The Magic is in the Execution, Not the Strategy

 In Business, Execution, Sports Speaker

A blog by Sébastien Sasseville, sports speaker, motivational speaker.

Anyone with a pen and paper can pitch a strategy. In sports as in business, it’s the execution that really counts. I was recently reminded of this, the hard way, during my seventh Ironman triathlon. The lessons learned are useful to pass on to our businesses, so here they are.

I consider my triathlon coach to be one of the best in the field. He had skilfully developed a shrewd strategy for my most important race of the year. The plan was detailed and personalized. It covered nutrition and the pace of the race. Everything was perfect.

But after 9 hours of racing, midway through the marathon, which had been preceded by 3.8 km of swimming and 180 km of biking, everything fell apart. In triathlete terms, I hit the wall!

Yet, I’d had the perfect day. So, what went wrong? The execution went wrong. Not the strategy. Insufficient hydration at the beginning of the race had heavy consequences, later on in the day.

Please note that I had every intention of following the plan. But once I was fully immersed in the action, I stopped regularly visualizing the plan and, without realizing it, I executed poorly, leading to disappointing results.

Every week I speak to executives, aiming to personalize my talks for each client, business or audience. During these conversations, a recurring observation comes up: the pace of change is accelerating. We’re so busy putting out fires that it sometimes feels like we don’t have time to do our work. Client expectations are increasing and so is competition. Let’s not even get into how technology is transforming many workplaces.

To make sure that we’re concentrating on execution and on actions that will generate results, here are a few pieces of advice that I’ve gathered over time, whether during my sports competitions or in my professional life:

  1. You need triggers and systems. Don’t presume that you’ll remember what to focus on and when. Intention and action come from different places! Put the triggers and reminders in place to make sure that you stay on track.
  2. Alignment: Before acting and spending your most precious asset, namely time, always ask yourself: “Is this action aligned with the final goal and does it support it?”
  3. Reassess often. Don’t presume that you’re on the right track. Be humble and question your actions. Changing directions is always easier when you do it early.
  4. This means saying no. Execution means learning to say no more often than saying yes. Recently, I was the keynote speaker for a Fortune 500 company meeting featuring their top 100 corporate leaders. The CEO’s main message was: “We need to learn to say no. We can’t be everything to everybody. I want fewer projects but more attention on and resources for the biggest opportunities. We must find the courage to say no to small opportunities in order to reach our goals.”
  5. Have a clear destination. The clearer the destination, the easier it is to identify the priorities and actions leading to it. It also becomes easier to say no.
  6. What do I need to do to win? A simple question. Do you spend most of your time on these actions and do you execute the right tasks at the right time?
  7. Don’t celebrate too soon. Execution requires 100% focus until the end. Keep analyzing the plan, questioning it and reassessing it, and be ready to adapt it, as the environment changes, right up until the end.
  8. Focus, but don’t obsess. I’ve been to the top of Mount Everest. There are two reasons why some people never return from this trip. Firstly, they refuse to reassess the plan and don’t manage to adapt to a changing environment. Secondly, they’re obsessed with reaching the top and forget the mission, the WHY. In my motivational talks, when I speak to a management team, the mission, our goal and the impact that we have on others are the main elements. Here’s an interesting fact: when the WHY is strong, you discover that you have an unlimited reserve of energy…

I sincerely hope this advice helps you.

Good luck,


Photo credit (above): Talbot Cox


Sébastien Sasseville helps leaders to lead with purpose, to lead change and organizations embrace change. He works with performing organizations that have reached base camp, but are looking to transform, so as to dictate rhythm, stay at the forefront and get to the top.
Sébastien’s story embodies resilience and transformation. Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 22 years of age, he reached the top of Mount Everest, ran across Canada, and completed the mythical Sahara Marathon as well as several Ironman triathlons.
From Mount Everest to the Sahara, Sébastien provides large organizations with the state of mind and the strategies to maintain optimal performance in rapidly changing environments. To know more about Sébastien’s message and his inspiring talks, visit


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