“Success is achieved by developing our strengths, not by eliminating our weaknesses.” — Marilyn von Savant, highest recorded IQ in the Guinness Book of Records
Nicole is the kind of executive you trust with your biggest, craziest projects. She figures things out when everyone else throws up their hands in frustration. If it’s wild and ambitious, or difficult and seemingly unsolvable, Nicole is your go-to person.
Despite her long history of strategizing and launching successful projects, Nicole kept getting the same unpleasant feedback in performance reviews. She was celebrated for her heroism at the launch phase, but criticized for her inability to be a solid day-to-day manager, once her projects were operational.
Year after year she tried to hone her managerial skills, attempting to morph into the type of executive who deftly oversees an established program. But boredom overtook, and she’d find herself distracted by the prospect of a brand new challenge.
She’d think something was wrong with her, believing she must lack ability or strategic thinking. The guilt dragged her down at work – and at home.
“Success is achieved by developing our strengths, not by eliminating our weaknesses.” -Marilyn von Savant
Your sweet spot is an actual thing, not just an abstract idea.
It’s doing the things you love to do the way you love to do them.
It also happens to be where you deliver by far the most value. Your sweet spot talents are so indisputable it is criminal to waste your energy elsewhere. This is where you have vitality and inspiration, oxygen coursing through your system.
Unfortunately, conventional wisdom leads you to believe you’re supposed to care about improving your weaknesses. This is nonsense. It’s a path that leads to mediocrity. And ultimately, it’s a sure-fire recipe for disaster, physically and mentally. It drains your oxygen supply, depleting your energy, creativity and enthusiasm for life.
Innovation is dynamic, iterative, and even messy – but with the vast problems facing the world, and opportunities to harness people’s creativity, passion, and desire to make an impact, there has never been greater potential to make a dent in as-yet unsolved economic, social and other issues. Leadership qualities, not always and not simply technology, are the essential ingredients.
I love this line in your new book: “Purpose defines what you stand for and why your business exists.” Tell us more about the power of purpose and why it’s so important to change makers.
Purpose defines the marketplace problem the change maker wants to solve. It’s why they pursue an innovation. They see the need to create something new, to fix something they see as really broken.
Purpose is grounded in emotion, but it’s far from touchy-feely. Purpose:
Focuses everyone on unifying beliefs, makes collaboration the norm, and aims resources at the vision and nothing else.
Minimizes the corrosive effect of internal politics — everyone is committed to the same point on the horizon. Purpose is an energy booster.
Sets the goal post on achieving aspirations to meet real market needs. Of course, financial results matter, but the purpose-driven team delivers financial impact and sets itself up to meet broader stakeholder needs.
“Purpose means knowing what you stand for, why you want to exist.” -Amy J. Radin
Resourcefulness is a key behavior of change makers. How should leaders encourage resourcefulness?
Resourceful leaders are those who can find a path forward no matter what. Doing so means they are making progress even though they have what can look like severe resource shortages.
Much of anyone’s resourcefulness comes from an ability to help everyone in their orbit to be more resourceful.
First, be a role model of resourcefulness behaviors. My favorite example of all time is one I uncovered while doing the research for The Change Maker’s Playbook: Drew Lakatos co-founded ActiveProtective, a company working on an innovative device – think of it as the wearable equivalent of an inflatable air bag — to attack the growing medical and social crises caused by millions of seniors’ falling every year in this country. He had purpose and passion, but lacked capital. So, he went around to junkyards one Saturday morning, and extracted non-bloody air bags from wrecked cars. Then he combined these with bicycle tire inner tubes, working with his local tailor to create components of early proof-of-concept designs – for a few dollars apiece. They were convincing enough to win critical support to get to the next steps.
Second, when assessing potential hires, listen for stories of how they have demonstrated resourcefulness in their lives. If you don’t hear evidence of real tenacity, move on.
Third, be open-minded about how things are done, not just what is getting done. Being resourceful means finding and supporting non-obvious ways to accomplish milestones and achieve goals.
“Resourceful leaders treat others with respect and value people as people, and as a result inspire and attract others to enable their purpose.” -Amy J. Radin
Fourth, promote a culture where seeking help is a mark of leadership and strength, not a sign of weakness. I see organizations where people are afraid that they will be fired if they admit ignorance. I see cultures punishing people who admit they don’t know something or would like help. These are environments where innovation cannot ever be successful.
“Resourceful leaders are those who can find a path forward no matter what.” -Amy J. Radin
Not too long ago, I spoke with an astronaut about what it takes to launch into space. Since I don’t work at NASA and am not a rocket scientist, we were way outside of my comfort zone. He was patient and talked me through the various parts of a successful launch.
It occurred to me, as he was sharing his extensive knowledge, how so many of the elements in a rocket launch are appropriate for launching things right here on planet Earth.
