My mentor Trevor always says to me that the most successful people have one common trait: regardless of how big they become, they always see themselves as humble students of leadership. In the constant flow of information, busy-ness and noise of every day life, they seek to learn 3 things every day that inspires them. The word inspire comes from Latin and means “to breathe in life”. Without inspiration, continuous learning and re-invention it is difficult to get to and remain at the top.
Everyday I try to learn lessons from others about the desirable characteristics in the pursuit of success and happiness. It is not only about hard work. There has to be something else in the equation of success. What other traits tipped the odds in favour of some the world’s most successful people?
1. Every leader needs followers. Find your passion to create a movement
“I don’t want to live an unlived life” – Dawna Markowa
We have all heard a lot about the importance of setting goals and thinking strategically about how we want to live our lives in order to be successful. Having an end in mind is only one part of the story. Winners have a reason; they know their purpose behind achieving their goals, which also makes them to resilient to overcome bumps in the road. If you do things with passion and purpose, it is also easier to influence others and create a movement.
Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream”. He didn’t say, “I have a plan”. Why did he, and not somebody else become the leader of the civil rights movement? Not only did he believe in a free America. Because of his fiery passion and absolute determination, he created a vision that was compelling and shared with other people. If other people understand why you are doing what you are doing and why you believe it is important, they will follow you. In order to change the world, you need to support of others.
Leverage your passion to invite other people in joining your story. After all, making dreams coming true is a people’s business and you can not be successful if other people are not supporting your cause.
2. Don’t be afraid of failure, keep trying and never give up
“I failed my way to success” – Thomas Edison
Why are we so afraid to fail? Fear of failure is one fear that cripples a person’s potential and their contribution to mankind. We all have a purpose to fulfill in life. Fear of failure is mostly linked to fear of rejection, exclusion and criticism from others. Most of the times it is not even about others, we are scared of letting ourselves down, bruising our own egos.
The most successful people, despite the field they are in, have failed many times before success was ever associated with them.
Without fear, courage could never exist.
Look at Andy Murray this weekend, finally reaching the “pinnacle of tennis” to become the first British man to lift the Wimbledon trophy in 77 years. Perseverance is at the heart of all successful performance – as Andy Murray’s own personal journey exemplifies. He kept going despite what was close to becoming a world record for number of appearances in Grand Slam finals without victory.
This psychological enigma sits at the heart of this result. The cure for self-doubt appears to be a triumph – but you can’t win until you overcome your self-doubt. When Andy Murray overcome the hesitation he could live out his full potential.
Self-doubters are quick to disengage from any pursuit. Henry Ford said, “Whether you believe you can or cannot: you are right”. Confidence, matched by ability is what works.
There is a short cut to this process. Get yourself a mentor or a coach. Since they had already reached where you want to be, they will know about the challenges that you will face and what will work for you. Leverage their knowledge and you will achieve your goals in a much shorter amount of time.
3. Appreciate limitations as a source of innovation and creativity
“Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it’s the only one you have” - Emily Chartier
Janine Shepherd, the Australian Olympic cycling athlete who had a car accident and became paralysed, expressed the total and excruciating feeling of loss and despair that immersed her when she realised that her body is completely broken. Not until she managed to let go of her former identity captured in her body, she was able to rebuild herself and become a professional, and very successful, pilot. She says: “When you let go of what you are, you become what you might be. Flying is the ultimate feeling of true freedom.”
Paul Hansen, today a successful artist tattooing bananas and creating Jimi Hendrix portrait out of matches, was facing with a major limitation for an artist — a hand tremor that made it impossible for him to do the pointillist drawings he loved. “Embracing the limitation can actually drive creativity … We need to first be limited in order to become limitless,” filmmaker Martin Villeneuve, one of the brains behind world-famous Cirque du Soleil, said about making a sci-fi movie for $2 million. He said, “If you treat the problems as possibilities, life will start to dance with you in the most amazing ways.”
4. Be authentic and follow your talent
Leaders are people who all stand for something, who possess courage to be authentic. Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Steve Jobs and Aung San Suu Kyi to name a few influential leaders, all share the ability to believe.
Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, writes in his book Onward: “We sometimes go against reason for something we believe in. Despite the risks we refuse to be bystanders, even though we might not know exactly where it will lead”.
I left my career in banking with comfortable income and professional prestige in the search for my holy grail. Terrified and lacking an identity, I completely threw myself outside my comfort zone and tumbled into a new world as leadership coach working at the grassroots of emerging Africa.
The personal gain from attaining my goals and working in tune with my capabilities and values has been invaluable in every way. All of a sudden, my head and heart were linked up and life seemed seamless. I now know, that it was not until I let go of who I thought I was that I could create a completely new life.
When I wholeheartedly let go of the life I was supposed to live and was prepared to take risks, I found a source of tremendous talent from within.
As Aristotle said, “where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation”. When you identify what you can easily do that others find difficult, you have potential to be the best.
This is the full meaning of human flourishing. It does not matter what you look like or where you are from or what you do for a living. What truly matters is that we continue to live our lives as the ultimate creative expression of who we really are.
To me that is what really defines happiness and freedom, which ultimately brings success.