Elite athletes will tell you that much of their physical performance is driven by what they put in their bodies. Elite leaders will tell you that much of their mental performance is driven by what they put in their brains – both through their eyes and their ears. So what do you think they listen to?

I once had dinner with a colleague who told me that he never listened to music. Never. This astounded me. I can’t imagine my life without music. I asked him why, and he said, “I made a deal with myself long ago that I would never listen to anything that didn’t put money in my pocket.” Okay, that’s his choice. And I couldn’t deny that this colleague was quite successful-at least financially. But it got me thinking about what high achievers really do listen to in order to produce breakthrough results.

More important, what should you (as a high achiever) be listening to in order to produce breakthrough results?

While it’s not an exclusive list, I’ve found that you’ll be a better leader, and produce better results, by listening to the following three things:

1. Expertise in Your Field

It goes without saying [You: And yet, here you are saying it. Me: Shut up.] that if you want to be perceived as a leader in your industry, you need to stay up to date with the latest developments and expertise in that industry. For example, my particular areas of expertise are Leadership, Teams, and Creativity. And while many of the core principles in these areas don’t change over time, there are always new studies, techniques, and schools of thought. I like to stay up to date with these for two main reasons:

  1. They make me more knowledgeable – and therefore, more credible – to my clients and audiences.
  2. They often spur and inspire my own new, innovative ideas in these areas – which I can then share with my clients and audiences.

So seek out podcasts, radio shows, and recordings that keep you up-to-date with (or at least give you a working knowledge of) the latest developments in your field.

2. Divergent Ideas

Strong leaders like to hear opposing points of view. Weak leaders simply want their own points of view reinforced. And by the way, this doesn’t just apply to points of view about their business or industry. Strong leaders know that real growth is a result of facing challenges. You don’t build muscles by lifting easy weights. You lift weights that challenge you. By the same token, you build your mind by listening to ideas, points of view, and ways of thinking that challenge you. You build your leadership by listening to people (smart people, particularly) with whom you disagree. I encourage you to not just listen to these opposing points of view when the sound waves just happen to drift past your ear (although that alone will put you ahead of most people, who would shut these sound waves out!), but to actively seek out these opposing points of view. You will learn, you will grow – you may even discover a better idea and change your own mind!

3. Music

This is where I differ – strongly, vehemently – with my colleague who doesn’t listen to anything that doesn’t put money in his pocket. I think that listening to music can be very valuable. Granted, listening to Beethoven’s 9th or Abbey Road may not give you the immediate results of the Sell More Widgets TODAY! podcast (don’t go looking for it – I just made that up), but there are tangible benefits nonetheless, including:

    • An energy boost. I have a playlist, consisting of uptempo Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi, and others, that I have playing in the background in my office throughout my workday. I find that this playlist helps to keep me energized and focused. As a result, I’m more productive. And as a result of that, I can sell more widgets!
    • A creativity boost. Back when I was in college, whenever I needed a boost of creativity to help me, say, write a paper, I’d put on Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert. This is a gorgeous, fully improvised piano concert (Jarrett is famous for these), and somehow the creativity that flowed from his fingertips seemed to flow directly into me. To this day, I find that The Köln Concert, along with other improvised music, helps me come up with creative ideas for selling more widgets.
  • A sleep boost. Okay, “boost” may not be the best word here, but was going for consistency. The point is that the right music can help you fall asleep faster and get a better night’s sleep, which means you’ll wake up more refreshed, ready to tackle the day and sell more widgets! There are lots of albums on iTunes and other sources specifically designed for this. In particular, check out Cameron Watt’s Night School Sleep Music. It was scientifically designed for sleep. Much like, say, a presidential debate.

So there you have it. Three things to put in your ears that will make you a better leader, a better producer, and a better person.