Take Your Leadership (and Your Life) to the Next Level

Seven years ago, I made my first trip to the beautiful country of Ghana in West Africa. My desire to visit this place was so great that I was willing to separate from my nine month old twins for two weeks. I wanted to bring my babies back something truly special from the trip that would communicate the unique beauty of this country. Kofi, a graduate student from the University of Ghana, was given the unfortunate responsibility of taking me shopping. We went from store to store loking at the beautiful batik  clothing, trying to find the perfect outfit for my babies. I was surprised and confused that none of the outfits had sizes in them. Every five minutes I would hold up a gorgeous children’s outfit to Kofi and ask him if he thought it would fit a nine-month old. Kofi patiently and consistantly gave me the same answer “children grow.” While I was too preoccupied with shopping to understand the wisdom of Kofi’s response at the time, I have since reflected on it many times over.

Too often in our lives we ar so focused on the “right” fit in the present, ignoring the reality that people grow and what fits us today probably will not tomorrow. So we may need to readjust our understanding of the “right” fit to include things that are currently bigger, knowing that we will grow into them. The confidence and commitment to our personal development allows us to maximize our leadership and enjoyment of life.

What kind of a leader are you growing into?

At work maximizing our leadership implies embracing situations where we are given new responsibilities that are beyond our current skill set and experience. Promotions often place people beyond their current ability and skill set. You may be an excellent sales person with with a great sales record but that skill set does not immediately qualify you as a great manager, eventhough it’s your sales record that earned you the promotion.  Some of us may refuse to accept such opportunities for fear of no longer being “successful” while others assume that the promotion infers that no changes are necessary and eventually crash and burn. Yet, we each can successfully grow into our next level of leadership by equipping ourselves with new skills, knowledge, and experiences. To succsessfuly meet the challenges of our new position, we must fully embrace the fact that learning is a life long process.

However, this process of growing into the next level of leadership does not only apply to our careers. Relationships, especially those involving new roles like marriage and parenting, also require us to grow into new levels of leadership. The success of these relationships depends upon our willingness to constistantly retool ourselves to meet the emerging responsibilities and opportunities. Although children are born, great parents are not. People become great parents by opening themselves to learn new skills and developing new qualities that will be more effective in parenting that child. Parenting (marriage, friendship,ect.)  is a relationship between two people in which each person is acting, observing, and remodulating based on the other.

Innovation is a critical skill for your life.

Innovation is not only required for auto-dealers and technology companies, but for each one of us. So if we desire to sucesfully fulfill the new opportunities life presents to us, then reflection and revision become life long practices. When we are open to learn and challenge ourselves to innovate, we will sucessfully grow into ever increasing levels of leadership. Thus, expanding our ability to make a positive difference in the world.

So as you reflect on your current form of leadership in your career, family, organization, and community, consider how well your clothes fit. If there fit perfectly, if you are totally comfortable, I would encourage you to shop for a “bigger size”  because there is room for your to grow and expand your influence in this world.


Lessons on the Power of a Dream

Today we celebrate the birth and life of a great American prophet, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As I reflect on his life and listen to his speeches, I am moved by how clearly he saw his vision and how well he was able to communicate it to inspire others to action. In this video clip, Dr. King reminds us that our collective dream of justice, freedom, equality, community is inevitable. Although Dr. King’s dream has yet to be fulfilled, I share his certainty that our beloved community is sure to become a reality.

What allowed Dr. King to wholeheartedly believe in the reality of his dream inspite of the pervasive brutality of racial segregation and the long history of discrimintation and oppression in the country he so loved? I believe that there are three clear lessons that we can take from this speech about the power of a dream. These lessons can help us maintain our own dreams for justice and equality as well as our inividual dreams of positive change in our own lives. So what does this speech reveal about the power of a dream?

The clarity of your vision determines its power.

