Being a Closer isn’t Good Enough: Lessons from Tim Grover’s Relentless

relentless tim grover michael jordan

Tim Grover is the former personal trainer of Michael Jordan. People used to call Michael Jordan one of the best closers in the game of basketball. But Grover very soon discovered that Michael Jordan was playing basketball at a level that was way above all other closers, so he knew that there was another level that is above the closer. He called Jordan the cleaner and he, himself, has also become a cleaner as a trainer. In his book, Relentless, he described what a cleaner is and what a cleaner should look like. Here are some lessons for the book that are especially impactful to me.

Transform Yourself from Cooler into Closer, into Cleaner

In his book, Grover explained that there are three types of people that can help move things forward. We are talking about three general groups of productive people here. To play the most important role in a team that can achieve the greatest success, you will have to become a cleaner. Grover did explain in details the difference between the three categories, but I will just use some very simple words to explain them assuming we are talking about a very typical company.

Cooler: Someone that can accomplish a task the way he or she was ordered to do. E.g. a good clerk in a company

Closer: Someone who not only can accomplish a task he is ordered to do, he can also lead people to finish tasks and can be somewhat creative in solving problems. However, he or she is not able to make good and big decisions under high pressure and in uncertain situations. E.g. a good team leader or manager in a company

Cleaner: Someone who can make good and big decisions under extremely high pressure, regardless of whether he or she is familiar with the situation. E.g. a great CEO in a company

A Good Company Need All Three Types of People: Cooler, Closer & Cleaner

There is nothing wrong with being a cooler or a closer. Indeed, we need all three types of people in a single company in order to win big. But if achieving success at the highest level is your goal, you need to become a cleaner. I will spend the rest of this writing covering traits of character that you need to have or develop in order to eventually become a cleaner.

A Cleaner Masters One Single Craft

If you are familiar with Michael Jordan’s story, he actually did temporarily retired from basketball when he was playing at a peak level and he started playing professional baseball. However, he wasn’t that successful as a baseball player and eventually came back to basketball and won three more NBA championships. From this true story, we can see that even someone who was so gifted can only master one craft. You can argue that it is possible master one craft after another but very likely not at the same time. In order to become a cleaner, you need to find and know what is that single craft for you to master. Then master it.

Work Hard and Consistently and Your Craft Will Become Your Second Nature

It’s probably the easiest to explain what it looks like to have your craft become your second nature by showing you a story about Michael Jordan. He had worked so hard and so consistently over a long period of time that shooting the basketball became his second nature. In one of the famous game he played in, when the game was on the line with seconds left, there was no way that he could do a logical step-by-step thinking on how to take a shot to win the game. He just let his instinct trust him and his body and his mind work as one. The shot went in and the rest is history. A cleaner is at that level of mastery.

A Cleaner Knows How to Get in the Zone

When you are in the zone, or in the flow state, you feel that you are making moves effortless and almost flawlessly. In a basketball game, you are in the zone when you are so focused and you don’t even see the crowd. All you see is the basketball hoop and you can make shoots effortless. For a writer, an in-the-zone experience happens when your pen seems to move automatically to produce beautiful writings. A cleaner knows how to get himself or herself in the zone. I am not sure whether it is in his book or in one of his related interviews, Grover said that listening to songs that you used to listen when you were young may help you get in the zone. He explained that we were all born with a great instinct but it is gradually being lost as we grew up.

Rather be Feared than be Liked

This idea is something that you would want to chew on if you are running a business or leading a team. I guess that it is human nature that we all want to be liked. If you have to run a team, do you just take it easy on your teammate when he or she makes a huge mistake, just so that you can be liked by the team? Do you really believe that this way of running your team will produce the best result? If you can let your team like you while still lead them to perform at a high level, that’s great. But if you are not good enough to do both, choose to be feared.

Use Your Dark Side as Your Fuel

In his book, Grover mentioned that all the top players he worked with has a dark side. The dark side is something that may not be politically correct but it can give the cleaner an extra push to achieve success at the highest level. Examples of the dark side are greed, the desire to make your opponent feel bad, etc. Everyone has a dark side, but only the cleaners use it as fuel to move them towards success.

Failure is an Opportunity to Improve

This idea, although nothing new, is one hundred percent real. Think about it, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Look how high he has eventually reached.

Thrive on Pressure

To be a cleaner, you must be able to bit only perform well in a low-pressure situation. You must perform well, or even thrive, when the pressure is overwhelming. Just keep your poise and let your instinct trusts you as Grover put it.

So, what are you now? A cooler, a closer or a cleaner?