Meet The Disruptors: Wylie McGraw Of Radical Performance Acceleration On The Five Things You Need to Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview with Fotis Georgiadis

Fotis Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

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It’s better to “embrace the suck” than to “suck it up.” Stepping towards the unknown and relishing discomforts is what “embracing the suck” entails. Loving what’s difficult and painful is how anyone surpasses their limitations. Whereas the idea that we should “suck it up” is akin to swallowing poison hoping it won’t kill us. It implies we don’t let it bother us, that we should hide it. That’s why so many people, not just leaders, suffer so much. It’s ultimately dangerous to your health, and others who regularly interact with you. Don’t fight the pain, embrace it.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Wylie McGraw.

Wylie McGraw is the founder of Radical Performance Acceleration, and for well over a decade now he’s been behind-the-scenes doing life-altering work with powerful CEOs, entrepreneurs, leaders, and public figures accelerating their performance, both personally and professionally. His work is the proverbial “Navy SEAL training” equivalent to high performance and leadership development — pushing even the elite beyond their limits, so they not only hit their peak but sustain it. He has been named a “secret weapon” by some of the most influential leaders across industries from Wall Street, Hollywood, professional sports, Fortune 500 companies, personal development, and everything in between.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Happy to participate. I grew up in Southern California — the oldest of 3 boys and born to a semi-professional baseball player. I was raised around legends like Rod Carew, Bo Jackson, Jim Abbott, and even Mickey Mantle. I became a sought-after pitcher with an arm worthy of the big leagues, and I was pushed to be my best year in and year out. Yet the pressure to be perfect started to limit, rather than uplift me, and it caused me to question if baseball was my future.

I wanted to experience something different, something more exciting. So, I became a bull rider. It introduced me to a version of myself I was ready to meet. Riding bulls was nothing like baseball. It was chaotic. In most sports, you prepare yourself for the game. You listen to music, a motivational speech, whatever. And that helps you get in the zone. But with bull-riding, you’re literally thrown into it. Your mind, emotions, and intuition run at you in full force. I found something here that pushed me beyond my limits, and, well, reawakened me. Being a competitive bull rider felt freer than anything else I had ever done. And strangely enough, the possibility of serious injury or death never dissuaded me.

Eventually I wanted more for myself than just winning competitions. I wanted to be a part of something meaningful, something bigger than myself. That’s when I joined the US Military and served as a Combat Infantryman with the 101st Airborne Division. I fought overseas, on 3 tours to Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Through these intense experiences I discovered a personal superpower that had me bringing out the best in my teammates during high-stress operations. War gave me an opportunity to be calm amid chaos. It served as a bridge to many personal discoveries, and it gave birth to my philosophies of performance that I realized are necessary for the success of those in positions of power and influence.

Leaving the military wasn’t easy. I struggled with whether I should stay in to continue fighting for my country or go out and fight for others in a different way. I decided I wanted to build something of my own, to place my newfound potential in the hands of more people.

So, I began focusing on mastering myself first, and then on the skills I felt would optimize my innate abilities more holistically. Formal education and training were invaluable in supplementing the “real-world” knowledge and skills I picked up throughout my life thus far.

Finally, I founded Radical Performance Acceleration — a specialized business focused on giving high-achieving leaders a customized experience that radically accelerates them beyond their limits into new levels of performance and success in record time. I’ve been effectively named a “secret weapon” by some of the most influential leaders from Wall St., Hollywood, professional sports, Fortune 500 companies, personal development industries, and everything in between.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Many performance-enhancement systems today revolve around coaching and advice giving, therapeutic approaches, and linear models that separate the personal from the professional. When you look at military special operations training, they aren’t based around these aspects. They take you out of your element, tear away any comfort and external control. My work is rooted in that philosophy. I provide a Navy SEAL-like experience that reshapes leaders holistically. Ultimately, it’s a metamorphosis. So much like the special operations community, I put my clients through real-world challenges out of their control. This makes them vulnerable. It rehashes and sews ripped seams in their attitude, their view of life, and their obstacles. It’s a holistic approach, testing and proving their emotional, physical, and cerebral limits. Oftentimes, their difficulties don’t lie in the problems themselves; they need to look elsewhere. I customize the framework to each leader, taking into consideration their current performance capacity, their responsibilities, and their personal and professional life. It’s intimate, it’s difficult, and it works. I give an elite edge to high-achieving individuals. We resolve their cycle of stress, sacrifice, and suffering commonly associated with reaching their levels of success. As a result, these leaders improve their decision-making skills, have clearer and stronger impacts on their familial, personal, and professional community.

