In his book, “Good to Great”, Jim Collins says, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.” While this is absolutely true, I can’t help but remind myself that there have been countless times when I had a specific goal or task in mind to accomplish and instead of just making a conscious choice, going after it and getting it done I stopped or procrastinated. And yes, many of those times ended up as the unmet dreams of my past. Whether it was losing those extra 20 pounds, calling on a prominent customer or rekindling a fading relationship, I found myself betraying my initial thought to “make it happen” and instead found myself justifying all the reasons why I was better off not following through or that I would get to it tomorrow. In fact, it was often something as simple as not eating that extra slice of pizza or being courteous enough to let the driver in front of me into my lane. In almost all cases I can remember thinking, “you don’t really need that extra slice” or “just let him in…he does have his signal on”. Then, in what seemed like a nano-second later I betrayed my initial, well-intentioned thought. Now, my thinking shifted to, “but that first slice was sooo good, and well, this would only be the second slice”. And then, of course, there is the infamous, “he shouldn’t have waited so long to put on his signal…I really don’t have time for this…he needs to learn!” If we think for just a moment and are honest with ourselves, we find that we have these types of situations and thoughts, varying in degrees of importance, all day long.
“That extra slice of pizza is only seen as an immediate reward rather than a long term hindrance.”
This process we go through of betraying our thoughts, doing what we believe is right and then going on to justify our reasons is what is known as self-deception. When we are self-deceived we literally don’t see that we are the source of our own problems. In fact, self-deception is so pervasive that it is the leading cause of all of our relationship and leadership problems. The Arbinger Institute, author of Leadership and Self-Deception, says it this way… “Self-deception is like this. It blinds us to the true causes of problems, and once we’re blind, all the ‘solutions’ we can think of will actually make matters worse. Whether at work or at home, self-deception obscures the truth about ourselves, corrupts our view of others and our circumstances, and inhibits our ability to make wise and helpful decisions.” This type of thinking is also known as an inward mindset or being “in the box”. So, to get “out of the box” and have an outward mindset towards yourself and others, it’s important to remember our shared humanity. When we recognize others as people who have hopes, needs, concerns and dreams just as we ourselves do, then, in that moment, we are out of the box and not betraying our thought to do what is right for another person. And just as important, we must recognize our own humanity. The opposite of this is seeing others as the problem and in turn, we treat them as objects and as a means to meet our own selfish needs. By treating others as objects, we significantly reduce our opportunity for cooperation and thereby decrease productivity, effectiveness and results. When we treat ourselves in this manner we decrease our own personal success. When I deceive myself, seeing myself as an object, that extra slice of pizza is only seen as an immediate reward rather than a long term hindrance.
So, Mr. Collins is correct. Greatness and I would suggest leadership as well, is a conscious, disciplined choice. Yet, it is not a choice we make just at the moment. More often, it is a choice we make in advance when we ask ourselves, who do we, as an individual or an organization, want to be when we grow up? But, we must first understand the consequences of self-deception and practice the principle of an outward mindset. We can then ask ourselves what are our core values? What is our mission, purpose and vision? What are our strengths? What are we passionate about? What standards are we committed to? What is our why? When we consciously and earnestly seek these answers and commit them to mind and heart, we begin to discover our identity. When a person or organization understands who they are, their identity, they no longer seek greatness. They transcend it. That is why our most impactful leaders and successful companies rarely recognize their own significance. It’s just simply who they are. And yet, we can all strive for this meaningful purpose in our lives as long as we are willing to live a conscious and disciplined life.