How to Envision Your Limitless Potential

Hand held medal against a stormy sky

Tune in to the Power of Blind Ambition

Many of us start a new year with a list of resolutions and aspirations.  Those goals can quickly disappear as we replace goals with excuses.  A regular diet of motivation helps me redouble my efforts, so I regularly look for inspiring people, books, speeches, and songs.

That’s why I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak with Patricia Walsh.  Talk about overcoming obstacles, pursuing dreams, and not letting an excuse derail goals.

At age five, she was blind from a brain tumor.  Later, fighting depression and hopelessness, she made a decision to reclaim her quality of life.  Now, she has written an inspiring book, Blind Ambition: How to Envision Your Limitless Potential and Achieve the Success You Want .  She has a successful career as an entrepreneur, a software engineer, and a professional speaker.  And I almost forgot to mention she is a champion athlete.

Don’t listen to the voice telling you to give up on your goals.  Don’t settle for mediocrity.  Don’t limit your potential.

Instead, tune in to the power of Blind Ambition.

 

“You can never go wrong by lifting someone up.” -Patricia Walsh

 

Shatter Expectations

I’ve interviewed another female Ironman, Chrissie Wellington.  Reading her book was the closest I’ve come to understanding what it takes to compete.  It’s a grueling challenge.  And you’re blind and you did it.  What motivated you to shatter expectations?

I stumbled into shattering: I think my friends and family assume that I set out with a determination to turn the world on its ear from the get go.  Truly the spirit of the initial events was more of a, “What could possibly go wrong?” to which the response was. “Everything could go wrong,” to which I then responded, “Even if everything does go wrong, this won’t kill me.”

My initial motivation was to reclaim my quality of life.  When this all began, I had a smoking habit, was the life of the party, and as a result was overweight and feeling lost in my own skin.  As my dad started struggling with his own health, I realized that my habits and patterns not only emulated his, in many ways they were worse than his.  I started running as an attempt to reclaim my health.  The result after months of trial and error and continuous improvement was not only a betterment of my physical health, but it had become a lifeline for what had been a shattered sense of self.

In completing my first marathon, I proved to myself that I was not and never have been damaged goods.  My sense of ability was through the roof.  When proposed the opportunity to take on ever increasing challenges I jumped at the chances.  After years of marathoning, a friend dared me to do an ironman.  When I took on ironman it was out of a curiosity and a wonder for my own capabilities.  I was in way over my head.  I had never swum or biked.  The amount of help and coaching I needed just to finish was daunting.

Walsh9780071833820It was after completing my first ironman, Lake Placid 2010, when I became the first blind female to have completed an ironman with a female guide, that I saw the opportunity to reclaim expectations.

There is a thriving prejudice of reduced expectations of persons with disability.  I feel it every day.  People are surprised when I am able to order for myself at a restaurant.  People approach my friends and congratulate them on their generosity for taking the blind kid out for an adventure. People do not see me as an accomplished adult.  The challenge for me every day is to fight the impulse to become a defensive person.  When faced with these reduced expectations, my want is to rattle off my resume.  My want is even to make that person feel lower, but what good would come of that?  I know better.  If I were to ever really have that honest reaction, everyone would walk away feeling awful.  I acknowledge my role has to be that of a gentle educator.  After my initial success in ironman, I had the opportunity to race with a hero of mine.  It was then that I saw the gleam of light that I could be a competitive athlete by any standard.

I believed that if I put in the time and effort to be among the top finishers for my age group, then I could offer up an example of appropriate expectations of the blind.  That is to say blind and disabled people are not lesser than, they are equal to, and in some cases even greater than those without disability.  Truly it isn’t about the comparison, it is about the assumption.  The efforts of persons with disability should be taken on their own merit, absent of the expectation of diminished value.

 

“Excuses are a mask for fear and self-doubt.” -Patricia Walsh

 

Finishing my second ironman in 11:40 was groundbreaking for me.  In 10 months I had reduced my own time by three hours.  I had set an example of an athlete with disability who two years into the sport could be ranked among the top 10 finishers for her age group.  I was then recruited to compete at a different distance for the US National team.  My secret hope is to come back to ironman after Paralympics, as I left wanting more.  I know I could be among the top finishers in following my own fuel-fire-blaze hierarchy with the emotionally intrinsic goal of continuing to chip away at the reduced expectations.

 

Limitations and Excuses

Why Your Leadership View Trumps Strategy

Open window with view to a snowy winter scene

Your View Impacts Your Success

It was 1984 when Roger Ulrich released the results of a study that changed the way modern medical science thought about patient recovery.  Patients who had gallbladder surgery were split between hospital rooms with a view of nature and rooms with a view of a brick wall.  Controlling for all other factors, Dr. Ulrich concluded that those with a view of the nature outside recovered faster, required less pain medicine, and had fewer negative comments recorded by the nurses.

Intuitively, the conclusions make sense.  A natural view creates a sense of peace, reduces stress and helps us relax.  The study had a wide-ranging impact on the environments of hospitals and other institutions.

