Leaders only make a significant difference for an organization or team when they are at the top of their game. In their book, The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers Into Great Leaders, Zenger and Folkman discuss that leaders in the top decile of rankings (90th to 99th) produce twice as much net revenue for an organization as compared to managers in the 11th through 89th percentiles. To bring significant impact to a company as a leader, the leader must be great. If that is the case, then why are so many people who are leading not great?
Part of the challenge of becoming a great leader is that - to reach the threshold where we move from good to great - we must be willing to step outside our comfort zones. Being great requires the guts to step beyond good and to quest for more.
This can be quite a struggle. It is easy to settle for good. Gay Hendricks, in The Big Leap, describes the four zones we can find ourselves in, and that this settling means electing to remain in our Zone of Excellence.
- Zone of Incompetence: made up of all the activities we’re not good at. This is usually an easy zone to spot.
- Zone of Competence: we are competent at the activities in this zone. In this space, we hold our own. We aren’t great, but we aren’t terrible either.
- Zone of Excellence: these are activities we do extremely well, but this zone is where many people get caught up. For successful people this zone is a seductive and even dangerous trap. The temptation is strong to remain in the Zone of Excellence; it’s where our own addiction to comfort wants us to stay. It’s also where our family, friends, and organization want you to stay. You’re reliable there, and you provide a steady supply of all the things that family, friends, and organizations thrive on.
- Zone of Genius: in this zone we find the set of activities we are uniquely suited to do. Work in this zone draws upon our special gifts and strengths (our mix of values, purpose, and life experiences). This is a scary place. It is where we must lean into all that we are and live big and bold.
The comfort of the Zone of Excellence lulls many into complacency, yet it is only when we reach our Zone of Genius that we can excel as leaders and feel fulfilled and challenged in the work that we do. It takes the guts to go beyond what we know we can do and to step into the unknown of maybe what we can’t do.
Stepping into the Zone of Genius presents a challenge. Hendricks observed a significant roadblock in the way of reaching our Zone of Genius – upper limiting. He wrote that we have a limited tolerance for feeling good - when we attain higher levels of success, we often create personal dramas in our life that cloud our worlds with unhappiness and prevent us from enjoying our enhanced success.
Most of us seem to have a limited tolerance for our lives going well in general. When we hit this unknown hidden upper limit, we do something that stops our positive forward trajectory; we do something that brings us back down within the bounds of our limited tolerance. We self-sabotage so that we don’t exceed that upper limit.
Hendricks made a compelling revelation: “In the face of so much evidence that life hurts and is fraught with adversity on all fronts, having a willingness to feel good and have life go well all the time is a genuinely radical act.”
It takes guts to be great. It takes guts to decide to step into our Zone of Genius. It takes guts to have a willingness to let our lives go well all the time. Have the guts to believe you deserve awesome and great all the time. While you figure that out, I will be over here doing the genuinely radical act of believing for the both of us.
Until we meet again, busy seeing the Champion in you.