It was on my journey of leadership at the Carleton University Students’ Association that I stumbled on a simple yet profound truth.
We cannot solve tomorrow’s problems using yesterday’s methods.
Today, we face the world’s greatest refugee crisis. Topped by rising socio-political unrest, and a helpless global environmental crisis. Our world is changing at an unprecedented pace, undergoing its fourth revolution; the digital revolution.
Leaders who are stuck solving new problems using old methods will be quick to fail. We need leaders who not only put out fires but start them. We cannot get caught in thinking small. Leaders must seek to scalably and sustainably solve human problems. To do so, we must question old ideologies that have limited our scope; and explore a new sort of leadership philosophy.
Our leaders must become realist-idealists.
While in our traditional understanding, an idealist and a realist may seem like opposites. It is the combination of these two leadership attributes that inspire and mobilize people. Alone, these qualities are limited and ineffective.
For example, an idealist may have the necessary optimism and great vision to believe in the idealism of people. However, they ineffectively take into account the behavioural economics of our capitalist system. And the power dynamics of the democratic system that thrives on the fear and greed of people.
In contrast, a realist may understand how to navigate the political system and its underlying subtleties. They have their pragmatic focus on practical objectives that are achievable. However, they limit themselves by their pessimistic view of how things are instead of how things could be.
A Realist-Idealists’ vision can motivate and lift the people. Engage them with fiery passion around a future that could be, but takes a pragmatic approach. That acknowledges the reality of the challenge and its current obstacles. For our leaders to achieve the impossible, they must be able to work both agendas simultaneously in an effective manner. To thrive in the digital age, all leaders must adopt this philosophy. They must set audacious goals and find pragmatic tactics that lead to revolutionary results.
The Realist-Idealist understands that even though some goals are beyond reach, its the daily commitment to the unreasonable that makes it reasonable.
Leaders give people stories that they can tell themselves. In fact, they give them new stories to help replace the old, out-dated, and self-limiting stories.
Much of our actions and our beliefs come from the deeply entrenched stories we’ve been telling ourselves for years about how life “should be” and what we can and cannot do.
These stories in our minds are otherwise known as limiting beliefs.
“The stories we tell ourselves can serve as straitjackets for stagnation, or scaffolding for transformation.” -Seb Paquet
See we all struggle with having limiting beliefs. We all have stories, sayings, or generalizations that we’ve adopted from our childhoods, and we’ve reinforced them by finding selective evidence to reaffirm these beliefs.
I struggled with my limiting beliefs for a long time, and I have continued to work on rewriting the stories in my head.
Here are a few that I thought I would share in hopes of having you become more aware of yours.
1) I’m too young to…. Speak and train on leadership and team dynamics…
See far too often our limiting beliefs are moulded in fear, or idea that we’re not “good enough” to do what we want. Even though I know, I have the knowledge, first-hand experience, and track record, I still question my credibility due to my age.
2) I don’t have enough money to … build and scale a full business…
See our family grew up with very little money, and so we naturally adopted a scarcity mentality about money. We always believed that you had to have money, to make money. Or as the saying goes, “The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. ” This belief at first kept me from investing my money into growing my business.
Here are a few typical examples of limiting beliefs, see if you recognize the voice in your head repeating these lines:
– I’m not smart enough to…
– I’m too young to…
– I don’t have the experience to…
– I need to have more training to…
– I’m too old for…
– I’m not funny enough to…
– I don’t have enough money to…
– There’s not enough time for me to…
– My cultural background means that…
– I can never catch a break at…
– With my luck…
– My childhood experience means that…
– The constraints of my life don’t allow for…
– I’m too scared to…
– I’ll look foolish if…
– I’ll look like a fraud if…
– I’m too ugly/fat to…
– I’m not good looking enough to…
– It’s just not me to do that…
Whatever we give our focus, will grow.
Here are the three easy steps to getting on your way of overcoming your limiting beliefs.
1. Bring it from the subconscious to the conscious. All you have to do is recognize the narrative you’ve been telling yourself.
2. Write out a new script for yourself, one that is empowering, that stands in its truth and comes from a place of self-love.
3. Stay aware, and when you catch your limiting beliefs creeping up, remind yourself of your new narrative.
Remember that your mind has been engraving those limiting beliefs for many years, it will take time and effort to rewrite the stories.
What type of problem are you solving?
There are generally three types of problems to solve. Resulting in 3 types of businesses; aspirins, vitamins and jellybeans.
Aspirins. These are acute problems that are causing immediate pain. They are a throbbing pain that is affecting our day and how we interact with everyone. We don’t want to work on anything until we deal with this pain.
Mechanics who fix cars that break down, are solving an acute pain, and thus running an aspirin business.
Vitamins. These are non-immediate problems. Their impact is so small that it can be easily neglected, but if not addressed, over time can cause pain and issues.
Auto-maintenance shops who do oil changes, detailing, cleaning and aesthetic bodywork are solving non-immediate pains, and running a vitamin business.