Interesting, you say, and then you file this tidbit away should you ever find yourself healing from gallbladder surgery:  When that happens, I want a room with a view!

I believe that healing from surgery is not the only benefit of a good view.

The doctors in this study, working in a suburban Pennsylvania hospital, had the same strategy in mind for the patients.  But the results were different based on a factor that they were not controlling.  That difference was not the medicines, the care, nor the treatment strategy.

The difference was the view.

 

“What you view has impact on who you become.” -Skip Prichard

 

Same Goals, Different Outcomes

The same strategy, the same goals, the same execution may result in different outcomes.  Why?  The view.

Why do some teams have spectacular results?  Why do some leaders create sustainable energy?

Tough Man, Tender Chicken: Lessons from Frank Perdue

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A Visionary Leader

He entered many of our homes via television, winning our hearts with his clever ads about his chicken.  Appearing in hundreds of ads, Frank Perdue turned Perdue chicken into a national brand.  “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken,” the ads touted.

Frank Perdue was a visionary business leader.  He focused on culture, leadership development, packaging, promotion, and operational excellence perhaps years before others.

Frank and Mitzi Perdue, Used by Permission Frank and Mitzi Perdue, Used by Permission

Recently, his wife, Mitzi Perdue, wrote a biography Tough Man, Tender Chicken: Business and Life Lessons from Frank Perdue.  The book paints the picture of the man, allowing us glimpses into his personal life, but also is full of business and leadership advice.

Mitzi herself holds a BA in government from Harvard, a masters in public administration from George Washington and was for years a syndicated columnist for Capitol News then Scripps Howard.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with her about her late husband.

 

“Find out what the customer wants and then make it better.” –Frank Perdue

 

Take Care of the Customer

There are so many business and life lessons in this book.  Let me just ask about a few areas.

One story you tell was about packaging.  It grabbed my attention because he wanted better packaging, but his team said no.  They said it was too expensive.  I know he was frugal, so his commitment to make it happen speaks volumes.  That little story says so much about his style and determination. Would you help us understand why this was so important to him?

Funny you picked on that story because it happens that I’m (I think) unusually qualified to comment on it.  My master’s thesis from George Washington University was on the importance of packaging.  I felt that the packaging of an idea or a product wasn’t as important as the content, but it was way up high as a consideration.  Frank intuitively understood this concept without having to get a master’s degree!  In the cases of the cartons that chicken was delivered in back in the late 1960s, it was pretty much industry standard to have flimsy boxes that might leave someone’s processing plant looking fine, but by the time they arrived at the distributor’s loading dock in a big city, the box might be crushed and leaking.  Crushed and leaking boxes were a mega-headache for the distributor because it’s hard to handle them on a forklift, and it’s unsanitary.  Frank realized that if he could create boxes that wouldn’t crush or leak, he’d be solving one of the distributors’ major problems.  His attitude was that as long as his goal was to be the best, the price almost didn’t matter, he had to fix the fragile boxes because, “We can’t afford not to.”  It fit in with his motto of, “Take care of the customer,” and the result was that when a distributor wanted chicken, he probably had Perdue on his speed dial. Packaging was an extraordinary competitive edge for us.

Mitzi Perdue, Used by Permission Mitzi Perdue, Used by Permission

“A business that doesn’t change is a business that is going to die.” –Frank Perdue

 

Build A Culture of Disagreement

Take us into the culture of the company.  It tolerated disagreement and strong opinions.  As you say it tolerated “really forceful disagreement.”  How did Frank encourage this?  When did he, as a leader, stop the argument and unify the team?

Wasted Authority is Poor Leadership

My Hands Are Empty What Can I Do?
This is a guest post by Bruce Rhoades. Bruce is a personal friend and mentor. Having run numerous organizations, he is now retired. He reluctantly leaves his sail boat on occasion to help me with strategy, pricing, technology and product development issues. He also just joined Twitter. Follow him here.

Poor Leaders

All of us have experienced a leader who is controlling, arbitrary and makes decisions with little input from anyone while remaining un-influenceable.  Likewise, we have experienced a leader who does not delegate and demands that he or she make all the decisions while relegating dutiful implementation to subordinates.  These leaders mostly use positional authority to “run” the organization.  This type of leadership and management does not grow people, limits the potential of the organization and creates a stifling atmosphere with little collaboration.  Not good.

