Real Leaders

The Science of Success Begins With “Knowing”


This past week I led a strategy retreat for an amazing financial institution that provides capital and counseling to small business owners. Their mission is to help entrepreneurs build their businesses, increase employment and help their communities thrive. They operate aggressively throughout California and Arizona and are looking to spread their wings nationally.

Their strategic question was “How can we offer more relevant products and services to help our clients be successful?”  I love to work with organizations like this who understand that the purpose of business is to improve humanity using the disciplines of capitalism. Ah… very refreshing.

I use the same process framework whether I am helping leadership teams create a new business strategy, or with individuals who just want a new life strategy. It’s based on the synthesis of years of research and practice on the key factors that produce fulfilling success. I stress the word fulfilling for a reason.

We all know people who have been quite successful in making money for achieving fame but are nevertheless miserable. That’s because neither money nor fame on their own are soul satisfying. Success without meaning is empty. We are meaning seeking beings. We can’t help it.

Today, we live in a great age in which most of us can enrich ourselves by enriching others.  By “enrich” I mean the BIG definition of that word. We can enrich people’s health, knowledge, capabilities, opportunities, emotional and social lives. We can enrich people’s happiness and enjoyment of life. When we invest our talents to improve others’ quality of life we improve our own. There has never been a better time to seek success by creating genuine value for others. For my client leadership team they wanted to increase their self-worth as they help small business owners increase their net-worth.

This is very fulfilling to me as I have a high interest in helping  wise-hearted others understand the science-based framework for success so our culture can achieve escape velocity from the forces of fear, bias and toxic self-interest.

Science of success is summed up in the word K(NO)W. Just for fun I pronounce it K-NO-W. It means that to be successful you have to know what your soul really wants and say no to everything else.

It turns out this is not very easy. You live in a culture in which you are bombarded with as many as 5,000 selling messages every day telling you that you will never be happy or successful if you don’t buy something or change your appearance or your job or your home or your car or whatever else crazy advertisers can think up. You also probably work in a hierarchical structure in which being a boss is almost always considered better than being great at what you do. We are constantly told it’s better to fit in than to stand out. Yet the people we most admire stand out the most.

I find that leaders have it extra tough. CEOs are told by their board and the idiots of Wall Street what success is. I found this creates a dense fog that often takes months to dissipate as I continually ask my clients “But what difference do YOU really want to make? How do you define success for you?” Many don’t have a very clear answer.

And my work with women convinces me that women have a very hard time with self-directed goal clarity.  In most organizations and most families men set the agenda and women are expected to make that agenda work.  Until very recently women who have their own life visions were considered un-womanly.

One thing I’m quite sure of is that you will never feel fulfilled by spending your life fulfilling other people’s goals.  I’ve never seen it. So if you’re interested in authentic, soul-satisfying success here are the five steps I use.

I call it SMART Power.  It’s smart because it uses the five forces that make human beings powerful and effective.  These are the forces of (1) inspiration, (2) intellect, (3) emotion (4) social connection and (5) physical energy and vitality.  When you ignite all of these human forces your power to succeed multiplies. I assure you this is not mumbo-jumbo.  It’s exactly how I help individuals and organizations transform.

I want to explain this process carefully so I’m only going to explain step one, Self-Vision, in this blog.  I will follow up with the other four steps in next week’s blog.  So let’s get started.

(1) Self-Vision.  The foundation of success is to KNOW. You simply need to know what you most deeply desire to achieve. This is not trivial. You must set your direction on a set of goals that you find intrinsically meaningful. I ask people to literally visualize their best possible life two years from now. For most people this is not easy. It requires self-reflection.

Time strapped leaders often suffer from vision dyslexia. They are unclear and unsure. I am frequently retained by CEOs who are concerned that their leadership teams seem confused and lacking in confidence. I am quick to point out that their teams’ confusion is simply a vivid reflection of their own.

For these leaders, I ask them to paint me a detailed picture of what their optimal leadership success would look like two years hence. I ask them what impact they personally want to have on their customers, their employees and society. I often get into mental-emotional wrestling matches because leaders tend to regurgitate corporate vision statements, financial goals and other superficial answers because they have become too busy to have a high level of self-awareness.

So I have to ask them challenging questions, like… “What difference do you really want make?” or as a leader “If your children understood what you do, what would make your children most proud of you.” I’ll also ask them what leaders they most admire and why they admire them. They usually come up with the typical names of high profile successful people like Steve Jobs or Winston Churchill or even Elon Musk. Then I ask them why they admire them. The answers are usually that they are visionary and strong.  I point out that we admire people who know what they want and are focused on producing it. But it all starts with KNOWING. Knowing the difference you, your deepest intrinsic self, is longing to make.

When I work with individuals, I follow a similar process. I ask “Of the people you know well, whose personal life do you most admire?”  What elements of their lives would you like to incorporate into your own?”

Having a clear self- vision as to what constitutes your best life or the leadership impact you want to have is absolutely essential to your success. It’s that vision that creates an ever-present “intention” that changes how you look at everything.  It opens your mind to previously invisible opportunities and warns you of hidden pitfalls.

It changes the conversations you have, the people you spend time with, the TV shows you watch, the articles and books that you read. When your self-vision is clear it becomes the operating system of your daily life. Every decision is either taking toward fulfillment or wasting your time. Without clarity you could also be trapped in habits that sabotage your success.

One bad habit is paying attention to people, problems and situations that take us off track. We live in a very complicated age that is saturated with people who are requesting or even demanding we pay attention to them. All this noise makes us deaf to the voice of our unique vision.

Remember your true vision is always positive.  It isn’t about relief from the things in your life you don’t want. It is a picture of you living and leading your best life. It isn’t a wish or a tangle of emotional longings. It is a clear direction with a set of goals that are calling for your focused effort.

So for now, practice self-empathy. Please, go for a walk on the beach, in the woods or some other place in nature and reflect on how you want to specifically invest your time, talent and energy to make your work and your life a reflection of your highest and deepest desires. Finish these three questions:

  1. What I want from my career is…
  2. What I want out of life is…
  3. The difference I want to make is…

If your future were painted on a mural, what would I see? To paint that picture what needs to change in the next two years?

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