Scrawled across the whiteboard of a large conference room, in vibrant red, were the words, “If we’re not scared, it isn’t big enough.” To the casual observer, these words may have not meant much, but to the team assembled in that room, it was a well-understood and familiar refrain designed to propel that group of brilliant people to take action that firmly placed them in their discomfort zone. This refrain was their rallying cry—a less-than-subtle nudge by a truly innovative leader calling them to rely on their own creativity, step beyond what was comfortable, and do what others might consider the impossible.
Every industry has its great leaders: those people who enthuse, energize, induce, and propel others to accomplish more than they ever dreamed possible. But what does it take to create the excitement, energy, and intensity required to propel those talented people around you to excel and move beyond their self-imposed limits?
Energize, Enthuse Rather than Simply Engage Them
Creating the excitement, energy, and intensity in those you lead is less about engaging them and more about energizing them. Energizing them is about building their internal drive to excel beyond what they even think they are capable of. This requires you to give those you lead the opportunities they don’t even know they’re ready for. Place value on expecting high levels of performance by setting what appears to be impossible as possible. Setting high expectations and aspirations encourages people to develop the skills that lead to their being able not only to survive, but also thrive in an intense environment. Your acknowledgment of their skill and successes will lead those exceptional people to want to excel even more. The high and energy they get from succeeding, your acknowledgement of their success, and their confidence gained gives them a sense of being extraordinary, which drives them to be seen in only that way.
Lead by Example from Deep Within Your Own Discomfort Zone
Asking others to embrace the journey into their discomfort zone begins with modeling that behavior oneself. Visibly demonstrate the willingness to challenge your own thinking and behavior, and also set those seemingly impossible standards for you. Let those you lead see that you keep the pressure on yourself as intently as you do them. Your continued quest to elevate your own performance reassures those you lead that pushing the limits is more than just rhetoric, and that possibility lies in the zone of high expectations. Those you lead learn that, working together, you can all become more resourceful, innovative, and creative. And that enables them to see the possibilities in themselves.
Illuminate and Articulate the Challenge in Terms of the Vision
We can all become mired in the details of a problem and faced with only unexceptional solutions. Shedding light on the matter at hand in terms of the why helps you, your team, and the organization recast the matter at hand in ways that expand options, outcomes, and possibilities. Instilling and expanding the possibilities creates that wow and energy-producing moment. It inspires and affirms the underlying purpose for acting, helps guide the individual’s unique contribution to the outcome, and leads to more innovative, impactful, and authentic connection to the vision from which groundbreaking and revolutionary growth and resolution happen.
Being in the orbit of a leader like that can at times be pressure-filled, hard driving, and arduous. However, it spurs you to disrupt long-held patterns and to see what else you’ve got. I’d like you to share your memories of those people who’ve dared you to ask yourself: Is it big enough?