Jellybeans. These are not pains, but sought out gains. These are sometimes known as “nice to have”; luxuries, entertainment, and fun sought out items or experiences that are fulfilling immediate or long-term desires.
Luxury car dealerships are usually selling the lifestyle that one gets to live when driving their brand new top of the line, limited edition, exclusive car. And are thus running a jelly bean business.
When marketing the value of your business or product, we must first understand how our customer sees the problem and solution.
Is it an Aspirin? A Vitamin? or a Jellybean?
Leadership isn’t an opportunity; it’s an obligation — a responsibility for every one of us.
We live in an age with the highest amount of opportunity.
A 14-year old boy in high-school can start an online skateboard shop. He can design his boards, contact suppliers through Alibaba and revolutionize the skateboard industry.
A 21-year old filmmaker can get creative on YouTube. He can film, create and build a community, all while making a living as a ‘youtuber.’ Living a more fulfilling life than the student who chose a major in accounting because the career is stable.
Never has a beginner artist had such an opportunity to build a career selling their art, teaching their craft, and building a community through social media.
Never has an entrepreneur had such access to manufactures and suppliers, through a worldwide infrastructure.
Never have there been so many tribes and communities led by young and old, with no past leadership experience, but love for the community, and a passion that unites them.
Never has any generation before you had the opportunity to lead like we do today.
Many young millennials are outshining Gen X in many leadership positions because we’ve been groomed and trained to look at the world as Global Citizens. See the world is full of abundance.
There is a tribe for every leader who seeks to create.
There is an opportunity for every person who wants to lead.
The opportunity is no longer in scarcity. Therefore leadership is no longer an opportunity.
It is a responsibility that we must all take to make our world a better place.
To create the impact we’ve dreamt of having.
To leave a dent in the universe.
One of the most effective techniques to turn someone from an adversary to a teammate is by getting them to engage in the problem-solving process. Though it’s much easier said than done.
Perhaps they’re not an adversary, but someone who’s neutral, or holds the final decision and you want them to be on your ‘side.’
As Chris Voss puts it in his book on negotiation, “Never Split the Difference,” the most effective negotiation technique is to engage with a “How question.”
A “how question” shares the problem-solving responsibility with the opposing individual.
Chris Voss recalls when a hostages’ wife, while on the phone, in front of the FBI asked the hostage taker, “How do I know my husband is still alive?” This stumped all the FBI agents. As they would routinely ask questions that would require the hostage taker to get an answer from the victim; such as “what is his mother’s maiden name?”
But when asked “How do I know my husband is still alive?” to the amazement of the FBI, the hostage taker put her husband on the phone to confirm that he was still alive.
The first step of a negotiation is to get engagement. By engaging the hostage taker in solving the problem, they had little choice but to work with the FBI. Ask “how questions” leads to a collaborative negotiation.
While we don’t have as drastic of situations in our day to day work, we can utilize these questions to engage in active team building dialogue.
How would you use this technique to get closer to your goal?
You are going to die – The Monopoly Story
Quite some time ago, psychologist James Dobson shared a story and analogy from the world of games.
James’ grandmother introduced him to the game Monopoly. While teaching him, she would always say at the end of every game, “one day you’ll learn to play the game.
While he recalls that she was a loving person, she was also the most ruthless Monopoly player he’s ever known. She understood that the name of the game is to acquire.
Like any beginner player, James would want to save the money he got from the bank. While his grandmother would buy everything, she landed on. She would accumulate everything and eventually become the master of the board. This happened every time they played.
Day in and day out, James would hold on to his money in anticipation of having to pay his grandmother rent. Eventually, she would take every last dollar. Then she would always say the same thing.
She’d look at James and say, “one day, you’ll learn to play the game.” James hated hearing that at the end of every game. Felt like she was taunting him.
That summer, James spent months playing with the neighbourhood children, and he learned to play the game. He came to understand that the only way to win is to make a total commitment to acquisition. James recalled becoming more ruthless than his grandmother and was willing to bend the rules if I had to, to win the game.
That fall, James challenged his grandmother to a game of Monopoly. He recalls how he slowly, and relentlessly beat her; “I took everything she had. I destroyed her financially and psychologically. I watched her give her last dollar and quit in utter defeat. It was the greatest moment of my life.”
Then his grandmother had one more thing to teach him. She said:
“Now it all goes back in the box.”
After pausing she continued, “all the houses and hotels, railroads and utility companies, all that property and all that wonderful money – now it all goes back in the box.”
James frustrated with his grandmother barked back, saying that it didn’t matter and that he won this time! What she said next has stuck with him for life.
“None of it was really yours. You got all heated up about it for a while, but it was around a long time before you sat down at the board, and it will be here after you’re gone. Players come, and players go. But it all goes back in the box.”
Through his story, James illustrates the importance of not being too attached to our material objects. How upon death, we all end up back in the box.
However, I’d like to draw out another lesson.
The relationships you developed with the people who played the game don’t go back in the box. The impact you left on those people lasts beyond your life. It’s not so much about winning the game, but about whom you played the game with.
As leaders, it’s all about relationships.
