Most people don’t think about what it takes to be extraordinary; they consider themselves normal which translates to “ordinary”. Who doesn’t want to be normal? Interestingly, many people struggle with the notion of living up to their potential. If asked, most people would likely say they have not lived up to their potential. What is one’s potential? It’s what you envision for yourself in the future to accomplish and to be. What if one’s potential is to be “extraordinary” as in being an extraordinary human being? Can we accomplish that kind of living our lives or are we so engrained in notions about ourselves and self-imposed restrictions that it gets in our way of success?
Perhaps “extraordinary” is limited by what we see is possible and what we think we’re actually capable of. If we can see that something is doable and that it is indeed possible, and that we are capable ~ it’s considered potential for most people. It might also be fair to say we can never achieve our potential, because the moment we do we’d see yet another level to strive for. Like the horse drawn cart in an old movie with someone holding a carrot dangling out in front of a horse which keeps the horse moving toward the carrot ~ there’s more to achieve. Part of what keeps people from aspiring to be extraordinary is that our culture values fitting in and going with the flow. We are drawn to be complacent, stagnant and risk-adverse. If we see what’s possible as unreachable then potential could be considered unreachable ~ it’s just beyond our reach. Most people have limiting, conditioned beliefs that restrict their reach. We’ve listened to and bought into notions and ideas about ourselves that are, in many cases, unexamined.
I know someone who I consider very bright, talented and capable who works in the fashion industry. With the amount of talent this person has there is no apparent reason they shouldn’t do extremely well in their field. Yet they work in a job with a role that is probably a couple levels down from what they are capable of. On several occasions, they’ve requested my coaching and I’ve encouraged them to break out and create their own clothing line. They are really that talented, but they won’t do that. Their response is “I’m simply not ready”; “I don’t want to”; and “I’m not there yet”. At the same time this person complains about being undervalued, underutilized, under-appreciated and underpaid. They never have enough money. And this has been a long existing conversation. Clearly, they don’t see in themselves what I see in them. For them to accomplish the extraordinary would mean they’d have to give up their dearly held convictions about their limits and they would have to stop playing small – for most people that’s just too frightening.
Why don’t we reach for what we consider extraordinary? Why don’t we strive for and reach our potential? The simple answer to why we don’t strive for our potential or for extraordinary because “it’s too dangerous.” It’s dangerous to step all the way up, and all the way out there and possibly fail. And if we don’t step up then we’re not responsible on many levels ~ we stay safe from exposure emotionally, psychologically and financially. Additionally, we avoid the risk of failing. If you talk to most people they’ll have a well-constructed illusion that allows them to blame the circumstances for their level of achievement. When we attempt to go outside of our beliefs, our constraints, we enter that dangerous territory. It becomes dangerous when we are exposed, leaving us nowhere to hide and with no one to blame. It becomes very uncomfortable. Life is not designed for our success or for our comfort.
To reach our potential, to be extraordinary will likely mean being uncomfortable. If we don’t challenge our potential, our own being extraordinary, like Brando’s character Terry Malloy in “On the Waterfront”, we may be left with the illusion, “I coulda’ been a contenduh.”Read More
Part of a leader’s job is to reach people with a powerful connection and ability to inspire them. Most leaders know the importance of this, but the really great ones know how to do it effectively and they make it their business to do so consistently. Emailing, texting, memos and missives do not reach and inspire people. Those methods of communication simply transfer data and information, give orders and instructions, or make requests. They don’t reach into a person’s heart and soul and they don’t move people to action. Any good leader will tell you that one of the things that is essential in leading others successfully is to be able to use language in such a way that it touches and inspires people. That happens in speaking, in a conversation, and virtually every time it’s done well, it’s done in person ~ in face-to-face dialogue. Good story telling is an important skillset for any leader to have.
A few years back I worked with a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. He shared with me that the most significant thing he learned about the public’s perception of his company was that it depended on his ability to tell a good story. During the quarterly review calls with the analysts he needed to be able to tell a story that they would believe in. He said that the results and circumstances in the background, coupled with a good story that he believed in, would get people to view the future favorably and invest. He said the trick is to get them to buy the story because when they do, the perceived value will go up and so will the stock price. Executives and leaders need to develop this ability if they intend to engage and inspire their audience. It is a skill, an art, and it can be developed.