 

“Wasted authority results in weak organizations.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Wasted Authority

At the other end of the spectrum is wasted authority, a management trait that results in weak leadership that is also damaging to the organization.  What is wasted authority?  We have all probably seen examples of managers who exhibit this trait:

  • Delaying decisions and overanalyzing.  In a meeting, all the options for a decision are clear and a decision is needed.  But the manager asks for more analysis, delaying the decision for the whole organization.
  • Delaying decisions to hope for consensus.  Likewise, there is the meeting where options are clear, but there is disagreement among the subordinates in the meeting.  No more data is really needed and it is clear that the “boss” needs to decide.  Instead, the discussion goes on and on until the meetings adjourned with no decision.  The boss is waiting for a consensus to emerge…
  • Inexcusable behavior.  An associate has behaved in a manner that is inconsistent with the company expectations. It is ignored by the leader, repeatedly, with the excuse that, “That is just Jim.”
  • Wandering agendas.  The discussion in a group is wandering way off-topic.  The leader allows the discussion to ramble into many issues that are irrelevant to the real topic.  Before long, people are disagreeing on things that were not even supposed to be on the agenda.
  • The silent elephant.  Then there is the meeting where everyone knows about “the elephant in the room” – a huge issue that no one wants to discuss outright but everyone knows about. The meeting goes on as if nothing is wrong.
  • Poor customer response.  The organization’s response to a customer problem was poor, and the customer was ill-treated. The leader clearly knows about the situation but is too busy to look into the details. The customer complains no more so the issue is forgotten.
  • No recognition.  A particular associate has performed well above his or her norm and has done an exceptional job for a situation, but the manager says or does nothing, no “great job”, no recognition – just a “thanks” and moves on the next meeting.
  • Performance Ambush.  An associate made a mistake. The leader does nothing but a year later brings it up in a performance review with the associate.
  • Too many details.  Finally, the leader discusses a situation in excruciating detail, allowing the whole team to get mired in details, losing sight of the real issue. The whole team consumes great amounts of time needlessly.

I am sure that most of us will be able to add to this list of situations where authority was wasted and leadership lost.

 

“Culture and expectations are established via actions of the leader.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Wasted authority usually takes one of the following forms:

  • Indecisiveness when it is clear that a decision should be made
  • Failure to take action when cultural expectations are violated or associates misbehave
  • Failure to address large, well-known issues openly and directly
  • Inability to provide timely feedback to teach individuals and the organization
  • Ignoring customer issues that the organization simply takes for granted
  • Failure to frame an issue, articulate priorities and delegate to others

 

“Wasted leadership authority creates extensive organizational damage.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Wasted authority by the leader has many damaging effects on an organization:

 

Failure to decide

Achieving Peak Performance by Conquering the 7 Summits of Sales

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Climbing to the Top

  • What’s the best formula for setting goals?
  • How do I prepare and truly commit to achieving them?
  • What about perseverance?
  • How do I overcome resistance?

Someone wisely once told me that to achieve something great, “Find the person who has already climbed the mountain.”  In this case, I found someone who literally has climbed mountains.  Susan Ershler has successfully climbed the elite Seven Summits and is a sought-after international speaker who has served in leadership positions for Fortune 500 companies for more than twenty years.  She is also the author of  CONQUERING THE SEVEN SUMMITS OF SALES: From Everest To Every Business, Achieving Peak Performance

 

How to Set Goals

You have a new formula for setting goals.  It’s not the SMART model, it’s the CLIMB model.  Would you share that with us?

It all begins with a well-defined vision and a set of clearly defined goals. The CLIMB system we developed on our journey to becoming top performers will provide you with a structured approach to goal setting that is both disciplined and focused.

C – Concise:  Your goals must be specific, quantifiable, actionable, and support your vision.

L – Levelheaded:  Your vision and goals must be realistic and attainable based on your current skills and level of professional development.

I – Integrated:  Your goals must be related, relevant, and integrated with your vision.

M – Measurable:  You must hold yourself accountable by using objective metrics to track your progress against goals. You must “measure the mountain.”

B – Big:  Being realistic doesn’t mean thinking small. Be bold and ambitious in projecting your future. Think Big!

 

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” -Ben Franklin

Everest Base Camp Sue

The Importance of Preparation

Let’s talk about preparation.  Obviously preparing for a climb elevates it to a life or death activity.  How have you used what you learned in climbing about preparation in other areas like sales or goals?
No BIG mountain is scaled in a single climb. No quota or BIG business objective is achieved in a single day. You must step away from the business and create a detailed roadmap that delineates every step of your journey and includes metrics to measure success along the way.

If we don’t have a plan in writing, we have a tendency to react to disruptive things, for example like constant email. We need to make sure we focus on the important activities that will lead us to success, reviewing our plan on a daily basis.

 

The Power of Commitment

Commitment.  Many talk a good game.  You may believe them, but then they quit before they even get going.  How do you help people truly commit?

Achieving peak performance, both personally and professionally, can dramatically change our lives. So once we have a vision we must commit to achieving it.  Peak performers say, “I will” not “I will try.”  For example, if you want to climb a mountain or run a marathon, sign up, pay the fee and then work backwards.  In climbing, I had to visualize myself on the summit of Everest – that was my vision in advance for years.  In business, I viewed myself as a vice president in the Fortune 500 world for years before I achieved that title.  Big visions can take years to achieve, but say, “I will do it” and never give up.

 

“Peak performers say I will, not I will try.”