How often do we meet people who make us wonder why they are not doing so much more with their lives? Of course, the life is theirs to spend the way they please. But if they understood the vastness of their potential and discovered a clear path to tap into it, would they have made different decisions? Would you?
Much of the discourse on leadership treats the subject primarily as a social concept. The relationship between leaders and followers is explored with an eye to how group goals can be achieved. Millions of dollars are spent annually on leadership development and yet leadership challenges are the bane of many organizations. A fundamental reason for this is that the principles that make effective leaders are not cultivated overnight. Regardless of how much information is crammed into an MBA program or a one-week high-powered seminar, if the individual has not taken the time to lay the proper foundation, the outcome will be mediocre.
The same leadership principles that allow effective leaders to elicit great results from followers can assist an individual to identify and implement steps to maximize his or her potential. The purposeful, organized application of leadership principles to self-development is called self-leadership. People who approach their development in this manner position themselves for resounding personal and professional success. They are better prepared to lead their lives, teams, and organizations. For one thing, individuals who can´t successfully lead themselves can´t effectively lead others.
Self-leadership not only puts you in the driver´s seat, it helps you navigate your future with as few errors, distractions, and obstacles as possible. The six principles that follow are not mutually exclusive. Beginning with a better understanding of self, they are sequential and cumulative. As you explore and understand yourself relative to each of them, you build an in-depth, holistic foundation for charting your future.
Self-discovery. Imagine if Mozart never discovered his musical talent, or if Picasso died oblivious of his artistic skills. A gaping hole would besmirch the landscape of the arts. Ironically, it´s a hole we would never have known. A great many people who have long passed on could have made a discovery or contributed a modicum of knowledge that would have significantly shaped an aspect of life today. To those who found and harnessed their talent in an extraordinary way, we owe much of the advancement we now enjoy.
While the subject of self-discovery lends itself to sundry, controversial interpretations, the intent here is not to elongate the philosophical conundrum. Factual information about the human nature will be identified and a framework for self-discovery developed from it.
Every person has a gift or talent. Some have an eye for detail, others the gift of garb. Many have a flair for writing, others a knack for solving puzzles. It´s the natural ability that enables us to make a difference in the world.
The essence of self-discovery is to identify your natural talent. You begin the process by asking the following key question: What is it that I have a natural flair or affinity for? This might be an easy question for many but a difficult one for some. An effective way to discover what you have an innate proclivity for is to, as much as feasible, embrace every opportunity that comes your way. Opportunity in this context includes all activities that allow you to productively invest yourself. From strange sports, unusual hobbies, challenging college courses to on-the-job assignments that are in the outer reaches of your background, the wider the variety of activities you undertake, the more likely you are to discover your inborn ability.
Some people are multitalented. While maintaining talents in different walks of life has its benefits, it´s difficult to achieve your full potential with a diffused focus. If you find yourself in this category, consider this second question popularized by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great: What is it you´re best in the world at? The results of your effort, consistent feedback from people around you, and honest self-assessment are critical in deciphering where you excel the most. The next step is to examine why you excel in the identified area. Your finding will likely reveal a dominance or clear manifestation of your talent.
Spiritual development. A subject that was once taboo, spirituality is slowly gaining acceptance in the corporate world. This is due, in part, to the increasing focus of leadership research and writings on developing the whole person. Moreover, as strong, visionary leadership becomes more of a competitive advantage, business leaders are willing to cross traditional boundaries to gain the edge.
There is a spiritual dimension to every human being. It´s one of our less controversial differentiators from lower creatures. To ignore it is to deny an important driver and enabler for maximizing our potential.
Regardless of personal beliefs or religious predilections, spirituality manifests daily in the activities people perform. For instance, when a venture capitalist invests in a startup business, he hopes, believes, or has faith that the venture will be successful. A surgeon about to perform a life threatening operation hopes the patient survives. The same is true for a police officer who goes after criminals daily. Without faith, he might be overcome by fear. Hope, faith, and belief are a few of the spiritual concepts that people draw on. We also build our spirituality by establishing a relationship with deity or a higher power.
Spirituality boosts confidence, giving you that extra vigor to actualize your life´s dream. What´s more, it helps you maintain a positive disposition, stay focused, overcome barriers, and endure trials and opposition. All of this happens because belief drives action. When we believe that nothing is capable of stopping or derailing us, we´re more likely to take necessary steps, regardless of how demanding or difficult they may be, to accomplish established goals. Spiritual power is available to you at no cost.
Character development. Though the educational system does a relatively excellent job of imparting knowledge and developing mental intelligence, character building is not its forte. Few college courses address matters of integrity, honesty, chastity, fairness, justice, social etiquette, and good citizenship. The ones that do often examine the topics from a theoretical perspective, ignoring their quintessence as socio-moral imperatives.
Incidentally, character flaws are the Achilles´ heel of many an accomplished individual. The list of notables felled or disgraced by greed, lust, dishonesty, among other vices, is ever growing. Jimmy Swaggart, preacher and pioneer of televangelism, fell from glory in 1987 when he was caught with a prostitute in a hotel room. Bill Clinton is undoubtedly one of the most eloquent, endearing, and charismatic leaders the world has known. Yet, an inability to tame his lascivious propensity leaves an indelible taint on his legacy. Ex-governor Rowland of Connecticut must have known his unfettered cupidity would land him in trouble. What he probably did not contemplate was doing time in a state penitentiary. If John Rigas, founder and former CEO of Adelphia, and his son Timothy considered prison, they failed to take necessary steps to excise the fraudulent core of their character. Andrew Fastow, Enron´s former chief financial officer who, along with many of his colleagues, attained rock-star status in corporate America, did not respect the boundary between smarts and ethics. In addition to untold public embarrassment, his moral deficiency will cost him and his family a few long years.