“We are more fulfilled when we are involved in something bigger than ourselves.” -John Glenn
The factor that really interested me was the energy required to launch. We talked about the amount of fuel it takes to propel a rocket into space. I learned that the Space Shuttle had over two million pounds of solid propellant in its boosters.
Two million pounds!
All of this is to fire up the engines, create liftoff, and escape the velocity of the Earth’s atmosphere. The rocket must overcome gravity drag.
What may have been a simple, elementary explanation for a non-scientist crystallized some ideas for me.
If we want to launch something big, it often requires more fuel than we imagine.
“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” -Moliere
Recent studies show that only about 20 percent of workers understand their company’s mission and goals. Only 21 percent say they would “go the extra mile.” Less than 40 percent believes senior leaders communicate openly and honestly.
Today many feel that they are over-managed and under-led.
Jude Rake has over 35 years leading high-performance teams. He is the founder and CEO of JDR Growth Partners, a leadership consulting firm.
You personally observed Pat Summitt’s leadership and watched her in action at half-time. You saw her growing other leaders, not demanding followership. It was such a powerful example. Would you share that story?
Several years ago when I was COO at a large consumer products company, we needed a keynote speaker for our annual marketing and sales meeting. Given that our company was a big sponsor of NCAA women’s college basketball, we decided to invite Pat Summitt to be our keynote speaker.
Pat inspired everyone with her energy and her famous “Definite Dozen Leadership Traits for On and Off the Court Success.” After our meeting at dinner, I shared with Pat that I had coached youth basketball for many years. She graciously took interest and invited me to be a guest coach at a Lady Vols game. I was floored! I took her up on her offer and eventually travelled to Knoxville for an unforgettable weekend.
I knew that Pat was an outstanding coach, and I admired her for her accomplishments, but I had no idea just how good she was at cultivating leaders throughout the Tennessee women’s basketball program. From the moment I stepped onto that campus, everything was executed with excellence. I soon learned that I would be shadowing Pat. I discovered firsthand why so many recruits chose the Lady Vols program, and why so many former players and coaches use terms of endearment when recalling Pat Summitt’s influence on their lives.
“Confidence is what happens when you’ve done the hard work that entitles you to succeed.” –Pat Summitt
Game day was quite a production, from pre-game activities to post-game reception. Anyone who watched Pat from the sidelines might expect her to lead everything with an iron fist. It was quite the opposite. Pat was clearly orchestrating everything . . . but the entire weekend appeared to be executed by everyone but Pat. She had done most of her leading and coaching in practice. The assistant coaches and players stepped up to the plate time and again, as did her administrative support staff. They took turns leading, and they collaboratively leaned on each other’s strengths to elevate performance throughout game day activities.
During the game, we sat immediately behind Pat and the team. At halftime the Lady Vols were trailing. We went into the locker room with the team. Pat was not there. I watched as the players—by themselves—took turns facilitating a brainstorming session about what had worked well and what needed improvement. Then they presented their analysis to the assistant coaches for input and guidance. Clearly, these players and assistant coaches had been trained well. They knew what to do without being micro-managed. Finally, Pat joined the team, and the players and assistant coaches collectively presented their conclusions. Pat succinctly graded their performance and assessments, added her own personal evaluation, and they aligned on an action plan for the second half. Everyone had led at some point. They leaned on each other’s strengths and focused on the biggest opportunities for improvement. They debated vigorously and respectfully. Ownership was achieved. There was no lecture or screaming. Half-time ended with a quintessential Pat Summitt inspirational call to heightened intensity and hustle, and the team went out and kicked their opponents’ behinds!
For me, this was an impressive example of a leader growing leaders and difference-makers, not just demanding followership. Pat Summitt showed us that leaders can be demanding, passionate, and ultra-competitive, yet still focus a significant amount of their time, energy, and empathy on the development of leaders at all levels of their organization. It’s what fueled her unprecedented results at Tennessee, and it’s the most important thing leaders do.
“Servant leaders bring out the best in others.” –Jude Rake
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach specializing in executive communication. You may have read one of her articles in “Forbes” or encountered her other book, The Power of Presence. Her extensive research and survey into what inspires people was fascinating. I recently asked Kristi about her latest work on inspiration in the workplace.
“When we highlight potential, we boost confidence.” -Kristi Hedges
Tell me more about the four factors that enhance our inspirational effect, what you call the Inspire Path.
The Inspire Path puts a structure to the research I found that uncovers what communication behaviors inspire others. It’s a guide to increase inspirational impact. While we can’t force someone to be inspired—and if we try to push, it backfires—we can create the conditions that foster inspiration. People are most often inspired through certain types of conversation with others. If we want be more inspiring, we should focus on being:
“What we concentrate on gets stronger.” -Kristi Hedges