I recently sat down with the excellent Michael Woodward for his JumbleThink podcast, during which we discussed modern leadership and all that entails. Listen here, download the episode via iTunes, or stream via Soundcloud.
Now on to this week’s post.
It’s a question I’m asked often:
“What does a ‘performance coach’ do?”
I’m ready for it. “Typically, performance coaches help clients make changes in organizations that lead to improved performance,” I reply. “That’s what I do, but in a specific way: I help leaders inspire their organizations to make what will be commonplace in the future reality today.”
My way is not the way most coaches or executives go about change. Most consultants and their clients seek incremental improvement––a 5% increase in sales, a 10% improvement in efficiency, a 20% reduction in injuries. Those are common targets. They’re also goals that are limited by what the leader and her people believe is currently possible.
Years ago, I began to question this strategy. Why go for incremental increases and reductions? Why not shoot for what is impossible today but will be easily doable in the future?
I began asking myself questions like these after I realized the child of someone we’d now consider a “cave man” could do and be anything my children can do had he’d been raised in my family. It’s an epiphany I’ve blogged about before: the potential of human beings isn’t limited by the time in history during which they were born. It’s limited by what the people who raise and live with them believe is possible.
I started to wonder: if a child born 30,000 years ago has the potential to be an astronaut or computer genius, why can’t I and others living today be capable of what humans will find commonplace a thousand years from now?
I realized that the only thing keeping me and those I coach from doing what our distant progeny will consider baseline is our own understanding of what’s possible. That’s when it hit me: if I can find ways to shift what leaders believe is doable, I can help them lead their people to levels of performance they’ve never dreamed possible.
And would you believe it? It worked.
I applied this philosophy in a practical way in the early 90s when I met the CEO of a consulting firm looking to develop what he called “a safety practice” for his company. Many of his clients were asking him for help with reducing the number of injuries incurred each year. He was having trouble differentiating himself from others in the field and couldn’t see how he could offer anything significantly better than all the others working on the injury reduction problem.
When he approached me, I suggested that we don’t focus on reducing injuries. “The best you’ll get with that approach is an incremental reduction, and all the while, people will continue to suffer and die,” I said. “Instead, what if you helped your clients find a way to do what they believe is impossible? Challenge them to find a way to do their work without harming anyone.”
The CEO began our conversation inhibited by dominant belief system, but after he mulled over my suggestion, he began to envision a future that he felt destined to lead his company and clients into. He left our discussion standing in that future––a future where people don’t get hurt at work. In that moment, he launched his mission to make that future reality.
That man and his company developed an entirely new paradigm for safety that they have spread across the world. As a result, thousands of lives have been saved, and untold suffering has been eliminated. They changed the belief system millions held that “death and injuries are unavoidable consequences of hazardous work” to a new mantra: “working free of incidents and injuries is doable and within our control.” Moreover, by being the author of this new paradigm and the first one in, the CEO’s company grew from a small, struggling consultancy into a $100M+ major player in the performance coaching industry.
That’s the impact shifting one leader’s perception of what’s possible can have.
As you go about leading your organization, I encourage you to ask yourself these questions:
- What performance is impossible today, but if it could be achieved, would fundamentally transform my business and the lives of my people?
- If I visited a future where that performance was commonplace, what would I see, hear, and feel?
- What would the people living and working in that future think, feel, and believe about themselves, their leader, and their company?
- If I observed myself leading in that future, how would I think, speak, act, and be different?
These questions will help you break free of your current perceptions of what’s possible for your business. They can open your eyes to performance that will be commonplace in the future. Your new insight will give you a head start on your competition, and is the first step toward rallying your people to make what will be commonplace in the future reality today.
So what are you waiting for?
Pictured above: Steve Jobs transformed tomorrow’s commonplace into today’s reality.