The things that drive you crazy are actually giant opportunities. The people who press your buttons are actually your greatest teachers. The things that make you angry are actually your greatest gifts. Bless them.
The people or circumstances that take you out of your power have extraordinary value: They reveal your limiting beliefs, fears and false assumptions. How much would you pay someone who promised they could pinpoint exactly what is holding you back from your greatest life? How much would it be worth to get intimate information on why you are not exactly at the place where you’ve always dreamed of being?
Here’s the powerful idea: The things that irritate and annoy and anger you are entry points into your evolution and elevation as a human being. They are signposts for what you need to work on and the fears you need to face. They are gifts of growth. You can blame the people who trigger you and make it all about them. Or you can do the courageous thing and look deeply into yourself to discover the reason for your negative reaction. The fears you don’t own become your prison bars.
And as you begin to shed light on your personal weaknesses and take responsibility for them, you actually begin the process of shedding them. You become stronger. More powerful. More of who you were meant to be.
So the next time a co-worker sets you off or the next time your teenager gets you going, walk over to them, give them a hug and thank them for the gift they just gave you. Because they did.
Big idea: Your days are your life in miniature. As you live your days, so you craft your life. What you do today is actually creating your future. The words you speak, the thoughts you think, the food you eat and the actions you take are defining your destiny – shaping who you are becoming and what your life will stand for. There’s no such thing as an unimportant day.
Each of us is called to greatness. Each of us has an exquisite power within us. But for this power to grow, we need to use it. The more you exercise it each day, the stronger it gets. The more this power gets tapped, the more confident you grow.
The best among us are not more gifted than the rest. They just take small steps each day as they march towards their biggest life. And the days slip into weeks, the weeks into months and before they know it, they arrive at a place called Extraordinary.
Problems are servants. They help you grow and lead to better things, both within your organization and in your life. To resist them is to avoid growth and progress. Embrace and get the best from the challenges in front of you. And understand that the only people with no problems are dead.
An unhappy customer yelling at you might seem like a problem. But to a person thinking like a leader, that scenario is also an opportunity to improve the organization’s processes to ensure that doesn’t happen again. So the problem has actually helped to improve the company.
An interpersonal conflict at work can seem like a problem. But if you think like a leader and use the circumstance to build understanding, promote communication and enrich the relationship, the problem has actually made you better. It has been fodder for your growth and served you nicely.
An illness or a divorce or the loss of a loved one might seem like a problem. Sure it’s painful (been there, done that). But I’ve been shaped by my saddest experiences. They’ve brought me depth, compassion and wisdom. They’ve made me the man that I am. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
Problems reveal genius. World-class organizations have a culture that sees problems as opportunities for improvement. A mistake is only a mistake if you make it twice. And world-class human beings use their stumbling blocks as stepping stones. They use their failures to bring them closer to success. They don’t see problems. They see possibilities. And that’s what makes them great.
Big Idea: The competitive advantage of your organization comes down to a simple imperative – your ability to grow and develop leaders faster than your competition. You need to develop a leadership culture if you want to win in your marketspace. And it needs to be done quickly.
A leadership culture is one where everyone thinks like an owner, like a CEO or Managing Director. This means they focus on getting to solutions rather than on the problems. This means they take personal responsibility for achieving results that move the business forward (whether they run the mailroom or sit in a boardroom). This means they shape culture, stay positive and lead by example.
Please hear me on this: I’m not saying everyone needs to do the job of a CEO or Managing Director. Showing leadership doesn’t mean every employee will run the organization. That would lead to chaos. All I’m suggesting to you is that everyone needs to know their role (and then show up fully in that role – like a leader would). And when they do – when they think, behave and feel like leaders – good things will happen. And soon, your organization will get to great.
Henry David Thoreau shouted “Simplify. Simplify. Simplify” in his breathtakingly good book “Walden”. Nice point. One of the primary reasons that people and organizations fail to get to greatness is that they try to be too many things to too many people. I’ll use the Confucius quote I often use here: “Man who chases two rabbits catches neither.”
The most successful human beings are wildly focused. They have a very clear picture of what it is they want to create by the time they reach the end of their lives and then they have the discipline (and courage) to stick to their knitting – saying “no” to everything that is not mission critical.
So my gentle suggestion to you is to simplify your life. Strip away all that is unimportant – these are the things keeping you from getting to your dreams. And then once you do your clean up, focus, focus, focus. You’ll be surprised how good you will then get at being great.
Life is a skill. And like any other skill, once you know the ground rules and make the time to practice, you can get better. If you really devote yourself to life, you could even reach a place of mastery. Some have.
