejuvenated, even if I haven’t had enough sleep.

“I keep informed, which is especially important in my business. If I’m not informed, if I miss a couple of days, I feel completely disconnected. While I’m commuting, I read the local newspapers. I’m based in New York, so I read The New York Times, New York Post and The New York Daily News. They all cover celebrity news, so I check to see if I’ve missed anything overnight.

“When I get into the office, I check our own Star magazine website and other celebrity news websites. Most days start with a news meeting at Star, so I’m already aware of what our team has learned overnight.”

Stay in the trenches

Harry Rosen

Executive chairman
Harry Rosen Inc.

“The retail clothing business is different from many other businesses in that you can get a sense of the pace of business and alter course almost on a daily basis simply by visiting the stores.

“Our main store is right across the street from my office, so I go over there several times a day to get a sense of the pulse of things. I talk to customers to see what is impacting them and what their attitudes are.

“These conversations are always a catalyst in my thinking; they generally bring back some information that leads me to conclude that we might alter course slightly or are deficient in a particular area or that our training doesn’t fully encompass a situation that’s taking place.

“I do think that we enjoy a particular advantage because I’m in the trenches day-to-day. It’s likely not the best spot for strategic planning, but I’m more aware of the issues than if I read about them or by mixing with others in trade associations.”


Colm Feore

Award-winning stage and screen actor
Stratford, Ont.

“Unless I prepare in an exceptional way, I don’t have a ghost of a chance of being exceptional. I come to every show with the understanding that it is my privilege to share some of the greatest dramatic literature with an audience that may not be familiar with it, so they need me to be at 150%.

“I’m always looking for what I can do to make myself more ready, more fit, more physically and intellectually agile. I recently did a movie that was improvised and shot with three cameras. It was the very antithesis of Shakespeare. I was challenging myself to improvise in the belief that at some point that would cross-pollinate into the Shakespeare.

“I read all of the research material I can get my hands on. I entertain discussions with people I trust about what would be the best way to pursue a role. I’m open to suggestions. I don’t have a rigid method; rather, I change the methodology and plan with each project.

“I’m always looking to learn something and seeking out help. Today, for example, I have a performance at 2 p.m. and a rehearsal for another play tonight, but this morning I was part of a class and workshop on Hamlet. I’ve already decided to use half the stuff I learned this morning in rehearsal tonight and the rest tomorrow.”

Results through rapport

Gen. Rick Hillier

Chief of the Defence Staff
Department of National Defence

“Being in the military, things like focus, continuing education and learning lessons after action reviews are important. Remaining physically fit is key, whether you’re a junior or Chief of the Defence Staff.

“You have to have a direct rapport and communication with the people you represent and who work for you. I have 84,000 men and women reporting to me, and I need to communicate directly with them. We’re talking fundamental change right now and taking people out of their comfort zones.

I need to build their confidence in me. As the Chief of the Defence Staff, I need a vision and I need to be able to articulate it in practical terms that will resonate with them. We get public-speaking training, how to present a lecture or treat a subject. We learn from past experiences. When I was in Afghanistan, we had people from the BBC come in to help us create the right perceptions, because perception is reality. I have several trusted advisors who don’t give me feedback per se, but will say, ‘Here’s how that one was received’.”

Find value in variety

Michael MacMillan

Executive chairman
Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc.

“I get up between 6 and 6:30 a.m. and I usually go for a run. I run the New York Marathon every fall. It means that between March and November, I’m doing a lot of running. I feel ready to attack the day. My brain is clearer and I’m more energetic.

“After I exercise, I read the papers. It’s a wonderful time for me every morning. I get The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post and The Wall Street Journal delivered to the house. I whip through all of the sections, including business. I like to know what’s going on in the world. It usually takes me 30 to 45 minutes.

“I make dinner virtually every night that we’re home, which is most nights. It’s part of the decompression process or the bookend to my day. It channels my energy and it’s fun. It helps me wind down. You can’t be in a frenzy all the time. It’s important to relax, to pause.

“I also try to read and listen to speakers on a variety of topics — such as science, art, politics, sports — that have nothing to do with my work. It really stretches the mind and forces you to make connections. It gives you perspective and a larger context. I recently listened to a marvellous speech by Flora MacDonald [former federal minister of External Affairs] about political engagement by citizens, specifically the role of women in politics in places like Mongolia and Afghanistan. It was an inspirational speech. I haven’t done anything because of it yet, but that type of speech gives you wonderful encouragement to do things.”

Free your brain

John Sleeman

Chairman & CEO
Sleeman Breweries Ltd.
Guelph, Ont.

“I spend a fair amount of time every day getting caught up on the information that comes in around the beer business and my competitors. It’s supplied by a media service. Reading those things might take half an hour daily, which adds up over the week. I have a good group of senior managers and I meet with them to get their perspective. I take their advice instead of assuming that I know better.

“One of the good things about living in Oakville [Ont.] and working in Guelph is that I have a one-hour drive each way to think about the business and resolve challenges at the beginning and end of each day. It’s a fairly easy drive and I’m alone in a quiet car. Work and life are pretty darn busy, so I need that reflective time to think. It allows me to think outside the box and discard the stupid ideas. The drive gives me free brain time.”

Steal great ideas

Richard Peddie

President & CEO
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd.

“I’m a great believer in continuous learning. I do it mostly through reading. I devote at least an hour a day to reading, although some days it’s more. I read Fortune, Forbes, Business Week and the dailies. But I go beyond the business section and read the whole paper. All of it is ripe with ideas. I also get a clipping service for basketball stories. I keep current on everything from sports marketing to player moves.

“I’m really trying to read different books to get more perspective. I joke that I’ve read all the leadership books. The last one was the The Wages of Wins: Taking Measure of the Many Myths in Modern Sport, which I’m getting my hockey and basketball general managers to read. Other books I’ve read include Winning, by Jack Welch; The World is Flat [by Thomas L. Friedman], which is very interesting. The Weather Makers [by Tim Flannery] is all about climate change. After reading it, I’m looking at how to make the Air Canada Centre greener and putting [that] into the strategic plan.

“I’m a lateral thinker-when I go out, wherever I go, I’m looking for ideas that I can apply to my business-entertainment, hospitality, security. I have real curiosity. For instance, at Starbucks, at the cream, sugar, stir-stick counter, they had brochures on how to get a job at Starbucks and what the company does in the community. We now have something similar at our condiment stands. I stole that idea from Starbucks. Jack Welch called best practices ‘legitimate plagiarism’. If you can’t come up with an idea yourself — steal it.”


Ian Hanomansing

CBC Television’s Canada Now,

“Even after more than 20 years in broadcasting, I still work on honing my skills. In high school, I practised reading the newspaper aloud in the basement, because I was hoping for a job in radio. When I was in Nova Scotia, I taped everything that I did.

“Today, I still regularly tape segments and watch them. I try to wait at least two weeks, but four weeks is even better because time alters your perception and gives you detachment.

“I’m surprised by how much I learn from it. I look at what I could do to be more effective in terms of the words that I used in a question or a line, a look, the gestures, the lighting. I’m still a work in progress. It’s about constant improvement on even the most rudimentary stuff.”

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com