How We Judge Success…
How much of success comes from modelling others? From looking at their behaviour and attempting to instil those habits in ourselves? Even the very notion of ‘habits’ comes from the idea that it is an outside-led change; that if we do something differently then we will get different results.
But what about the oft-quoted remark attributed to Einstein? Where does that fit into this model?
We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.
And it’s great to look at others to see what they do, what they have learned, where that’s taken them, but really change comes from understanding where those habits in others arise from and whether we are tapped into, and inspired from, that same place in ourselves. Let’s have a look at what that actually means though…
I want to generalise here and say that we only ever measure success with an external yardstick, but let me perhaps moderate and say ‘mainly’.
We want to know how big the organisation is, how many people, what kind of money is being raised or spent, how many people impacted and how their lives changed. In the impact world we look at breadth and depth and longevity of impact, but we rarely look at the evolution of the leader him or herself. And we never take account of ‘failure’, we are too quick to judge one kind of outcome as ‘good’ and another as ‘bad’.
That all said, though, there are characteristics we often see in those people we admire-common ways of being that they seem to share, that they have arrived at or seem to possess innately, that we observe to make a difference.
We see humility, we see courage, we see a way of connecting and making other people feel something about themselves, we see that these seem to create something in the world, and we want that for ourselves.
What They Do (or do they…?)
It is relevant to look at what someone is doing, not so that we can emulate the action and the behaviour for ourselves, but so that we can fine-tune our own way of being-to know when we are ‘on’ or ‘off’, to re-calibrate, rather than react. Here’s a snapshot of what we might see when we look at those people we admire:
1. They focus
We see them making choices, or, at least, we see the outcome of the fact they have made choices and they seem to focus on what’s important.
But how do they know? Is it really a choice or is it a result of not even seeing, or hearing, the same distractions we face? Or, perhaps, of knowing how to turn down the volume on the background noise?
This focus appears outwardly as consistency in action, a doing of the important work, a drive, even if it is from a quiet engine. However, I can tell you quite definitively, for myself and people I know well, it absolutely does not feel like that on the inside! Yes, there is a way of picking oneself up from a slip, of wallowing for less time than some do, but it comes from being able to distinguish between signal and noise, not from a discipline-based work ethic.
2. They have clarity about themselves and where they appear to be going
When we look at those high-impact leaders we see an incredible clarity about a destination, usually accompanied by a deep self-knowing. In the words of Steve Jobs, though,
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.
What looks to us like a map and a set of directions, is actually the result of following some kind of internal pull -more like a compass than a GPS. The better question might be,
How do we tune our own compass?
Can we please have a copy of someone else’s life journey?
3. They exhibit mastery
We see an effortlessness of doing, and of being in the world, which we can attribute to mastery, which we can want to learn how to do for ourselves.
And, yes, there are things to be learned, but all of those I see described as ‘high-impact leaders’ have more than a skillset, they have an understanding of what life is about and how to be a part of a bigger picture, a speck of dust in a universe, a self in relation to others. They may also have technical skills-they may have come from a business background, a technical background, a finance, engineering, creative, storytelling… It doesn’t matter the what, that only serves to show someone that there is a process of learning and a process of mastery, and mastery of leadership, which is simply an understanding of our role in relation to others, is the highest impact path.
4. They track outcomes
It often looks as if someone who is in a high-impact role is tracking and checking, monitoring and adjusting. It looks as if they have a theory of change, that they have an understanding of actions and consequences, and that they are tracking towards a result.
What’s more true though, what’s under the surface and what allows that person to track with proportionality, know when to adjust and when to stick, is that, at some level, even if not always consciously, they understand that the result they are heading towards is one of many, and that there are only sacred cows if we designate them so.
It’s clear that we can all count, but I’m not so sure that we all understand the role of monitoring, nor the greater game at play.
5. They are generous in their interactions with others.
We see this everywhere. Never once can I think of a time when I’ve asked for a conversation with someone at work, or I’ve invited someone I’d put in this ‘high-impact leader’ box to come and speak with one of the groups I facilitate and had them say no.
We might be reserved about asking, but there is a real humility, a generosity of spirit and of time, of stories and of sharing, that seems to accompany those people we respect. And we know it’s genuine; not a force, ‘oh if I make time I might get something in return’. Not everyone is ‘out there’, often these are very private people, but what is evident is that they seem themselves as part of a connected, human-scale system, not a god on a pedestal.
6. They seem happy
This is an odd one, I admit. I almost wrote something like, they are not obsessed with money and materialism, and this is true, but it’s also true that I know some highly-impactful people who enjoy money, who have what would be considered ‘wealth’ by any measure. It’s more accurate, perhaps to say that, despite enjoying the material of life, there is a lack of attachment to the ‘form’ of things, and an understanding of where true joy comes from, even if that isn’t a conscious understanding, as is true for much of what we observe on the outside.
As with all these tongue-in-cheek ‘habits’, I share this, not as a prescription for what to do, I am not issuing instruction for any kind of personal pilgrimage or exploration of frugality, although there is definitely value in asking the important questions in life, I share because it’s an observation, a description of what results from how life looks to us.
7. They don’t take themselves too seriously…
And finally… am I serious? Yes, absolutely.
On the one hand, the very nature of impact is a serious business-or so it seems-that to do good in the world is not occupy ourselves with frivolity. Yes, and… what these individuals understand, or at least exhibit an understanding of, is that they know the difference between being serious about something, and taking themselves too seriously.
We can all play the game full-out, but to know it is a game is the greatest gift of all.
The reality is that we are always looking at the outer cover of how someone is showing up in the world, and making meaning of it in one way or another. We never know what someone is doing or thinking under the surface, and the focus on other, in order to be, or to get something for ourselves can be very distracting.
What if we all focused on calibrating our own compass? That, as Einstein also said,
We have to learn to think in a new way.
That we admire others, yes, but that we return to seeing what it is in them that is the same in us, and to know that we all have the capacity for greatness, if only we can loosen a little the grip on what we think that means.
Impact can’t be boiled down to ‘seven habits’, well, it can, obviously, in an article like this, but the easier, and more peaceful way to find our own place in the world comes down to only one habit-to follow what we know to do, and always coming back to what we know to be true in the deepest part of ourselves.
Originally published at https://cathypresland.com on September 29, 2020.