If you are an ambitious individual, you will not be content just to sit back and let life pass you by. Instead, you will want to make your mark in the world, to carve out your niche and justify your reason for being.
You will also want to experience the personal satisfaction of reaching your full potential, of being as good as you possibly can in your chosen field.
For some, that will mean achieving excellence in a solitary pursuit such as writing, the arts, academia, sport or acting. For others, the path will lead them to more collaborative and collective ventures, working with and for others in business, politics, or through charitable or religious organisations.
If this is your route, then it will not be just a matter of being excellent at what you do, you will also need to possess other qualities that will enable you to lead others from where they are to where you want them to go.
To do this you must become someone who has the ability to stimulate, incentivize and empower not geniuses, but ordinary men and women from all walks of life, so that they make greater and better efforts, all to a common purpose – to achieve
To do that successfully, you will have become a leader, someone who stands out on their own in front of others, without the disguise of the crowd.
Change is necessary
‘If you always do what you have always done, you will get what you’ve always got.’
The fact that you are reading these words suggests that you have more than a passing interest in developing yourself as a person and human being. Your motivations for doing this will be personal and individual.
But if you are to follow your dream for personal success, then you have to turn dream into reality. You need to do more than just wish for this to happen – you must take action to make it so.
To do that, one thing is certain – you will have to change and equip yourself with new characteristics, behaviours and ways of thinking.
Because while it might be great to think of ourselves as the perfect package, in reality no one is perfect, or even comes close. We are all riddled with inconsistencies, blind spots and inadequacies, both mental and physical, with which we must do battle.
So, even if you subscribe to the view that leaders are born and not made, every would-be leader still needs to be formed, moulded from who and what they currently are, since no leader comes into the world complete or fully formed, ready to meet and take on their challenges.
Each one of us has strengths that will propel us upwards and weakness that, if we are not careful, will pull us back down. So, the reality is that you cannot get to where you need to go by remaining exactly who you are.
This chapter provides an overview of the process for getting from where you are right now to where you need to be. It will open your eyes to some of the changes you will need to make to yourself, and introduce you to the tools and techniques you will have to employ if you are to make a difference.
It is the start of an exciting but exacting journey, but one I am sure you are ready for
Do you have what it takes?
Being successful in any realm in life is to enter a competition with all those other ambitious individuals who strive for excellence against the odds.
So, the first question to ask yourself is: ‘Do I actually have what it takes?’
The successful are obviously different from other people. Not everyone is willing or able to step up to the plate and make a difference. And even among those who want to take on this mantle, most are ill-equipped for the role.
To be a leader, to carry others with you, to help others in the best way possible, you need an essential framework of skills, which we all have – to a greater or lesser extent
Action Point – Why do you want to make a difference?
Give yourself five good reasons why you want to be a leader. Can’t think of that many? Then seek inspiration by reading about great leaders. Feel how they felt, what drove them. If you can’t find within you that same motivating force, your chances of rising to the top are greatly diminished.
The qualities of success
With some 17,000 words in the English language just to describe human personality and character traits, it is difficult to reach a definitive list of qualities necessary for success. But here are some that may fit the bill.
You must have a sense of mission. If you don’t know your purpose in life, you will have nothing to drive your forward. Without this internal anchor, it is all too easy to be blown off course when the going gets tough. And, if you don’t have mission, how will you ever be able to inspire others or show them your path is the right one to follow?
You must have a vision of the future. If you are to be a high achiever, you need to ‘see’ a different future, what the world could be like. And, if you are to make a difference, then your vision needs to be big, not small.
‘Whatever the mind of a man can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve.’
You must have ambitious goals. Goals bring your vision into the real world. They are stepping stones on a journey to success and ultimate fulfilment of your mission, and when one is completed, there is always the next one to achieve.
‘The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.’
You must be competent. In other words, you must be seen as having the right credentials to do this. You must have the expertise necessary to do what you want to do.
You must be willing to build a strong team around you. Success is rarely a path you can walk alone. If you are to get where you want to go, you must draw around you others who can help and whose skills and qualities will add to your own.
You must have strong communication skills. It does little good to have a strong mission, vision and goals if you cannot articulate these clearly and vividly to those who matter. In whatever field you hope to achieve success, particularly in our multi-media age, communication skills are increasingly important. If you don’t yet have them, then you need to learn them from master communicators like American Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King.
‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.
