Changing the World: Opportunities, Problems, and Optimum Performance
Generally speaking, there are two types of response to challenge: some leaders see opportunities, and some leaders see problems. Which type of leader are you? And how do your responses to challenges reflect your level of performance? Whether we're leading in the workplace, in the church, in the community, or in the check-out line at the grocery story, our awareness levels can radically alter the outcome of any interaction.
Opportunities or Problems?
An individual’s predisposition toward challenge stems from countless personal and interpersonal factors. For example, past experience is an enormous influencer. If an individual has consistently felt rejected, ignored, and impeded in previous challenges, that individual will tend to view every challenge as yet another situation in which he or she will feel rejected, ignored, and impeded. For some people, it takes the experience of having “won one” to boost one’s determination to win again. In many cases, once an individual sees success in one area of life, one might become more prone to see ways toward success in other areas of life.
For many people, it takes “knowing someone.” By that, I mean many people are influenced by stories of other people who have overcome challenges. When we learn about how someone else confronted an issue or turned a negative into a positive, we can begin to ask how we might apply the same principles to our own life situations. For Christian leaders, then, the biblical applications are exponential. We have hundreds of stories at our disposal, showing us thousands of if-then and what-if scenarios illustrated by identifiable people who share our characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses. When we see how they did it, we can see how we can do it.
Ultimately, whether in an explicitly Christian sense or in a secular sense, faith is the ingredient that turns a problem into an opportunity. That is where servant-leadership is so powerful in building up the individuals around us. An enthusiastic, inspirational, problem-solving leader who welcomes challenges and maintains absolute faith that one way or another, everything is going to work out... that is a leader who plants hope in his or her team members, opening the door to opportunity.
It takes a leader who cultivates a mindset in his or her team that it’s fun to take risks and it’s okay if everything doesn’t go as planned. It takes the belief that success is always a certainty, and we just have to work through current circumstances.
This is an attribute uniquely amplified within our Christian faith, in that we know, as Christ-followers, that He is already victorious. As God’s people, we have already succeeded. This is a confidence we can carry into every aspect of our lives, transmitting to those around us the hope that is in us.
I once had a boss who let my imagination run wild, and I flourished in the freedom he gave me to question, ponder, hypothesize, experiment, fail, and experiment again. Under his free-rein leadership, after about a year in my position, I gained spur-of-the-moment confidence to propose a crazy, elaborate plan for a new media and marketing division under our existing company structure. I sat down in his office and babbled like a madwoman for about 30 minutes, gesturing all over the place and outlining the intricate details of a business plan full of all-new products and services to offer a global market I’d been dreaming up.
My boss listened intently the whole time, and when I finally stopped, holding my breath for his response, he just shrugged and said, “Okay, let’s try it. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.”
That is the kind of leadership it takes for a person to see opportunities instead of problems. When we feel empowered as individuals to take charge of our world, amazing potential opens up in our lives.
In contrast, the five greatest barriers to becoming a world changer, in my experience, include the following:
- Fear of failure
- Group inertia
Fear of failure is self-explanatory: we fear the potential negative consequences so much that we pass up the opportunity to create positive consequences. “I don’t know that this will succeed, so I’m not going to try.” Self-disqualification means we let our feelings of inadequacy or doubts about our own competencies rule us out. “I don’t know how to do that, so I’m not going to try.”
Complacency means we find a comfort zone and hesitate to venture out of it, thus passing up opportunities to fulfill our potential. “I’m successful enough where I’m at, so I’m not going to try.” Miserliness means we hoard our resources and guard them possessively, hanging on to what we’ve got instead of investing in opportunities to grow more. “I don’t want to spend money (or time or energy or other resources), so I’m not going to try.”
Group inertia—in my experience, perhaps the most difficult barrier for a leader to overcome—means we are working against the majority to turn the tides in favor of our idea, and the effort of persuasion becomes exhausting. “I’ll never convince ‘them’ to do this, so I’m not going to try.”
Self-assessment of our relevant abilities and environmental influences enables us to set down a plan for change and to live according to the implementation of an effective paradigm for our lives. All good businesses keep inventory; so do all successful leaders. First, we look at what we want to be, then we look at what we are now. We measure the distance and start marking off the steps to get there.
Many people go through life aimlessly, without ever taking a critical look at their abilities or influences. The difference between leaders and wanderers is that people who know where they are going also know where they are at right now. For Christian leaders in particular, this means an ongoing process of discovery as we seek humility and honesty with God and ourselves. For us, we always have the progress marker at hand: the closer we grow to Christ, the more we see how far from Him we fall.
Optimum performance is the synergy we experience when our abilities, influences, plans, and paradigm align and flow in the direction God intends for us. In secular terms, optimum performance relies upon work-life balance and achieving our potential in all areas—bringing together our public selves and our private selves to always be at our personal best, whether as worker, family member, community member, etc. In contrast, cognitive dissonance results when we try to be something we are not meant to be.
It takes intentional evaluation to perform a self-inventory and see the pieces fit together to build the life we envision. For me, thanks to years of corporate training and a 12-step program of spiritual recovery, the process of evaluation and self-monitoring has become nearly second nature. Along with the movements of the Spirit to guide me, I’ve gained a running series of questions in my head that direct my attention and keep me conscious of opportunities to build optimum performance:
- What did I do today?
- What can I do tomorrow?
- What can I do now?
- What can I let someone else do?
- What can I help someone else do?
- What do I want to do?
- What am I good at?
- What can I do better?
- What are my strengths in this situation?
- What are my weaknesses in this situation?
- Who around me models the behavior I admire?
- What are the qualities I bring into every situation?
- Which qualities do I need to grow?
- What steps do I need to take?
- What are the requirements?
- What do I need to know?
- What do I want to know?
- How do I learn that?
- What resources do I have right now?
- How do I obtain the resources to do that?
- Who else has resources to do that?
- Who do I talk to?
- What do they need from me?
- How can I help?
- Where are the needs?
- How can I fill those needs?
- Who can help me fill those needs?
- How can I build connections among those people?
- Who do I know who can help someone else I know?
- Where do I spend my time?
- What do I do there?
- How do I reflect God when I’m at home? when I’m at work? when I’m at school? when I’m at Wal-Mart?
- How do my actions reflect my values?
- How do my values affect my priorities?
- What are the values I want to model in my workplace and in my community?
- What do people see when they see me?
- What do I want them to see?
- What do I need to do differently?
Optimum performance represents the sweet spots of life when all of those self-evaluation questions fall into place in an effective paradigm, outlining a plan for change that encapsulates our relevant abilities and environmental influences. When we know the answers to all of those questions—when we know where we’re going, how far we have to go, and how we’re going to get there—we are at our best. When we let God choose the path, we are at God’s best. As human beings, we all have a craving to find meaning and purpose in our lives. We all want to matter in the world around us. None of us is happy feeling like we don't make a difference.
When we achieve optimum performance, we are naturally making a meaningful change in the world by embracing God’s best for us. That’s because when we are at God’s best, we are focused outwardly, not inwardly. When our attitudes are solely focused on loving God, our actions are geared toward loving others. Our intentions and intuitions bring us into positions to help others, give to others, think of others, and be there for others.
We are not at optimum performance if we are selfishly hoarding our own successes and fortunes. At those times, we are not satisfying our instinctual need to make a difference outside of ourselves. When our love of God and love of other people align with our abilities, influences, direction, and values, we achieve optimum performance. When we are at optimum performance, we are what God wants us to be, and in that state, we cannot help but change the world around us.