1. Dreams require that we focus more on our vision than on our circumstances. In Dr. King’s speeches, he spent more time talking about his vision than describing the reality of the current situation. This is not to suggest that he had his head in the sand. Dr. King’s continual focus on his vision provided him with the strength to choose different actions than many of his contemporaries. He was able to act differently because of the clarity of his vision. Dr. King went beyond positive thinking, to positive knowing! Listen to the certainty and conviction in his voice. This is an appropriate lesson for all of us to internalize. The clearer we are on what we want and the more time we spend visualizing our goals, the more confident we will become in the certainty of their accomplishment. Likewise, the easier it will be for us to choose actions that support that vision. Unfortunately, we often spend more time  talking about what we don’t want, than we do imagining our goals. Dr. King’s power of action was fueled by the clarity of his dream.

All dreams require daily acts of sacrifice.

2. Dreams require that we discipline our selves to live in support of the dream. In the speech the night before his assignation, Dr. King acknowledges that death might be a necessary part of the journey to fulfill his dream. More importantly, he stated that he was willing to pay that price. While this is a grand sacrifice, this is not the only sacrifice that Dr. King was forced to pay for his dream. Dr. King’s discussion of how “history has seized me” acknowledged that he was but a man but was committed to live a life bigger than himself because of the power of his vision.  Likewise, there is a price each of us must pay for the accomplishment of our dream. It might be a sacrifice of sleep, it may be sacrificing relationships or finances; it will most certainly include sacrificing our comfort.  Dr. King was able to live these acts of sacrifice daily because of the passion with which he embraced his dream, and we can too.

Your dreams require the support of others.

3. Dreams require that we invite the participation of others in the accomplishment of our dreams. Thank God Dr. King did not keep his dream to himself. Dr. King’s descriptions of his vision was so vivid and so passionate that it awakened similar dreams in others (and continues to do so). As great and courageous a man as he was, Dr. King was NOT the Civil Rights Movement and did not accomplish all these gains ALONE. Dr. King’s dream was so big that it would be impossible for him to achieve it on his own. He needed the cooperation and support of hundreds of thousands of people.  Likewise, we can not accomplish our dreams alone. We often require the support of our families, friends, colleagues, fellow citizens, ect. to accomplish the goals we set for ourselves. Dr. King’s life teaches us that in order to get the cooperation of our supporters, and at times our enemies, we must clearly communicate our vision in both word and deed.

Please share your thoughts on the lessons you have learned from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and how you celebrate his birthday and his legacy. I look forward to hearing from you.


The Perfect Trap

Don't let perfectionism rob you of your dreams.

Do you know the average number of times a person attempts to accomplish his/her goal? It is less than one time. Meaning that many of us have goals that we never begin to fulfill. I believe that one of the biggest killers of dreams is the trap of perfectionism.

Most of us dream of living full, exciting lives and accomplishing great things. We dream about creating more intimacy in our relationships. We dream about taking a new direction in our career. We dream about giving significant sums of money to the causes and people we care about. We dream about living a life of meaning that makes a positive difference in this world. But what steps are we taking to make our dreams a reality?

Too often we fail to act on our dreams because our goals are so big and we believe ourselves to be so small. We are waiting for the perfect time, the perfect situation, or the perfect version of us to appear so that we can fully pursue our goals. If you have not already realized this, let me tell you that perfect time will never come.

Don’t let the trap of perfectionism rob you of your ability to take action on your dream. You may not be able to do all that you want to do at this time, but there is something today that YOU CAN DO to bring you one step closer to your goal. Look up and see the numerous opportunities surrounding you and act on your dreams. HINT: these opportunities oftentimes come disguised as “challenges.”

When asked about what led her into a career of leadership, one of my mentors described it as “an annoying phone ringing that no one else would answer.” She saw an opportunity, disguised as a problem, and was willing to bring herself and all that she had to offer to the situation. This is the heart of leadership and the key to accomplishing your goals.

Will you answer the call?