Martin Luther King
You must have excellent interpersonal skills. Those who are successful are generally comfortable relating to others. They easily create rapport and, on balance, are more extrovert than introvert. This helps them seem more approachable, likeable, and to come across as a leader.
You must have a ‘can do attitude’, one that sees you always looking to get things done. Nothing in the world is achieved without enthusiasm, so you must always be keen for action.
You must be willing to take risks. If you wait for better times, for perfection, for inspiration, for permission or reassurance from others, for the right person to come along, or for your children to leave home, you will end up regretting what you could have done. Those who are looking to succeed take chances, accept that they could be exposing themselves to the risk of failure. They do not waste their life waiting for certainty of success, because there is no such thing and that time will never come.
You must have the courage to stand firm in the face of difficulty, so that you can continue to pursue your dreams.
You must be inspirational. Achieving success and leadership doesn’t mean that you have to be charismatic, but people do need to look up to you, to see that you are different, if you are to inspire and motivate them to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t do.
You should have integrity. In an uncertain world, trustworthiness and incorruptibility will inspires trust in others.
You must take 100% responsibility for your own life and the decisions you make. Anyone who is looking to make the most of their potential must be willing to take complete responsibility for all that they do. They recognise that they are not entitled to a blessed life. If your life is not as you would want it right now, you have the opportunity to reboot it.
Contrast this attitude with that of the many people who are not successful and never will be. They are the people who always look to blame others for their failures. They see the world conspiring against them, so they declare that it is their parents or bosses, friends and family who are to blame for their lack of success. Or that the media and, of course, the economy, are the real reasons that they have not made it to the top. Theirs is a world in which everything conspires to stop them from achieving what they rightfully deserve.
They fail to recognise that while you cannot change what the world brings to your doorstep, you have control over how you respond. So, take charge of your own rudder and steer your own course, rather than being directed by others.
Action Point – Where are you now?
The above list is not comprehensive, so go through and add to it with your own ideas on the qualities needed for success. For each quality, score yourself out of 10. Be honest with yourself, and don’t worry if your score is way down against some of the qualities. This is just a start point that will highlight areas where you need to do some more concentrated work.
Be Inspired – Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great is probably one of the finest leaders the world has ever known. After inheriting a powerful but volatile kingdom he began a campaign of destroying his smaller enemies before setting out to conquer the massive Persian Empire. He achieved all of this without suffering a single defeat by the age of 25. Over the next eight years, his stature as a king, military commander, politician and explorer was widely acknowledged. However, proving that even the greatest among us have their weaknesses, Alexander had utter belief in his own indestructibility, which meant that he was often reckless, not only with his own life, but also that of his soldiers. But such was the confidence and belief he instilled in his own men, that only once in 13 years, dominated by countless battles and constant fighting, did they refuse to it follow him. Alexander died young of a fever at the age of 33.
Born, not made?
When we hear that ‘leaders are born, not made’, and that our characters are shaped early in life (‘Give me the child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man’ said the 16th Century Christian missionary, Saint Francis Xavier), can we really change the way we are? Is it possible to become another person, someone who is better equipped for the road ahead? Or will our attempts be doomed to failure as we expend time, energy and effort trying to achieve the impossible?
There are some who like to think of themselves as being so ‘hard-wired’ by genetics or past circumstance that their lives are pre-determined, blighted by the mark of history before they have even begun. They have no choice in life but to take drugs, drink and live fecklessly, just because that is the way they are. They have no option.
The ever-elastic mind
But is the mind and all of our behaviours so established that they may only be changed ever-so-slowly, after many years of effort, or we capable of swift and radical change, should the circumstances be right?
In the late summer of 1973, a Stockholm branch of Sweden’s Kreditbanken was held up at gunpoint by two robbers. Finding themselves unable to get out of the bank, the two men took four hostages and for nearly a week held them in uncomfortable conditions in the vault. So far, much like any other similar tale – until six days later, when the hostages were released. Rather than expressing understandably negative emotions such as fear, hatred and resentment towards their captors, the hostages did quite the opposite. Instead, they hugged and kissed them. The hostages had moved from states of negative emotion to positive states of love and loyalty, so much so that they later refused to testify against their kidnappers. In even this small space of time, the hostages’ minds had undergone an ‘unnatural’ transformation – a ‘traumatic bond’ was created and the Stockholm Syndrome born.
