Lesson: 'I Forgot To Remember That I Couldn't Do It'

Register now

We spent the Christmas holidays in Colorado and for the first time in my life, I went cross- country skiing. One day we were at Ski Cooper, the highest Nordic Park in North America, and there was one hill that was getting the best of me. Every time I went down it, I fell (that's an understatement). This hill was at the beginning of a one-mile loop and was so steep that I didn't think I could ski up it. On the last run of the day, I decided that this time, I would conquer it. I landed sideways on the trail with both skis up around each of my ears. I had to take the skis off just to be able to stand up, and, since I had the skis off, I walked back up the hill, determined. Determined, but, no better off, once again I crashed. I got angry. I got back up on my feet and skied to the top. Rick, my fianc?, joined me there and said, "Hey, I thought you couldn't ski up this hill?" Which is when I looked around, surprised, and said "yeah, well, I guess I forgot to remember that I couldn't do it." What could you do simply by forgetting to remember that you can't do it?

Too often I see leaders who limit their own success and that of their teams by setting their sights too low, by deciding the outcome before they've begun. Here are four things that you can do to lead your team to higher success:

1. Make sure your team understands why they are doing and not just what they are doing. Most organizations waste countless dollars on employee orientations, customer service training and sales training. I am not saying that these things are not important because they are. However, if the employee doesn't understand the bigger picture-the why of what they do-they are likely to ultimately fail (and there goes your investment).

For example, in one staff training session I conducted, a loan officer stood up and said "You know, for about 15 years now, I've been a loan officer at this credit union. And, for 15 years, I've driven to work thinking, 'Great, I'm going to go in and push some paper around.' Today, I've discovered that that's not what I do. What I do is I help the member achieve some dream; whether that's the dream of owning a home, taking their family to Disneyland or maybe sending their kids to college. I will never look at what I do the same way again." Which is more motivating to you? She was well trained in what she did but she had never discovered how her contribution made a difference for others. A word of caution, however: we can't tell our team the value of their contribution, we have to help them discover it.

2. Make sure your executive team is on board, really on board. There's a very big difference between someone who is on board because there doesn't happen to be another ship around at the moment and one who is on board because they want to be there. Nothing sabotages success faster than a facade of cooperation.

3. Challenge yourself and your executive team. What I find is that executive teams always have goals and those goals are limiting their success. Too often, people set goals that are, at best, incremental, and will only serve to insure that they don't have the type of breakthrough performance of which they are truly capable. Norman Vincent Peale once advised "make a true estimate of your own ability, then raise it 10%." And maybe that should be 25%.

4. Don't settle for your current success. We should celebrate our current successes; not settle for them. One of the biggest obstacles to future success is our current success. We say to ourselves "Well, that's pretty good." Unfortunately, that leads to "pretty good" results; is that really what you want to be known for? Years ago, when I was in management, in the region where I was located, 25% PAC (profit after controllables) was considered to be very good. In fact, I was told that 25% to 28% was "as good as you could hope for." Well, since I wasn't hoping for anything but, instead, was prepared to create what I wanted, I set our management team on a course to achieve 35% PAC. I achieved 38% PAC within the first six months of taking over while increasing customer and employee loyalty. How do you know your current results are as good as they can be?

To be effective leaders, we owe it to our teams to challenge them, to help them develop, to help them achieve their true potential. In this quest, it is imperative that we not limit them by determining a meager outcome for them at the beginning of the journey.

On my day of skiing in Colorado, I was struck by an irony. Fourteen months prior to that day, I had been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and was told by the doctors that my days of being an athlete were over and that I would just have to "get used to" the constraints of the illness. I gave in to that way of thinking for about a month when it occurred to me that I was ALLOWING THE DIAGNOSIS TO DETERMINE THE PROGNOSIS; that I had given in to a negative outcome. I refuse to work with people who believe that I will fail before I even begin. Instead, I found a doctor who believed in a full recovery and who was willing to be my partner in that journey. In your organization's journey which one are you?

Bobbi Kahler is a professional speaker, author and consultant specializing in helping leaders get the best results from themselves and their teams. Ms. Kahler can be contacted at bobbi kahlerconsulting.com

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.