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How Personal Constraints Set Your Limits

How Personal Constraints Set Your Limits

By Flip Flippen

10 years ago


leadership, Personal Constraint Theory,



How do personal constraints determine success? Simple. They set the limits for where you can ultimately go, no matter how gifted or talented you are. Your personal constraints—your conscious and unconscious limiting behaviors—hold you back and determine your ultimate level of success.

Most of us know at least one person in life who possesses great talents, abilities, gifts, or opportunities yet seems to have done so little with it all. Perhaps you might be looking at your own life so far and wondering, Have I really been living to the fullest of my abilities? If you’re like most people, the answer is, “Probably not.”

So what makes some people different? What makes some people rise to the top of their personal or professional spheres? I started looking at people who were categorized as “the best” in their fields. I asked myself: What makes them the best? I knew that it was more than their strengths that ultimately made the difference in how people performed.

That is when I came up with the concept of personal constraints. I knew even before all our testing was complete that somehow the answers to my questions lay more in limitations than strengths.

During this data-gathering process, I asked our staff, “Who is the number-one influence in sports?” Immediately one of them said, “Mark McCormack.”

Mark McCormack was indeed one of the greatest influences in contemporary sports in the last century. He shook hands with Arnold Palmer in 1960 in a deal that changed the endorsement world forever. Prior to that, virtually no one had ever heard of endorsement deals. From that historic moment Mark began building International Management Group (IMG), a global company that represents everyone from Tiger Woods to the pope to Nobel Prize winners.

And I was sitting in Mark McCormack’s study, talking to him about how to become better. I had to be either stupid. . .or onto something.

Mark thought I was stupid. But his wife didn’t. She was a well-respected tennis great, having won numerous professional tennis titles in a twenty-three-year career, and she was sitting next to him on the couch. Thank goodness for wives. Betsy said, “If this works, if you can really help someone identify the things holding them back—and then do something about them—you can sign me up right here. How do we do it?”

Mark, on the other hand, looked at her enthusiasm with more than a little skepticism and went off to do some work in his office. He was going to be a tough case, and I knew it. An hour later he rejoined us.

I asked him, “Mark, what would you say if I could show you the number-one personal constraint that is holding you back from performing at a much higher level than you are at now?”

He didn’t hesitate. “I don’t believe you could.”

Finally, after some discussion, he decided that he wanted to go through the process himself to explore the concept of personal constraints and how they could impact someone’s performance. I joined Mark and Betsy in the den to begin a life-changing growth process.

As we sat discussing Betsy’s career, she asked a great question. “If I couldn’t get better by practicing more, then what should I have done?” That question brought us to the Flippen Profile, the instrument I had developed and used successfully with so many people.

Betsy was a great tennis player, and she still plays as tough a game as you will ever see. At seventeen, she had been ranked as the world’s top junior player. She held five singles titles and twenty-five doubles titles in her amazing career.

When she asked what her personal constraints were, I was really on the spot. I don’t know anything about tennis, and I didn’t yet know she had played competitively, and I sure didn’t know that she had won as many tournaments as she had. Yet there was her question: “What are the personal constraints that are holding me back?”

I asked Betsy to fill out the Flippen Profile so we could go over the data and see what it identified as her most impacting personal constraints. As we looked over her scores, we turned to the coaching pages that isolated her top personal constraints. The most impacting personal constraints for Betsy were her high-nurturing scales and her low aggression. She did not have the killer instinct required to play at the level she was competing at. In other words her talent and skill had brought her this far, but her personal constraints would keep her out of the number-one spot. I am in awe of Betsy’s talent and drive. But, ironically, the same love and consideration for others that have made her a wonderful mother and friend turned out to be the constraint that kept her from going on the court and “destroying” the opponent.

When I showed her the data, she leaned back in her chair and sighed. Mark was sitting next to her, and he laughed.

“See? I have been telling you that for years! I was right, wasn’t I?”

That created a dilemma for Mark, as he was now seeing that this process was something that he could really agree with. There was another question that he had to answer as well—he had known her for years, and I had known her for less than an hour. How could I know what I know so quickly? But the truth was the truth. Betsy was too nurturing and not aggressive enough to be able to win at the level she wanted to play at. This was most apparent when she played against someone she really liked. Her pattern was invariably to lose the first set and then try to come back and win after she had placed herself behind. Creating a handicap is not a good way to play at the top.

“Betsy,” I said, “can you imagine what would happen if we could not only identify your top personal constraints but create a plan so you could start immediately to overcome them?”

Well, she could, and she did—and so did Mark.

What about you… are you a skeptic or do you want to know more about how we can help you and your team achieve better results? If so, click here to contact us about helping you and your team today.

Flip Flippen

Whether working with Olympic athletes, professional money managers, or military leaders, Flip Flippen’s mission is the same: “To build relationships and processes that bring out the best in people.” He has applied this goal with hundreds of thousands of individuals, providing executive development and organizational consulting in four sectors: education, corporate, sports, and government. With an emphasis on changing behaviors and attitudes that stand in the way of success, he has helped organizations – from small rural school districts to Fortune 500 companies – achieve dramatic improvement in performance, leadership, trust, and productivity. Flip is the founder and president of the Flippen Group, started in 1990, voted the number two company to work for in Texas by Texas Monthly magazine. Today, the Flippen Group is one of the largest educator training companies and one of the fastest-growing leadership development organizations in North America. Their breakthrough educational processes and curricula are in use at thousands of school districts and campuses nationwide.

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