I suggest to you that there are 3 simple things you can do to get good at life:
- Pay attention to life. It’s really easy to let life act on you – to fall asleep to life. Some people have lost entire decades this way. And they never got them back. Try and write in a journal each morning before you walk out into your world. Think about what goals you need to accomplish that day and write them down. Think about what are your most closely held values. Think about what lessons you’ve learned from the previous day. What good is making a mistake if you don’t learn from it?
- Engage in life. I’ve learned something as I’ve grown older: the more you give to life, the more it gives to you. Over dinner last night with some friends, we began to speak of goal-setting. “But why set goals when life can be so uncertain?” One asked me. My reply: “just because life is so unpredictable doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise your power to do your best. Set your goals. Make your plans. Take action and chase your dreams. That’s what personal responsibility is all about. But once you’ve done your best – let go. And let life do the rest.” She looked deeply into her pad thai.
- Enjoy life. We take life too seriously. But at the end, the billionaire gets buried next to the street sweeper. We all end up as dust. And no matter how long you will live, each of us isn’t here all that long in the grand scheme of things. So let’s not take ourselves too seriously. Let’s enjoy the ride.
Leadership begins within. You can’t do good at work until you feel good. You can’t make someone feel great about themselves until you feel good about yourself. You can’t be a source of positive energy if you have no energy.
On your next flight, listen to the flight attendant. “Put the oxygen mask on your mouth before you try to help anyone else.” The logic is clear: if you can’t breathe, you are useless to everyone else. Nice metaphor for personal leadership. Make the time to care for yourself. Get into great shape. Read good business books and inspiring autobiographies. Plan and improve your skills. Spend excellent time with loved ones. Commune with nature. Enjoy life while you chase success.
By caring for yourself, you will be able to give more to others. By ensuring that you are on your best game, your leadership effectiveness will be guaranteed. And by making the time to enjoy life, you’ll be more enjoyable to be around.
The sad fact is that most people see the worst in others – they see them through the eyes of their own anger, fear and limitation. If someone shows up late for a meeting, they impute a negative intent on that person, saying “they are so rude”. If someone makes a mistake on an expense report, they grumble “that person is so dishonest”. If someone miscommunicates a point, they silently say “she’s a liar”. Leaders are different. They look for the best in people.
I want to be clear. I’m not suggesting that leaders do not confront reality. Not at all. What I’m saying is that the best leaders see through the eyes of understanding. If someone is late, they try to get to the truth. Maybe there’s a time management problem to coach around or a sick child to help. An error on an expense account could be the result of a poor process in place or the employee’s disorganization. The miscommunication might be all about the person communicating having weak skills in this area. An opportunity for improvement.
Today, rather than looking for the worst in people, I invite you to look for what’s best within them. Sure some people really are inconsiderate or dishonest or uncaring. But in my experience – and I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years – most people are good. Few human beings wake up in the morning and ask themselves: “What can I do today to mess up someone else’s day or undermine my credibility?” Most of the mistakes people make are the result of a lack of awareness. And here’s the payoff for you: as you seek out the good in people, not only will they want to show up more fully for you, but you will see more good in your world.
The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once observed: “most people take the limits of their vision to be the limits of the world. A few do not. Join them.” Profound point. The life you see this very moment isn’t necessarily the life of your future. You might be viewing things through the eyes of your fears, limitations and false assumptions. Once you clean up the stained glass window you see the world through, guess what? A whole new set of possibilities appear. Remember, we see the world not as it is but as we are. That idea changed my life.
Years ago, it was believed that no human being could ever break the 4 minute mile barrier. But after Roger Bannister broke it, many more replicated his feat within weeks. Why? Because he showed people what was possible. And then armed with that belief, people did the impossible.
What’s your “4 minute mile”? What bill of goods have you sold yourself as to what’s impossible? What false assumptions are you making in terms of what you cannot have, do and be? Your thinking creates your reality. If you think something cannot occur in your life, then there’s no way you will take the action required to make that goal a reality. Your “impossibility thinking” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your perceived limitations become the chains that keep you from the greatness you were meant to be. And where’s the leadership in that?
Blame or claim-that’s the choice each of us has to make each day. Blame what’s not working or claim the gift in the seemingly negative situation. The world needs more heroes. And heroes spend their days hunting for the best. They see the best amidst adversity. They see the best in others. They dig for the best in themselves. They claim their greatness. And in doing so, they get their best lives.
An extraordinary life is not something only available for the chosen few-people with perfect teeth and royal pedigrees. You and I are destined for greatness. We are meant to live spectacular lives. That’s hardwired into our DNA. But we need to do our part to make it all happen. Choice by choice. Step by step. Small gains eventually yield giant results.
So lay claim to your greatness. Drive a stake into the ground to mark your place under the sun. Stop being a prisoner of your past and commit to becoming the architect of your future. And remember, it’s never too late to become the person you have always dreamed of being.