832-886-6452                                Vol 6, Issue 9

“Through Success Onto Significance”

May 2012


Last month I read a book called “The Leadership Challenge” by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner which contained this sentence that caught my attention:

“Learning to be a better leader requires great self-awareness, and it requires making ourselves vulnerable.”

Wow. That sentence had two requirements that aren’t often taught in most leadership development courses. These requirements aren’t even near the top of the leadership skills list. Have you had a leadership class that has taught you self-awareness and/or vulnerability? (Ok, if you’ve ever taken a class or workshop from me I know you’ve gotten the self-awareness part. 🙂

I believe that when it comes to leadership we tend to be over-focused on ‘skills’ and under-focused on ‘traits’, ‘attributes’ and ‘characteristics’ of leadership. It’s much easier to teach communication skills than it is to teach self-awareness. It’s easier to teach time management tips and techniques than it is to teach vulnerability, right?

So much of our current educational and development systems are “old school.” We humans have moved from focusing on survival to focusing on success. And yes, both are important… please don’t misunderstand, but as a society we’re moving beyond mere survival and success yet our human development systems aren’t keeping up.

Survival is systemic within the axiological hierarchy of value that I so often reference. You are either surviving or not. (If you are reading this then you are part of the surviving group. 😉 This need must be fulfilled before we can move up the hierarchy of value to the extrinsic. The extrinsic is what most people call success. Extrinsically we have ‘stuff’ – all of what we need and most of what we want.

To prove that we have the ‘stuff’, let’s look at the US census department statistics on poverty in the US from 2010. The nation’s poverty rate increased to 15.1 percent in 2010, up from 14.3 percent in 2009 and the highest level since 1993. That is a sad statistic and I am empathetic toward those who are struggling. Looking beyond these numbers we find a little more information regarding today’s definition of ‘poverty’.

80% of poor households have air conditioning Almost 75% have a car or truck 66% have cable or satellite television 66% of the poor have at least one DVD player / 70% have a VCR 50% have a personal computer / 43% have internet access 96% of poor parents stated that their children were never hungry at any time during the year because they could not afford food.

I’m not trying to make any sort of political statement or say that poor people shouldn’t have these things. The point I’m trying to make is that “poverty” isn’t defined the same today as it was, say, during the Great Depression or even 20 years ago when I was a kid. In the U.S., the “poor” have what they need to survive and many have some of the things that they “want“. In many, many countries around the world, the poor in the U.S. would be considered successful.

Today’s leaders need to know how to help their followers move from having the things that they want (success) to becoming who they are to become (significance). Leaders must acquire the skills, yes, but they must also acquire attributes that focus on the intrinsic… moving their followers through success and onto significance.

In order to do that you must look inward. How do you do that? We teach you to focus on developing traits and characteristics. We teach you how to use your natural strengths to develop not only what you do, but also who you are. If you are feeling stuck, it may have little to do with your skills and more to do with your attributes and characteristics.

When you are aware of who you are, you can become vulnerable because you realize that putting your best effort forward will always be enough. Oh, you might mess up and not get the extrinsic, temporary, tangible thing that you were hoping for, but in the process you will gain much more by becoming the best you that you can become.

Let me put it another way…

Do you know the name of the person who built:

The Eiffel tower? How about the Empire State Building? The great pyramids? The golden gate bridge?

For most people these names don’t roll off of our tongues. They built extrinsic, tangible things.

Now let’s look at it from another perspective…

Do you know who freed the slaves in the US? Do you know who led Great Britain in WWII? Do you know who brought peace to India?

I bet Lincoln, Churchill and Gandhi came to mind rather quickly for you.

So what’s the difference? Lincoln, Churchill and Gandhi were significant. They focused on the intrinsic. The creators of the bridges, buildings and towers were successful. They created extrinsic things.

To take your leadership to the next level, you must learn to deliver significance AND success. Success isn’t enough. In order to do that, you must look at things from a new perspective. Here are some helpful hints:

As you go through your day doing the tasks that you usually do, try looking for the significance in the task. You may ask, “What’s significant about doing the dishes?” Well, what attributes, characteristics and traits can you develop while doing the dishes? Focus, consistency, gratitude, and mindfulness are just a few that come to mind. If you do work maintaining a system or manufacturing a product, look for the significance in your work. You may ask, “What’s significant about maintenance?” Well, what attributes and characteristics can you work on while doing that work to become a better you? Persistence, alertness, proactivity, and dedication may be a few. If you lead a project team, at every meeting speak about the significance of your project. (Yes, every meeting!) Significance is everywhere if you look for it. Here are a few approaches that you can take… Look for the significance in the project. When you teach your team to focus on the “why” and not just the “how”, you will inspire them. So, what’s significant about, say, implementing a new financial system?” Well, what intrinsic value does the system provide? Consider whose life it positively impacts and adds value to? Look to develop the attributes and characteristics of your team members. Ask them how they’d like to be better after the project. Ask them what attributes and traits they’d like to develop as they do their tasks. Maybe they’d like more confidence, decisiveness, or openness? Look to develop your leadership characteristics. Maybe you’d like more self-awareness and vulnerability? Or, maybe more self-forgiveness, compassion, or empathy?

Talk about these things at your meetings. It will actually save you time because you won’t have to spend as much time managing because you’ll be motivating. You won’t have to spend as much time inspecting because you’ll be inspiring.

If you are reading this, you are already a success, my friend. Your next step is to learn to move through success and onto significance!

As one of my clients put it, “As with all things in life, I have come to believe that you will get as much benefit out of the coaching program as you put into it. …What I hope is that everyone is given the opportunity to experience what I have experienced in the past few months: To be able to look back at yourself and smile at how different you were then from how you are now. Unexpectedly, I have discovered that no matter what thought you are thinking or emotions you are feeling, they cannot harm your soul. To be able to realize that nothing can harm you is the most empowering result I have experienced. I hope that everyone comes to realize this in some way.

That is Significance.




“The most important function of education at any level is to develop the personality of the individual and the significance of his life to himself and to others.”

– Grayson Kirk


Enthusiasm releases the drive to carry you over obstacles and adds significance to all you do.”

– Norman Vincent Peale


I feel the capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance.

– Pablo Casals


Life would be stunted and narrow if we could feel no significance in the world around us beyond that which can be weighed and measured with the tools of the physicist or described by the metrical symbols of the mathematician.

– Sir Arthur Eddington


One of the great lessons I’ve learned in athletics is that you’ve got to discipline your life. No matter how good you may be, you’ve got to be willing to cut out of your life those things that keep you from going to the top.

– Bob Richards


The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success…but significance!!! Then…even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning!

– Markesa Yeager

 I would love to hear what you think about this edition of Breaking Free.  Please leave your comments below.

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