I saw a cartoon recently showing a person behind the wheel of a car in heavy traffic who was musing, “I took the road less traveled, and now I don’t know where the hell I am.” Who hasn’t felt that way occasionally when trying to chart a new course in business? That’s because so much of our best-laid plans can be derailed by market setbacks, changes in corporate policy, personnel changes, or just plain bad luck.
As the founder of the Extreme Leadership Institute, I make it my business to offer a clear road map to anyone willing to follow a few simple guideposts. What are Extreme Leaders, you ask? They are people who excel because they mentor others, not just to be good, not even to be great–but to be greater than themselves. That kind of generosity and focus on the greater good truly is the road less traveled.
But if you’re reading this, you already know you want to go where other Extreme Leaders are headed and, after that, to surpass them and reach new terrain. Accordingly, may I offer my short list of three places you should pass on the road to excellence. Here’s hoping you meet some kindred spirits along the way.
First, Expand Yourself
Don’t settle for less than continuous improvement in your life or anyone else’s around you. A great musician is never “done” practicing his or her instrument. Yo-Yo Ma is a world-renowned cellist, but he still goes through all the basic scales every day. Likewise, you should never be “done” learning, growing, and improving. Always stay curious about your own path.
Take a full inventory of your strengths, assets, the people who’ve helped or hurt, and your biggest challenges, and know what you need to succeed. Then figure out what class, what person, or what resource you should have to get you there, and go out and find those things and people on an ongoing basis.
Your own growth must always be central to your plans to grow your business. That inventory, which should be constantly reviewed and updated, contains the raw materials for becoming a great leader and manager. And these are also the raw materials used for developing the greatness of other people. It’s at the point where you have a fully thought out inventory that you should be passing “Go” and collecting your first rewards; you’re well on the way to excellence now.
Second, Share Yourself
This road map works when you wholeheartedly embrace the elevation of other people in your daily life. Select someone (or more than one) you can deeply believe in: a person with potential, with heart, with ambition and daring. Extra points for someone you see often who can benefit directly from your guidance. Make that person your “project” and take them along on your journey. Practice the art of self-awareness, which is better than just selflessness: pay attention, listen fully and completely, and be 100 percent present in the interaction with people you are mentoring or working with.
Go further, and use what you know to help them. Remember that inventory we were just talking about? Figure out what resources in your personal inventory can be shared, replicated, or handed over to other people who also need them. “Share Yourself” means to shift your perspective from yourself and your needs to other people and their needs. Now you’re no longer an isolated person trying to find your way through obstacles; you become a connected person working in symbiosis with your underlings, colleagues, and clients for a shared success.
Third, Pass It On
This third point, which we at the Extreme Leadership Institute often call “Replicate Yourself,” is where my road map diverges from the expected. You are only a success to the extent you have made the people who come after you even more successful than you were. I believe so strongly in this principle of passing the torch that I wrote a whole book about it, Greater Than Yourself. It may seem paradoxical, but it is the case that the greatest leaders make other people their priority.
How to do this? First, reflect deeply on your team and identify people who would benefit from your mentorship. Then get in touch with the part of you that understands you must elevate your team, and let yourself develop a strong desire to do just that. To use a metaphor straight from Gold’s Gym, lift your team over your head and never lower them. Depending on where you are in your career arc, you might already be wondering about your legacy. Think ahead to those future years, and carve out the role of someone who helped, cared, and used your power and control in service of others. That’s a legacy you can be proud of.
Cultivate love—in the sense of building trust, making the workplace a setting of cooperation and mutual support, and genuinely caring about the people on your team—and you will generate powerful energy that will lead you to your destination and beyond.
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