“An optimized leader advances the world, an unresolved one distorts it.” — Wylie McGraw

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I walked into a high-end conference event full of industry titans and leaders dressed to the nines. They probably each wore 5–10 thousand dollars’ worth of threads and accessories. Not me, though. I wore a graphic tee that read, “I Can’t Adult Today” along with blue jeans and sneakers. All my suits and dress shirts were left in luggage at the front door of my home 8 hours away. What I thought was a mistake turned out to be an endearing move to the group. I was bombarded with smiles, laughs, and handshakes with everyone wanting to meet the man in the graphic tee. I was a bit worried, but I knew that it really isn’t the “clothes that make the man.” It’s just confidence and personality. I gained more business that day than I had expected. I think the accidentally humble contrast between my confidence and my casual threads made the payoff. It set me apart.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I’ve noticed most people answer the question, “who have been your best mentors?” by usually naming people — some being authors of books they read, or teachers from their schools, maybe their bosses, and or celebrities they’ve followed for years. But this has never been true for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had incredible people like pro athletes who coached me as a young star pitcher, and rodeo cowboys who pushed my mental limits when riding bulls, military leaders who taught me, quite literally, how to survive. But in all honesty, it was the overwhelming life experiences that served as my greatest mentors.

My first tour overseas comes to mind; I remember I was asked to be a part of a covert reconnaissance mission. We were sent in the cover of night and after 7 hours of humping it in by foot we found the location. I pulled security through camouflage, and it was mere hours later by the time the first sense of danger crept in. I was the one who caught the first glimpse of the 12 enemy targets that were moving into the area. Not long after that I was looking through the barrel of an enemy’s AK47. He had pointed it just making sure that the area was clear, unaware I was merely 2 feet away with my weapon pointed back at him.

The training I was put through by instructors was nothing compared to this experience that forced me to show up in unexpected ways. My decisions in that moment set the tone for the operation, and ultimately led to the prevention of an international incident. It made me into a stealthy, ghost of a soldier in control of my emotions with mental fortitude that would serve every other operation I would be involved in for years to come. My leadership skills were honed, and I found an ability to be calm amid chaos, no matter the encounter. No person, nor training could’ve given to me what the barrel of an enemy fighter’s AK-47 pointing at me provided.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

It’s simple. In today’s social and environmental landscape, being disruptive is only positive when it thwarts the perpetuation of waste, damage, and destruction. It needs to foster progress that affects the good of the environment, humanity, society, and the health of all involved. An obvious example are the companies assuming sustainable and socially conscious standards. These change the way we consume and live for future benefit. We see much of this, from eco-friendly products to responsible farming, to conservationism.

Disruption is negative when people, companies, or politics heavily focus on scaling, profits, and the consolidation of power; it overshadows the harmony of the masses with their environment. Amazon is a prime example disrupting the commerce industry. For the sake of instant gratification when buying products en masse, this titan, and its customers, ignorantly or naively leave a host of problems to the environment, communities, and the workers without second thought. The idea was progress at that time, and maybe still is — but it’s not holistic progress. We’re all seeing the manifold costs now.

Can you share five of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

1. “The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” — Socrates

This implies that when we accept that we really know nothing, we’re left open to learning everything. Owning this piece of wisdom dissolves the rigidity in our personality and egoic ideals that we need to impress, or don’t need help, or should triumph over others. Life is an amalgamation of the information and experiences that are learned and observed from others. When we stop this essence of community, we cease to exist as a civilized, progressive society.