Unfortunately, most of us know that story telling is a dying art and skill set ~ mainly due to technology. It’s no secret that people have stopped having conversations and have begun to direct their attention to a little screen that they hold in their hands that they seem to be captured by. Years ago I was on a vacation in Ireland and visited the Aran Islands off the west coast. I took a quick jaunt on an ass-cart ride and learned about the old and treasured art of story-telling. The ass-cart is a small cart or carriage pulled by donkeys. The salty, local man driving the cart told about the story-telling that used to be such a strong part of that culture. If you went into anyone’s home you’d hear amazing stories of leprechauns, fairies and the lore of life from the past. People would tell stories passing down the history of the families and the local culture. Life was handed down from the past. But that doesn’t happen so much anymore. When TV came into people’s homes people stopped talking to each other. Story-telling is becoming a lost art form slowly disappearing in our culture and society with the influx of technology, the internet, TV, and broadcast media. People no longer need dialogue to entertain. Stories are disappearing. The art of telling stories is almost gone.
How do you develop good story-telling? There are essentially 5 elements of a story. First is Have a Central Theme that runs throughout the entire story ~ what is the point you want to make? Have that theme grow as the story is told, and weave it throughout the conversation. Secondly, Draw on Your Own Experience. Share real life experiences that make the point. People don’t want to know how great you are ~ they want to see how great, or human, they are. They want to know how this applies to them, or in other words, they want to see how great they are. Third, Paint a Picture. Give them details that allow them to call up a picture in their own mind. Show don’t tell. You want the audience to see themselves in your story. Embellishing the story with your experiences makes the story more vivid and real for people. Fourth, Evoke Wonder. Engage people in the telling of the story. You want them wondering where is this going? How is it going to turn out? Your audience will feel they have learned it for themselves. It becomes a personalized conversation. And fifth, Keep It Simple. The story should demonstrate one conflict, one lesson ~ it is one story.
Story telling is an invaluable tool for any leader and while some have a natural ability, it is a skill that can be developed with a little bit of focus and work. It’s our experience that any good leader must find a way to inspire and move others through story telling.Read More
I’ll bet if you’re like me you try to get the important things done first. They seem important because there’s usually a benefit for getting them done or some kind of pain for not getting them done. So in one sense they occur like they have to be done. However, we often don’t relate to things on our plate with any sense of urgency. In fact, we often procrastinate particularly about the things we don’t want to confront.
Being effective at producing results is directly correlated to the speed with which we move things into action and get them complete. It has been said that power is defined by the rate at which you translate intention into reality. A person’s power is a function of being able to produce results with velocity. To do that, the task has to exist in time. Here’s something I’ve learned that I have burned into my DNA and it has changed everything: “if it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t exist and it’s not going to happen.
There is an obvious benefit for getting things done and acting with priorities, so why don’t we approach things this way? There are three things that account for our tendency to put things off. The first is having no sense of urgency. Certainly there are challenges that happen in life that we resolve with speed. However, usually those things often have some kind of consequence attached and the pain of not doing it occurs as greater than doing it ~ so we act. Absent the external consequence we often don’t act with a sense of urgency. Secondly we fall in the trap of “someday”. You know those things that we’ll get to later. We put those things on the list of what there is “to do” and that keeps them in existence, but they exist only on the list ~ not as if they will actually get our attention for action. We don’t have time for those things now. We may never get to those things, in fact. And thirdly, complacency which stops us from taking any action. There are many situations in our lives to which we have become numb. We’ve learned to tolerate those things. We’ve developed an ability to live with those things ~ even those things that initially we would never tolerate. We have become complacent.
There’s an interesting metaphor about a frog and a person. If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water it will jump out of that water immediately. But if you put a frog in a pot of cold water and then turn the burner on and slowly increase the flame to heat the water up the frog will boil to death. It will keep adjusting to the ever slight increases in temperature which will eventually kill the frog. People are sometimes like those frogs. We will allow ourselves to adapt to and tolerate things that don’t work even when the consequences are dire.
Most people divide their tasks into two categories. One, what’s important, and two, what’s not important. Ideally, they go to work on the ones they’ve decided are important and pay less attention to the unimportant tasks. Consider the possibility that there is a third category. It’s a category that most of us don’t think about because it’s not “important”. We call that category “what makes a difference”. The items that fit in that third category may not even fit into important or not important. However, they are distinct and make a big difference. Here’s an example ~ The other day I received a communication from one of our clients that was an internal document that she had cc’ed me on so that I was aware of what was going on in their company. It was about the company’s core values. She didn’t ask for any feedback about it. But after I read the document, I realized that there were things that I might be able to say about it that would make a difference. I asked her if she was interested in and willing to discuss the document. She responded immediately with an unquestionable “yes”. We had the conversation and I shared what I noticed about the document and how it landed for me I shared what I thought would make a difference in the document and made some suggestions on how to make it better. She loved what I suggested and we produced a second version of the document which then led to a third version that she is very happy with. The day after our call she sent me a note thanking me for having the conversation and told me it was very valuable and had opened up her thinking to take action on something that would elevate that area or the organization to a new level. Clearly, my input came from that third category ~ the “what makes a difference category”. Maybe the “what makes a difference category” is the most important of all.Read More