What phones do you hear ringing within you? Don’t let your dreams die of neglect. The perfect time is NOW and the perfect person is YOU, no matter how problematic they both are. Getting into action on your goals will create the resources needed to fulfill them. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of a good and meaningful life. Bootstrap your way to success!






The 3P’s of Goal Setting

You cannot hit a target you don't define.

Reflecting on my past year and my goals for the new year, I re-read Brian Tracy’s famous book “Goals”. In this book he identified three principles that are necessary to “program our subconscious minds” to achieve our goals. I found this to be a valuable resource and wanted to share his suggestions with you as you embark on the process of casting your vision for the new year.

Tracy suggests that we write goals with the 3Ps in mind: present, positive, and personal. Writing goals using these three principles dramatically increases both the probability and speed with which we achieve our goals.

1. Present. Our goals are more effective in the present tense. Rather than saying “I will exercise three times per week”, we can say “I exercise three times per week”. By writing our goals as if we have already accomplished them, we practice seeing ourselves as successfully achieving our dreams. This is similar to the “mental rehearsals” that many high-performing athletes use to prepare themselves.

2. Positive. Our goals are more effective when written as positive statements. This is one principle that I have often broken in my previous goal setting activities. Stating goals positively means focusing on the presence of what we desire in our lives, not the absence of something we dislike. I’ve often included on my goal setting lists, statements such as “get rid of the clutter in the office”. However, if stated positively my goal would read “I have a clean and organized office.” I can literally feel the difference in my emotions when I switch to the positive statement. Stating goals positively takes our focus off what we don’t want and onto what we DO want. Remember what we focus on, gets magnified.

3. Personal. Our goals are more effective when stated using the word “I”. Instead of writing “my goal is…”, we can write ” I weigh X lbs., I am a nonsmoker, I am the senior administrator of X company”. Tracy describes the power of “I” statements as submitting a factory order to your subconscious mind who will immediately go to work trying to figure out how to deliver.

Goals are an important and powerful component of both success and happiness. I hope this helps you in writing better goals and achieving them. Happy New Year!


Learning from failure

Frustrated by Failure

Too often fear keeps us from identifying and going after our goals. We are afraid that we won’t be able to have the life that we want, so why bother dreaming. Or we get stuck in the dreaming/planning stage of our life without ever putting into action our plans to achieve our dreams. Both are the products of fear of failure. What would happen if we saw failure not as something that prevents us from accomplishing our dreams, but rather an essential part of the process? How might eradicating the fear of failure free you up to fully pursue and realize your dreams?

What gets labeled as “failure” is actually useful information that hold the keys to our success. Trial and error is an essential part of science and of life. All practicing scientists implement this system because they know that they can never accomplish the goal (e.g. cure for a disease) without trying out what is currently their “best educated guess” (hypothesis). Even if the experiment proves the scientist’s hypothesis wrong (which happens in most research), the experiment is not a “failure”. It has given the researcher and other researchers interested in this problem, valuable information to help them better understand and address the problem. Every scientific breakthrough and piece of technology that we have is the result of innumerable “failures”.

 

 

I am an observer of my own life.

So today take on the identity of a scientist studying your own life. Observe the activity and outcomes of your life without judgement. What yesterday you may have labeled as a “failure” today is simply “data”. Use that data to readjust your activity until you reach your goal.

If your goal is to stop eating fast food and you find yourself chomping on a Big Mac, don’t judge yourself and say you have failed. This is valuable “data”.  Did you arrive at McDonald’s because you were working late and didn’t prepare a meal? Did you go there with friends who don’t share your goal of avoiding fast food? Are you there because you only have $5 in your budget for lunch and can’t afford a salad at Panera? Each situation provides a different understanding of the problem and the potential solution. By observing you behavior without judgement you are better able to learn from your “failures” and plan for your success.

Good luck to all you future scientists, I look forward to seeing what you will accomplish through your method of observation, evaluation, and action. Fail your way to success!