2. It’s better to “embrace the suck” than to “suck it up.” — Wylie McGraw

Stepping towards the unknown and relishing discomforts is what “embracing the suck” entails. Loving what’s difficult and painful is how anyone surpasses their limitations. Whereas the idea that we should “suck it up” is akin to swallowing poison hoping it won’t kill us. It implies we don’t let it bother us, that we should hide it. That’s why so many people, not just leaders, suffer so much. It’s ultimately dangerous to your health, and others who regularly interact with you. Don’t fight the pain, embrace it.

3. You’re only truly free when you’re properly contained. — Wylie McGraw

As humans we are not designed to be completely free without boundaries or limits. It isn’t in our nature to sustain comfort without a tether to some form of containment. But pay careful attention to the source of containment. Is it cultivating you or stifling you? Take the US Constitution for example: this is our nation’s founding document of structure and boundaries for a free, civilized society to thrive. There are laws, rules, and declarations laid out clearly that ensure certain rights. Most importantly, there are limitations. We have enough structure and rigidity in our constitution to live peacefully and productively, but not so much that we can’t grow. Essentially, your life needs to be balanced.

4. “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” — Lao Tzu

Achieving balance in our lives can feel boring, as it’s without drama or chaos, but is the only state of being that gives access to our fullest potential and puts us in total control of where we channel our power. In ancient Chinese martials arts, the fundamental practice of form is slow, smooth, and intentional to integrate and better it. This integration is where power and speed is easily generated with little effort. The principle of contraction and expansion simultaneously is where true balance is mastered: don’t over-exert, don’t under perform. Contract enough for expansion to occur. Our society has operated out of this balance, completely over-exerting and rarely valuing the importance of simplicity in contraction. When you are over-exerted (expanded too far out) you’re left vulnerable and weak. Kung Fu was born of masters who studied nature’s and animals’ natural way of movement. There is no rush, there’s only balance. We are of nature as well, and most people today are operating against this aspect of themselves.

5. “A master unlike a beginner holds himself in reserve, he is quiet and unassuming with no desire to show off.” — Bruce Lee

We are living in a narcissism epidemic, brought on by the asymmetrical advancement of technology and social media overexposure. Our personal validity is now tied to the number of likes, followers, and social credibility derived from strangers, rather than ourselves. We’re a culture that primarily rewards obnoxiousness because we’re beholden to superficial characteristics. To truly master our lives and find our most fulfilling purposes, we must also value humility and stillness. It’s easier to be cocky and loud than confident and humble.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Many in my inner circles over the past few years have continued to mention that my work would be valuable to those in positions of power and authority within the political spectrum. I’ve had the pleasure of being introduced to various political leaders, both foreign and domestic. Many of them are seeking more progressive resources in assisting their decision making and overall personal performance objectives. So, I see myself in the next decade serving these types of people. Because of technological advancement and our near cluelessness of how to handle it, I’d love to do what I can to create a more balanced and healthier world on a macro scale.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

It’s been experiences that had the greatest impact on my thinking. I’ve been fortunate to have been accepted into a sacred circle of Native American elders given my Native American heritage.

For years I was put through the traditional rites of passage as part of my cultural evolution, and they were some of the most valuable and intensive moments of my journey. I learned there is a proper way to suffer, and it is this version of mindful and purposeful suffering that transforms who we are into who we are meant to be. Whereas the version of suffering most humans experience is either self-inflicted, or born from fear, pain, and trauma without purpose. This shows the contrast of our modern, personal-development industry and those who only work on themselves out of convenience. True transformation only happens through challenge.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You only really get to know a person after a fight. Only then can you judge their true character.” — Anne Frank

Humans are adept in masking themselves: their intentions, their fears, their real goals, etc. But when pressed, stressed, or stirred, it is impossible to hold in one’s truth. Although I value polite and civil society, I find great value in healthy confrontation to determine someone’s true self and their motivations. This is a foundation for the work I do with leaders.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

The most amount of good happens when people of power and influence are living and acting as their best selves. I have already begun a consortium for reaching out to leaders across industries to establish and employ new, progressive, and healthier standards in leadership and performance development. I have faith that these higher standards will meet the needs of our ever-evolving world.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can connect with me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/wyliemcgraw and on Twitter: @WylieMcGraw.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you for having me.

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Fotis Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market