Psychiatrists and human behaviourists were surprised at such a turn of events, but brainwashing techniques had already proven the mind’s ability to swap previous beliefs, even if vigorously held, for a completely opposite set, if the right psychological buttons were pressed, admittedly using generally harsh and unsavoury techniques involving deprivation, disorientation and drugs.
Change without trauma
So, the mind can change dramatically. But can that occur on a day-to-day basis without a traumatic experience? Can we change by making conscious decisions without the need for criminal gangs or the darkened rooms of the secret services?
Of course we can – the evidence is all around us.
Even a cursory look through ‘true life magazines’ will reveal countless stories of individuals – drug dealers, addicts, prostitutes, one-time down and outs – who have turned their lives around through positive personal choice, to set themselves on an entirely different path. They reach a point in their lives when they have had enough and want to move on from a bad place. And that’s when they need an inspirational role model.
Action Point – Find your heroes
By choosing appropriate role models, we can borrow from the success, achievements, actions and behaviours of others, and inspire ourselves to greater effort and achievement.
They don’t have to be from your particular discipline, nationality, sex or age – they just need to be someone with whom you feel an emotional connection, with whom you can empathise.
And you can have different role models, with different characteristics, to inspire you in particular areas of your life.
Read about your heroes, and if they are still alive, watch them on television, read their latest books, go and see them speak or perform.
But don’t try to be them, just learn from them. You are your own person.
Here are some well-known people whose distinctive personalities and achievements may motivate and inspire you:
Leadership: Winston Churchill, Alexander the Great
Dignity: Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa
Creativity: Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci
Sporting achievement: Lance Armstrong, Rafael Nadal, Pelé, Don Bradman
Storytelling: J K Rowling, Stephen King, Shakespeare, Steven Spielberg, Walt Disney
Spirituality: Dalai Lama, Gandhi
Charisma: Muhammad Ali, John F Kennedy
Mould-breaking: Margaret Thatcher, Jesse Owens (Black sprinter), Charles Darwin
Science: Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking
Political activism: Billy Graham, Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King
Business achievement: Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Richard Branson
Courage: Ernest Shackleton, Neil Armstrong
Pointing your life in the right direction
Others consciously set out from an early age to direct their lives in a particular direction because they want to make their mark in the world.
One of the best-documented examples of someone famous making a conscious decision to direct their lives in a planned and controlled fashion is that of America’s Founding Fathers.
In 1726, Benjamin Franklin had big plans for himself. Though working class, he was determined to cultivate his character, to enable him to achieve great things for himself. Though still young, just 20, he identified 13 virtues, all listed in his autobiography (one of the most famous ever written), which he believed, should he be able to develop them, would see him achieve great things.
Franklin did not try to work on all of these virtues at once, so he would work on one and only one each week ‘leaving all others to their ordinary chance.’ And though, by his own admission, he did not always follow these virtues without failure, he continued to pursue them throughout his life until his death on 17th April 1790.
Franklin believed his efforts made him a better man and contributed greatly to his success and happiness. Indeed, in his autobiography, more pages are devoted to this than any other single point.
And though some of these virtues may not totally resonate with our modern world, they provide an insight into the mind of a great polymath who went on to become an author, printer, politician, scientist, musician and inventor (lightning rods and bifocals), statesman and diplomat (United States Ambassador to France), in later life a prominent abolitionist of slavery, and founder of America’s first public lending library.
Not bad for a working class boy.
Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues
Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; waste nothing.
Industry. Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
Franklin wrote about his virtues: ‘I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.’ So, why not follow his example and devise and follow your own plan of 13 virtues? They don’t need to be as 18th Century as Franklin’s.
Your start point
There’s an old joke variously ascribed to different national stereotypes to fit personal prejudices that goes something like this:
‘A driver, lost in the depths of the countryside, stops to ask a local for directions. ‘Can you tell me the way to the nearest hotel?’ he says. The local stops and considers the question deeply. After a few moments he lets out a long breath, shakes his head sadly and replies: ‘Yes, but I wouldn’t start from here.’
Unfortunately, where you are is where you are. So, while life can sometimes seems unfair when you see others squandering opportunities you crave, their good fortune should be irrelevant to you.
They may well have advantages that you don’t. They may have better health, deeper pockets and family connections, but you can only set off from where you are.
So, while others run their own race, only you can run yours.
While theoretical physicists may talk about multi-verses and parallel universes, in our world they do not apply. There is no moving forward to a better time, or sideways to a better place – your start point is you.
You are your own raw material, and you have to do the very best you can with it. There is no point waiting for a better moment, a more propitious situation to arise, for someone else to do their thing before you can do yours.
