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I recently enjoyed a lively and informative webinar featuring my friend Ed Schein. Ed is professor emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management and wrote several of the ground-breaking books in the fields of career development and organizational culture.
In the webinar, Ed talked in detail about the roles of trust and humility in personal leadership. He spoke with the enthusiasm of a bright graduate student. He fielded questions with the finesse of a seasoned presenter (which he is). His intellectual energy was palpable.
Oh, did I mention that Ed is 93 years old? Ninety-three!
To me, the most interesting thing about Ed Schein is not his physical vitality, although that’s certainly impressive. It’s his life-long focus on stretching, exploring, probing, and challenging. That’s why Ed continues to learn—and help other people learn—well into his tenth decade.
It’s been said that every moment of your existence you’re either growing into more or retreating into less. If that’s true, and I believe it is, “standing still” is really not an option.
Nobody understands this better than Robert T. Sicora, an expert in personal and organization development. He’s helped thousands of leaders and employees chart a path toward greater purpose for themselves and their organizations.
Robert uses a holistic, research-based methodology he calls Leading from the Helm.
His book is titled Grab the Helm: Navigating with Purpose, Charting a Course Through Life’s Journey.
Rodger Dean Duncan: In your leadership development work, how did you decide to focus on a nautical metaphor?
Robert T. Sicora: The nautical metaphor has been used across time and cultures, and for good reason. What brought me to it was my elder brother. He was very successful in business and in life, and he was a skilled sailor. One day, when he was terminally ill, I was out sailing with him. We were discussing life and enjoying our time together, and I noticed the mastery with which he commanded the 40-foot vessel. He managed the ship on all fronts with no inefficiencies, and he had a knack for pushing limits.
At one point, he asked me to “grab the helm” while he tended to another task. As I watched him, it hit me. The wheel of “service value” I had been developing was the helm. From there, we were able to build an easy to understand and effective organization development model that helps transform not only organizations but the lives of people within them.
Duncan: One of the spokes of your individual leadership model is self-awareness. What role do you see self-awareness playing in a leader’s effectiveness, and why do so many leaders seem to be lacking in this quality?
Sicora: Self-awareness is at the core of leadership. For any of us to lead and guide others, we must first be able to lead and guide ourselves. This is what leads to social and emotional intelligence and determines how you manage and behave under different circumstances. Your self-awareness as a leader impacts your ability to adjust your style to meet others where they are. This is significant for diversity and inclusion, and it’s important in building trust.
Trust comes from being consistent in what you say and do. So many leaders are focused on an outward perspective—the competitive landscape and what can be seen in the marketplace. The pace of business doesn’t always allow for introspection or that inward perspective that allows for self-awareness. It’s that introspection that makes you a more effective leader, but many leaders don’t make the time for it.
Duncan: To help people clarify their personal purpose, you recommend using a 4G model to break down purpose into manageable parts. How does that work?
Sicora: The entire individual Helm is what helps people find or clarify their purpose. The 4G model contributes to this clarity by focusing on the talent and opportunity section of the Helm.
Talent is the gifts you’re given. You grow these gifts, often by sharing them with others. When we talk about growth, we mean using and sustaining a talent, and then stretching that talent for greater impact. It’s after we give our gifts and express a deeper appreciation and humility for our gifts that we bring gratitude into the mix. It’s in gratitude for the experience to give of our gifts that we can recognize our purpose.
Duncan: What have you found to be a good way for people to clarify their personal values?
Sicora: It’s important to recognize that values are a tribal thing handed down to us. Our first values are dictated to us in our early years. We’re told: “Yes, do this. No, don’t do that.”
For many of us, our teen years are when we start to call everything into question. We spend more time in the world and start to form our own opinions and ideals based on our personal experiences.
Personal values are who you are. They’re core to your decision-making and beliefs. Everything should be rooted in your values. One of the best ways to clarify those values is to test them, to put them to the heat and see if that challenges or changes your thinking. It’s like putting metal to heat to strengthen it. You might have a value that was given to you and that you never questioned before. Once you test it, you might find that it’s not a core value for you.
It’s important to allow your values to be tested, not to protect them so much that they aren’t strengthened or that you don’t grow. You may challenge your own beliefs and values as a result, and that’s okay. By testing and getting clarity around a value, you’re able to strengthen what’s most important to you.
Duncan: You say a person is most likely to create success at the intersection of opportunity, talent, and passion. What questions should people be asking themselves in order to arrive at that intersection?
Sicora: The TOPs model (talent, opportunity, passion) is a continuation of the 4G model. The model starts with a fearless inventory of your talent and what you absolutely love to do and looks at opportunities to do more of that.
First, list out your talents and gifts. This includes everything you’re good at, whether they’re natural gifts or skills you acquired over time. List all of the talents and gifts you can think of, not just those related to your job. Next, list your passions. These are the things that most excite you and that you love to do. Look at your lists. Do they overlap at all? Do you have the opportunity to use your talents and pursue your passions?
The intersections of your lists typically fall into the following categories:
- Duty – These are where you have talent and opportunity but no passion. You may dread this kind of work but know it must be done. This might be someone else’s passion though! Look for opportunities to shift tasks for better balance within your team.
- Growth – This is the intersection between passion and opportunity. To grow your passions and develop them as new talents, you must be mindful of opportunities or create them yourself.
- Missed opportunity – When you have both talent and passion for something but no opportunity to do it, you’re missing the chance to fulfill your purpose. What are the things you’re not doing that you would love to and that you would be good at? Maybe you’re a working parent who would love to coach but doesn’t have time. Or perhaps you have a natural talent for crunching numbers but are in a job that doesn’t use that skillset. Again, you can wait for an opportunity to appear, or you can create one!
- Sweet spot – Your sweet spot is at the convergence of talent, passion, and opportunity.
This is where you’re most likely to find success and a deep sense of purpose.
Duncan: How does the idea of mindfulness play into your individual purpose?
Sicora: You must be mindful to be able to step into opportunities to serve others on a moment-by-moment basis. Intentional mindfulness and being acutely aware in the moment allow us to see the opportunity we’re given and not let it pass by.
We need to get out of worrying about the future, dwelling on the past, focused on our cell phones. We must be present in the current moment. That’s when this model works the best. If you’re expecting a text message that says, “here’s your purpose,” it isn’t going to come. It’s about noticing when doors are open, knocking on doors when they’re closed, and recognizing when a door is closing as an opportunity to step into something new.
All too often, we get caught up in our routine and don’t allow that to happen. We get caught in a rut. But being intentionally mindful and present, and applying the individual Helm, can help us focus in on our purpose and take ownership of our individual engagement as human beings.
One tool I suggest to help cultivate mindfulness is what we call the Four A’s: awareness, appreciation, accountability, and action.
Awareness is where we recognize and acknowledge an opportunity before us, whether it presented itself or we created it for ourselves. The next step is appreciation, assessing the value and potential risks of the opportunity. Fully appreciating the potential of an opportunity leads to determining whether the opportunity would be accountable to our values, passion, and purpose. If it is, we take action.
This is how we can make the most of opportunities in the moment.
This column was first published by Forbes, where Dr. Duncan is a regular contributor.