What if playing the game monopoly was the means by which we created relationships. Moreover, our acquisitions used to amplify the good we leave behind.
For what we do for ourselves is gone when we are gone. But we do for others is our legacy.
My father would remind of this lesson throughout life.
I was of the lucky few individuals whom we would classify in life as “injury-prone.” So much so that my older brother started to joke that I would have to sign waiver forms before we did sports together.
In grade 7, I was playing basketball at school, and I landed poorly on my left foot, causing a significant ankle sprain. The kind of sprain that would keep you off your foot for a week, and hobbling for another. I recall skipping on one foot entering the waiting room, as my father walked in behind me.
“It really hurts, do you think it’s broken?” I recall asking him.
“You know this pain you feel?” My dad rhetorically asked. “In a couple of weeks, you’ll have forgotten all about it, like many pains in life, it’s painful at the moment. But soon after, it’s gone and almost like it never happened.”
Though he didn’t answer my question, the depth of his answer stuck with me. We forget the pain.
Grade 8, I broke my thumb playing volleyball. I know, out of all the sports, and all the things I could break, yes, my thumb. And there was my dad again, rushing me to the doctors waiting room.
He kindly reminded me, as I was in agonizing pain over my thumb, “Do you remember the pain you felt from your ankle?”
The humour is not lost on me, as I sprained my right ankle in high school. Got severely hit in the eye playing basketball and hospitalized. Lastly breaking my right ankle while in University.
My father never let an opportunity go to remind me of the time before, as we spent many hours in emergency rooms, and waiting rooms. As we waited 7 hours in emergency one time over my getting hit in the eye injury, he cracked a smile and said;
“Pain is temporary, and we forget it all as soon as it passes, we have to push through it. God designed us this way. It’s probably the only reason women are willing to give birth more than once.”
I had a good laugh at that one.
The truth is one that you already know. Pain is temporary. It may last for an hour, for a couple of days, and sometimes even months. But at one point it does go away, and we all forget about it.
We forget the pain.
So why not go through it, if it’ll get you to a better place?
The pain of high stress, and pushing yourself past your limits. The pain of waking up earlier, pushing more weights at the gym, making that extra meeting, working extremely long hours, all for that breakthrough.
What pain have you been avoiding that you know if you buckled down for 90-days and pushed through it, that you’ll be living a much happier and fuller life?
Have you ever seen an elephant at a circus? Magnificent creatures. Enormous in size, and truly dominating in presence. Have you seen them when they’re not performing and just in the back awaiting their turn?
Circus elephants typically have a rope wrapped around their foot and knotted onto a small pole that’s wedged into the ground for the purpose of keeping the elephant in that area. It’s quite strange to see this 5000 kg elephant tied to this small, dinky poll. One forceful pull and surely the elephant could break the pole into pieces.
Perhaps the elephant doesn’t actually want to leave, but then, why would they be tied to the pole in the first place?
Much to my surprise, I learned that the elephants don’t think they can break free. You see, when the elephants are very young and much smaller, the trainers use larger ropes to tie them to the pole. At that young age, many elephants will try to break free but the rope and pole is sufficient to hold them. Many months of attempts to break free, and failures to escape have them grow up conditioned to believe that they cannot break away.
Though these powerful creatures can break free from their bonds at any time, they don’t, because at one point in their childhood, they learned that they could not.
Their present strength is limited by their past experiences.
How many of us still think we can’t do something, because we failed at it when we were younger?
How many of us hold on to childhood struggles and memories, as if they were still true to our capacities today?
How many of us go through life holding onto a belief that we once thought was true, and have not challenged ourselves past it?
These are called our limiting beliefs, and they affect our mindset. No you’re not ‘messed up’ for having limiting beliefs, in fact, we all have them about something in our lives.
By identifying these limiting beliefs, you can bring them into your conscious mind. Begin to slowly rewire your way of thinking by challenging yourself when those thoughts reappear.
I was recently speaking to a class of high school students that are part of the school’s leadership LINK crew. The grade 12 students are linked with younger students and tasked with leadership roles throughout the year.
At the end of my presentation, one of the students politely asked; “If there was one thing I could do every day that would help me be a better leader, what would you suggest?”
I found joy in the simplicity of my response, as I tend to overcomplicate things.
“Do one thing every day, that nobody asked you to do.”
It’s quite simple, but perhaps the most powerful thing any of us can do.
Want to get a job, even though you’ve applied 100 places? Pick up the phone and call, schedule a meeting, or stop by the office – all these acts will show your initiative. Instead, most of us do only what we’re asked; submit a cover letter and CV.
Want to get a promotion at your job? Start doing one thing at work that’s outside of your role, where nobody asked, but you took the initiative. Instead, most of us say, “Well that’s not my job.”
Want to have a better relationship? Do something for your partner without being asked, or without it being a special occasion. Or, simply ask your partner, “How can I make things better?”
Want to be a leader? Don’t wait for permission; begin to act. Real leaders don’t need a position or permission. They simply see life as a series of choices and decisions.
Leaders take the initiative in every part of their life.
What’s your one thing for today?