Based on Savanting Studies 1 to 6 in Savanting: Outperforming your Potential (2019): Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Jim Carrey
I THE CHALLENGE
I’ve just been told that my company’s Executive Succession Planning Committee has assessed that I can’t rise within company ranks until I demonstrate leadership. Since they don’t see my potential on that front, I appear to have been sidelined at age 34.
Could you please suggest new strategies for me to attain the leadership roles I crave, Lauren? This is not about a desire for status. Rather, it’s a yearning for contribution, for purpose, for meaning, and for making a difference in the world. It’s about doing work every day that I’m passionate about.
Here’s more about me to inform your insights. My strength is vision – for this company, its industry, and its opportunities within the global economy. I’m a big-picture thinker. I can’t help but dream big dreams. I thrill to high-speed, high-impact achievement while scaling new frontiers. I always see myself leading the charge into new horizons.
I started reading leadership books in my teens. I’ve taken the best leadership development programs. I’ve accumulated the latest leader disciplines, models, approaches, and tools for doing the work I was born to do. I graduated summa cum laude with an MBA in Global Management from a top university for this same reason.
Since the Committee’s decision, I’ve been trying to figure out my weaknesses. Why is my leadership not recognized? Why do I fail to get people to follow? Is it me or am I in the wrong corporate culture?
Could my failure to be recognized as a leader be due to my abusive childhood? I had to learn how to control my demeanor in the face of bullying, judging, and conflict, for example. I had to develop a quiet, respectful manner to survive. Perhaps my unshakeable calmness or emotional control in the face of hostility, conflict, disaster, or uncertain futures is viewed as a weakness as a leader in my current company. Could my issue, therefore, be simply due to cultural differences in how leadership is expressed?
Any suggestions for turning up the volume on my leader strength, Lauren?
II THE GOAL REDEFINED
1. “Leader” vs “Manager” redefined
Your visionary and pioneering strengths, emotional intelligence, and craving for impact, Sam, are a strong foundation for you to become not just a good leader but a great one. My assessment is based on my long-standing theory that managers run what exists; leaders bring the new into existence – whether new creations or the new knowledge that comes from penetrating unknown territories. In my view, the person who can “frontier” will always lead.
In fact, without “frontiering” into unknown territory or without achieving some sought-after change to reality, I would argue that leadership has not occurred. For me, the degree of change in the world is a measure of the strength of the leadership that has been exerted.
Leadership is a creative and creational act. Your potential as a leader, Sam, may have been overlooked by those who don’t differentiate between leaders and managers. With your passion for “high-speed achievement while penetrating new frontiers,” you would despise managerial roles to control what exists. You’ll want to ensure that you only accept “leader” roles or tasks to show yourself to advantage.
2. Leader power is measured by the degree of change in reality
I, therefore, want to recast your goal of stronger, more visible leadership, Sam, to one of more expansive and impactful advance of reality. Meaningful achievement at your full potential will nourish and strengthen you at your core. I want to release you from seeking external validation from subordinates or the succession committee. This diminishes you. Pursuing this validation will therefore interfere with you leading from full strength, Sam.
My energy has just skyrocketed, Lauren. This must be the right path for me. I feel free and fearless when I think of completing some of the projects I’ve been thinking about that would benefit my company. I feel powerless when I think of trying to please the Committee, my boss, or my reports.
Excellent, Sam. Use this “feeling” difference for decision-making going forward as to what is nourishing and what is depleting.
3. “Biologically-maximized” or “self-actualized” leadership
Your biological maximum would be the ideal foundation from which to operate at full power as a leader, Sam. What would that look like? You’d be leading from your strengths, talents, passions, and emotional highs at your full potential. You’d be doing impactful, reality-improving work that (a) engages your strongest, most rewarding talents, (b) is most meaningful to you, (c) is most valued by others, and (d) incites your most gratifying emotions.
Notice that this definition of biological maximum is also the formula for self-actualization. They are one and the same. Self-actualization is “becoming everything that one is capable of becoming” to quote American psychologist Dr. Abraham Maslow who coined the term. Self-actualized leadership is therefore the number one means for you to lead and achieve at full volume, Sam.
Evolution selected for mechanisms which would entice us to maximize. These would ensure the best chance for the survival of the individual and the species. For example, a biochemistry for emotional highs is embedded into the state of self-actualization. The fulfillment, exhilaration, and gratification we experience ensure we’ll strive to repeat this peak state.
My strategy, Sam, is for you to exploit built-in maximizers such as biochemical rewards, processes, drives, emotional highs, and other bio-levers to trigger your greatest leadership strength. This is a much simpler process than you might imagine.
Thanks to smart evolution, human beings come equipped with a multifaceted mechanism which will quickly click us into our maximum state. It is a mechanism which instantly activates all those maximizers so that peak performance emerges. Let me introduce this mechanism and describe how it will strengthen your leadership over time.
III THE STRATEGY:
Empower self-actualized leadership “in the zone”
Picture a sports superstar operating in the zone – his or her peak performance state. Now imagine your impact if you were leading from the zone, Sam. Imagine the strength of your leadership if you were applying your strongest, most rewarding talents to the most meaningful work for an audience most valuing of that work.
To put you into the zone, Sam, you’ll need to be doing work which will trigger a peak-performance, peak-growth, and peak-rewards “flow state.” More specifically, you’ll need to operate from what I call in my articles and books “top-talent flow” or “savantflow.”
“Top-talent flow” is a specialized subset of Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow” that I’ve identified and been studying for decades through real-life experimentation with my clients as an executive career manager. Flow is the altered state of consciousness I learned about from renowned psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi. His 1991 best-seller, Flow: The Optimal Experience came to me in a magical way just in time to validate and accelerate my experimentation and creational process.
I developed my top-talent-flow strategy by applying my degree in evolutionary anthropology to my analyses of hundreds of accomplished executives interviewed while I was CEO of an executive search firm specializing in the recruitment of Board and C-Suite global change leaders.
The “built-in maximizing biochemistry, processes, drives, emotional highs and other bio-levers” I mentioned exploiting earlier will all emerge automatically when you shift into peak performance in top-talent flow – a.k.a. the zone. The biochemical highs of both self-actualization and flow are part of the same complex system we’ve evolved to entice us to operate at our maximum. The thrill of growth, learning, improving, and pioneering new territory are also part of this same enticing and addicting system invoked in the zone.
Therefore, Sam, our action plan is simple. We need to find you tasks which will trigger top-talent flow daily. Preferably, these tasks would be cumulatively beneficial to the advance of your career.
This strategy dovetails nicely into the fact that serial daily flow states will automatically launch predictable growth processes. These will continuously raise the bar on your baseline level of performance and hence your leadership strength for the rest of your career.