Curious Jane values leadership so much that the entire team took the time to focus on it last week at Southeastern University’s Leadership Forum. We went in search of inspiration, and we found it at every corner on the campus.
We believe leaders share valuable information to empower other leaders, so today we offer these three takeaways about how leaders succeed:
Slow down and think.
Granting yourself the luxury to slow down and think clearly was a common theme at The Forum.
Mark Sanborn, author of “The Fred Factor: How Passion in Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary,” said thoughtfulness comes from slowing down. Sanborn noted that intentionality is key to growing great leaders and success. The goal for businesses should be to out-think their competitors, not to outspend them, he added.
Similarly, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Charles Duhigg said that the most productive people have built habits that allow them to think deeply about their goals and priorities. They have contemplative routines that allow them to be “productive rather than busy.”
Duhigg’s research showed that successful Fortune 500 executives, Air Force pilots and professional athletes all visualize what should happen, in great detail, before it actually occurs so that they can focus better in the moment. Instinct directs people to react to stimuli instead of focusing on what they need to do, so spending time creating a clear vision of what ought to happen allows people to think and be successful by getting outside of the cognitive tunnel.
Duhigg’s advice: Challenge the stories in your head by making yourself think. He suggested that we train our children to do the same thing by asking, “What new thing will you do this week? And how will you force yourself to think about it?”
Work outside your comfort zone.
“Always do what you’re afraid to do and success will find you.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Sanborn said that one way people learn and therefore, become more successful, is to force themselves to work outside their comfort zone. He said that most people are naturally most comfortable either thinking, performing, reflecting or learning — therefore, we tend to overuse one of those skills.
He encouraged the audience to “disrupt” themselves and force themselves to focus on something different. Working outside your comfort zone forces you to learn, he said, adding, “Focused attention beats brains and brute strength every time.”
The founders of theSkimm, Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin, also talked about the trap of staying within your comfort zone. Although we live in an age where information is available on almost every topic, people tend to sign up for newsletters, websites and apps to get more information on topics they are interested in. And so, they learn a lot about only a few things. Weisberg and Zakin wanted to respond to that narrowed perspective by providing a newsletter that gave a variety of nonpartisan content.
In addition, the two recognized that many of their peers, millennial women, had access to a lot of information but did not have previous generations’ habits of “appointment media” – where they read a newspaper or watched TV at a certain time every day. They created theSkimm with the idea of it being inserted into their key demographic’s day so that they could become better informed without having to deviate from their usual routine. Instead, the information would be delivered to them in a way that would be hard to ignore.
Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines, talked a lot about having the courage of your convictions and making tough decisions. He encouraged the audience to have the confidence to follow their dreams and do what they believe is right, even when it is hard or uncomfortable or outside your comfort zone. “If all the decisions you’re making in life are the right ones, I would argue that you’re not making very bold decisions,” he said.
Find your passion.
The speakers at The Forum came from diverse backgrounds and a broad cross-section of industries, but all of them spoke passionately about their life’s work. TheSkimm founders are passionate about news. Delta’s Bastian is passionate about leading the way in his industry. Daymond John of FUBU and “Shark Tank” fame is passionate about entrepreneurship.
John said he always has written goals, both short- and long-term, to keep himself looking forward. He rewrites them frequently to remind himself to stay focused. “Motivation increases when we feel in control,” he said.
Scott Harrison, founder of charity: water, seized control over an issue that he could not ignore while volunteering in Liberia. He was horrified by how many people lack clean water, an issue that currently affects 663 million people around the world. He has made it his mission to build and repair wells so that every person has access to clean water. After 10 years of work, he acknowledges that the $260 million raised to date is only a start; they will have to do 81 times that amount of work to complete the mission.
Nonetheless, he was encouraged by this message scrawled on the window of a New York City bodega:
“Do not be afraid of work that has no end.” — Avot de Rabbi Natan
Similarly, actress and songwriter Caitlin Crosby founded The Giving Keys because she could not ignore the issues of the homeless in her hometown, Los Angeles. Her key jewelry, which is made by people transitioning out of homelessness, is symbolic of helping people get the keys to their own home. They are engraved with words that are key to the wearer, such as “love,” “hope” or “create.” People are encouraged to then share their keys and inspirational messages with others to pay it forward.
“Set the intention you need in your life and unlock it,” Crosby said. “Then pass it along to someone who needs it — or who needs it more than you do.”
Maybe today, you can make a commitment to implement one small decision related to these keys to successful leadership – slowing down, stretching outside your comfort zone and tapping into your passion. You’ll see results, and those who follow your lead will, too.