The individuals named above are not self-destructive types. They did not set out to fail. Having discovered and fully invested their talents, most of them were at the zenith of their careers when disaster struck. On the way to the top, they managed to circumvent their weaknesses and, inevitably, their poor judgment caught up with them.
Character is a person´s irreducible standard of conduct. It´s a filter through which all thoughts must pass before being processed as a decision and manifested in word, action, or behavior. Honesty, integrity, and fairness are character traits that transcend national, cultural, and temporal limitations. Minimally, they should be inextricably woven into the moral fiber of every person interested in taking full advantage of his potential and sustaining the success that results. Such people would not have to worry about sacrificing the benefits of their hard work at the altar of habitual vices.
The family is an excellent starting place for cultivating sound moral values. Exploring spirituality through organized religion is useful in establishing and nurturing the values. Additionally, it´s in the interest of every organization to build a culture that upholds high ethical standards. Ongoing training will inculcate critical elements of the culture.
Preparation. Life is a series of progressive assignments. You would have to prove yourself in small assignments to advance to bigger and better ones. Adequate and thorough preparation is an ineluctable prerequisite for successfully completing any task. A laissez-faire attitude toward preparation will slow your progress and impact your ability to access your full potential.
Discussed in greater detail in my book The Star Principle, the following five tenets of preparation will put you in optimal position for getting the most out of your talent:
a. Lead a disciplined life.
Discipline is the restraint that prevents our freedom of choice from destroying us. It´s the willingness to create and the ability to conform to a plan of action. It overrides self-indulgence, laziness, wanton desire, and other similarly debilitating conditions.
Discipline maximizes efficiency in that things are always done at set times. A disciplined person is credible and trustworthy as his word and action always match up. Without discipline, the other tenets will yield suboptimal results.
b. Embrace lifelong learning.
Your talent will take you places, but not before it´s been discovered and refined. Perhaps you have heard the expression “no knowledge is lost.” Making a personal commitment to explore the didactic essence of every situation will give you a critical edge in a knowledge dependent world. The self-discovery principle emphasizes snatching every opportunity to apply your abilities. Before the opportunities arise, it´s helpful to have some familiarity with or insight into what you will be doing. One surefire way to achieve such versatility is to be an avid learner. In addition to self-study and formal education, regularly avail yourself of seminars, public lectures, conferences, and workshops.
Lifelong learning can be laborious and expensive. However, it pays for itself many times over. Besides, ignorance costs more. Had you not taken the time to acquire the knowledge you utilize in your career or vocation, how would your life be different? By the same token, consider the leading voices in your field, individuals who possess the same gift as you. What do they know that you don´t?
c. Always strive for excellence.
Excellence is striving to be the best that you can be. It´s different from striving to be right at all times, or constantly competing with others to surpass them. It´s a sincere desire and effort to utilize your talent to the fullest.
Excellence demands that you make the most of opportunities to hone existing skills and acquire new ones. It requires a desire to experiment with new ideas. Excellence-minded people are not averse to change. They see it as a chance to test and further develop their innate ability.
d. Get an early start.
Lots of people describe themselves as last-minute individuals. While they are often not late, their preparatory efforts are likely to not be as thorough or comprehensive as they can be. In addition to the unnecessary stress it creates, an eleventh-hour approach to living can be the difference between “A” and “B” students, between going home with a trophy or not, between excellence and mediocrity. Reaching your potential requires such commitment, tenacity, and time commitment that last-ditch efforts only can´t accomplish.
Your future should be one of the few domains you protect from the increasingly dominant snap-decision approach to life. Speed might be the most obvious business trend since the industrial revolution but only those who spend enough time to master the rules of the game can apply their talent in such a way that they come out ahead.
e. Be ready for the unexpected.
Relentless preparation is the most effective approach to managing the unknown. It minimizes the tendency to be distracted by a potential threat and increases the chances of having a desirable outcome. Recall when computers were first introduced in the workplace. Wary of the technology, many companies hung on to their old machines. Even as they were hold out, their employees who understood the concept of being ever ready took steps, some of them on their own dime, and acquired computer skills. Although they didn´t know when their employers would embrace the new technology, their foresighted action temporarily immured them from obsolescence. Such attitude makes for successful self-leadership.
Vision. A vision is a dream or picture of the future that motivates us to act. The stronger the vision, the more it stimulates our mind, engages our body, and causes us to engage in activities to actualize it.
Visioning, which is what happens when we engage our talent and experience in the thought process to formulate and refine an idea of a better future, is the key to unlocking your potential. For one thing, you become what you dream. People who are serious about becoming all they can be put their imagination to optimum use.
Action. Your potential is a call to action. Put differently, the only way to uncover what you are capable of is by doing something. Whether you are discovering more about yourself, tapping into your spiritual intelligence, molding your character, preparing for the unexpected, or envisioning a desired future, the time to start is now!
Conclusion. Self-leadership is harnessing the six principles in your journey toward making the most of your potential. By the time you start reaping the benefits of the sixth principle, you will have discovered what Stephen Covey calls your voice in The 8th Habit.
Your voice is the endeavor in which you can excel the most. Having peeled off the outer layers of your potential, you can access a level of ingenuity that few dare to experience and leave an indelible mark on your chosen profession.
Peter Adebi, MA, SPHR, Human Resources Business Partner, Nemours. Author, The Star Principle: A Faith-Based Approach to Achieving Your Full Potential; Founder, Star Leadership, Inc.
Contact Peter Adebi at firstname.lastname@example.org