MOJO Rising

Talent Management

February 2, 2010

by Marshall Goldsmith

A few years ago, I attended a girls’ high school basketball game with my friend Mel and his family. Mel’s daughter Chrissy was her team’s starting point guard. It was the league championship, and we were all hoping for the best.

But in the first half, Chrissy and her teammates could do nothing right. As they headed toward the locker room at halftime, they were down by 17 points, their shoulders were stooped, and I could see teammates arguing with each other. The coach was swinging his clipboard like a traffic cop, hurrying the girls as if he were afraid things might get worse if they didn’t get off the court as quickly as possible. The game was so lopsided I was dreading the second half. I could see Mel thinking the same thing: Please, Lord, no more of this.

But we reminded ourselves that anything’s possible. Chrissy’s team could claw back and at least make the game interesting, and that’s precisely what happened.

Chrissy and her teammates opened the half with a couple of three-point shots and a steal that led to an easy layup. In the blink of an eye, a daunting lead of 17 points had been trimmed to a manageable nine points. And Chrissy’s team didn’t let up. They continued to chip away until they trailed by only three.

Mel turned to me and said, “We’re gonna win this game.” At that moment, I knew exactly what he meant. The evidence was on the court. The entire tone of the game had changed. Chrissy’s team was prowling the court with a renewed sense of urgency and a little more swagger.

Chrissy’s team did win the game. Who can say why? Perhaps they found a communal purpose in the embarrassment of being down by 17 points. Perhaps their coach gave them a new game plan.

Or maybe they won the game simply because of the boost of confidence that came with the good fortune of starting the second half with a string of small successes that produced eight unanswered points. Maybe all of these factors combined to lift the team’s spirit from negative to positive.

What I remember most vividly about that game was that moment when Mel turned to me and we both knew Chrissy’s team would do just fine. We all felt it, and our natural response was to stand up and cheer.

That moment is the condition I call “mojo.” It is the moment we do something that’s purposeful, powerful and positive and the rest of the world recognizes it. In my next few columns, I’ll discuss how we can create it in our lives, how we can maintain it and how we can recapture it when we need it again.

To some degree, we’re all familiar with mojo. If you’ve ever given a speech — and done it well — you know the feeling. I realize that public speaking is one of people’s greatest fears; many people would rather crawl through a snake-filled swamp than talk in front of a crowd. But if you’re a remotely successful adult, chances are you’ve had to speak in public at some point. It might be a sales pitch to a customer, an internal presentation where you defend your work to your bosses and peers or a toast at your daughter’s wedding. Whatever the occasion, if you did well, you’ve created the same feeling that spread across Chrissy’s high school gymnasium — you’re firing on all cylinders and everyone in the room senses it. That is the essence of mojo.

The word “mojo” originally referred to a folk belief in the supernatural powers of a voodoo charm, often in the form of a piece of cloth or a small pouch. That’s what Muddy Waters was referring to in his song “Got My MOJO Working.”

Over time, the word has evolved to describe a sense of positive spirit and direction, especially in the shifting tides of sports, business and politics. To others, mojo is a more elusive sense of personal advancement through the world.

My definition spins off from the great value I attach to finding happiness and meaning in life. It’s about achieving two goals: loving what you do and showing it. Next month I’ll let you in on the four vital ingredients needed for you to have great mojo.