I have always believed in the importance of self-improvement. Maybe it is easy for me, since there have always been so many areas in which I need to improve. As much as I laugh at myself for all my introspection and navel-gazing, I do try to use my observations to be a better person. I don’t know if I succeed, but I think it is important to try.
I used to think that the key to self-improvement was to identify areas of weakness and work on correcting them. Then, I read a book called The Extraordinary Leader by Joseph Folkman and John Zenger. It changed my whole perspective. Folkman and Zenger suggest that it is not very productive to identify weaknesses and invest energy on them. They hypothesize that, no matter how much energy a person spends on attributes that are not natural strengths, very little improvement is likely to result. The far greater investment is to identify natural strengths and develop them even further. Folkman and Zenger believe there is much more value in turning “good” to “great” than in turning “weak” to “mediocre.”
Of course, Folkman and Zenger acknowledge that there are certain weaknesses that, if weak enough, will result in failure to lead. These are known as “fatal flaws.” In most positions of leadership, there are critical job duties that require basic competency at some particular skill. For instance, many leadership positions require the leader communicate effectively in writing. A critical job duty might be writing performance appraisals. Someone who aspires to be a leader may not have to be the best writer in the world, but she probably won’t succeed if she can’t at least string some coherent thoughts together on the page and consult spellcheck appropriately. The idea of the fatal flaw is that the inability to develop at least minimal proficiency in some specific skill will be so detrimental or distracting that the leader will be unable to deliver the necessary results or to inspire followership. In that case, the leader will fail, no matter how extraordinary the leader’s other attributes are.
Therefore, the concept of extraordinary leadership is that a person should work to eliminate any fatal flaws and then concentrate all their improvement efforts on their strengths rather than their weaknesses.
I think the concept works over a much wider landscape than “leadership.” I think it is desirable to live life pursuing extraordinary personship. I think we all have the capacity to grow in excellence and contribution. I think it is much more satisfying and productive to grow by nurturing our gifts and leveraging our strengths than slogging our way through the depths of our disinclinations. It’s a whole lot more fun, too.
The result I want most out of my personhood is to be kind, have integrity, and demonstrate Christianity. These are high aspirations. I think I will have to develop extraordinary personhood to even come close to achieving them in whatever time I have left in this life. I really do want to spend the time I have left developing the parts of me that are most likely to yield greatness.
However, before I start shooting off any fireworks or throwing any parties in celebration of my extraordinary personhood, I have to acknowledge that I have a fatal flaw. I am a terrible worrier. To be a truly extraordinary person and allow yourself to succeed at growth, you have to be brave and free enough to let yourself go. Worrying is a pretty big detriment and distractor. I’m sure the inability to control worrying will ultimately prevent me from delivering the results I want in my life. Before I can really cultivate and leverage my natural personship strengths, I have to shore up my propensity towards worry.
I have been working on that fatal flaw, with some success. The thing to remember is that I don’t have to become great at keeping worries at bay. In fact, I don’t even have to be as good at it as the next person. I just have to not suck at it. In other words, I have to gain at least enough competency in anxiety management to make sure that my worries don’t completely negate my strengths.
And I do have strengths as a person. I know I do. I do believe I have a strong capacity to empathize, love, and nurture. As I mature and grow, I am taking specific steps to grow those natural inclinations. If the results I want out of life are kindness, integrity, and Christianity, I think I must improve my empathy, love, and nurturing skills from good to great. I just need to be mindful about my attempts at extraordinary personship. When I wrote my blog piece Love-er-ly (http://www.terrilabonte.com/2020/02/love-er-ly/), I think I was exploring that process.
There is one more thing that I am doing to increase my mindfulness of my extraordinary personship goals. I have two bracelets I wear when I know I will be tackling a challenging situation or just feel the need for reminding. One says “Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10.” This bracelet reminds me to curb my fatal flaw of worrying. The other bracelet says, “Let all you do be done in love. 1Corinthians 16:14,” reminding me to lead with my strength.
Let’s face it. There is no way I’m getting anywhere close to extraordinary without God!
What are your greatest strengths? How can you grow them from good to great? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment, In the alternative, you can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have an extraordinary day!