If you are intent on becoming of becoming a leader or generally transforming your life for the better so that you achieve your greatest potential, you must remember and realise that you can only get there from where you are, and that there is no better time to begin your journey of development than right now.
Carpe Diem is a Latin phrase meaning ‘seize the day’. Many of us will have heard the expression, but few of us live by it.
However, it encapsulates the principle that since our lives are so brief, we should make each day count. This is an idea so powerful that it has been taught for centuries – an old technique that can be traced back to the literature of Ancient Rome and Greece, when young soldiers were encouraged to study the busts of famous generals who even then were long since dead. By doing so, they could weigh up their own lives against those of the famous generals and start to consider the legacy that they might leave behind them after they too were dead.
The phrase ‘carpe diem’ itself carries urgency and purpose. It does not exhort us just to ‘do’, or ‘finish’, or ‘complete’, or ‘get round to it one day’, but to ‘seize’ the day by grabbing it before it is gone – which in a very real sense is what happens, if we do not make the most of our time.
Create Your Own ‘Opportunity Engine’
Life is what you make it. Those who are successful know this in their very bones and continually look for ways in which to mould life to their advantage, by creating their own ‘opportunity engine’ to generate the breaks they need in life.
So, how do you create an opportunity engine? By bringing together different elements of your life and personality, the first of which is to be constantly aware of your goals. If you don’t continually keep this at the forefront of your mind, you won’t be sufficiently focused on finding the opportunities to further your success.
Add to this your energy and a willingness to make something happen by taking the initiative. Clearly you can’t rely on others to make things happen for you.
Of course, all the drive in the world will count for nothing if it is applied in the wrong place or in the wrong direction. So the third component of your opportunity engine is the ability to identify and seek out the people and resources you need to make a difference. This just reflects the fact that you can’t make something happen without the help of others. So, it’s like applying a ‘lever’ to your life to ‘leverage’ up your own efforts, so that the outcome is greater than it would be if you were working on your own.
Life really is a two-way street, so you will have to help others so they in turn will help you. Anyone who has ambitions to be a leader or to achieve success cannot continually take without giving back. This may work in the short-term, but very soon those you are taking advantage of, through your greed, intentionally or otherwise, will turn off the goodwill tap. With such a reputation acquired, others will be far less willing to offer their help. But give back more than you ask and the opportunities will open in front of you as others recognize and respect the qualities of your character.
If you are to benefit from the contribution others can make, you must be able to communicate effectively what it is you need from them. If they are insufficiently inspired to help, you will not be able to release from them the resources that you need.
The final component of your opportunity engine is the ability to collaborate with those with whom you connect. If you cannot work with people, your opportunity engine will misfire and stall.
The power of decision
Virtually every minute of our lives we are faced with choices about things both trivial and major.
Everything that you experience today is the result of choices you have made in the past. Everything that you experience in the future will result from what you decide from today onwards.
And every for every choice we make, there are three paths we could follow.
We can leave others to make the decision for us. We can do nothing and allow nature, circumstance and chance to take its course. Or we can make the choice, rightly or wrongly, for ourselves.
Of course, this is the only path that is attractive to anyone who wants to take control of their life. The other routes are just an abdication of responsibility.
Taking decisions about your future (as well as other thing) is not always comfortable. It may mean giving up certain things and committing to a particular course of action, when the easiest course is to keep our options open. Faced with this, most of us do not easily or happily or fully acquire the habit of making fast, decisive decisions.
But it’s something you need to do if you are going to succeed in life. As with all our other habits, we can re-programme ourselves to turn a learned state of inertia into one of action. And, as you take more decisions, it will become easier to take further decisions, because taking action builds its own momentum – one thing happens and then another, just as in a nuclear chain reaction atoms bounce into each other to release energy.
And for many of us, our ‘decisions’ are not decisions at all because we don’t actually make a commitment, and are happy to change that decision at the drop of a hat.
Often that doesn’t matter, but if we do it frequently, and about things that matter, we will become known as a ‘wobbler’, ‘weak-willed’ and ‘someone who doesn’t know their own mind’.
Yet it’s at the moment when our decisions are tested that commitment is required. This is when it is necessary not only to be courageous but also true to our mission and vision for our life.
Truly successful people do commit. They do not revisit a decision unless there is a requirement to do so through change in circumstance, and not simply desire.
Be Inspired – Nelson Mandela
The inspirational story of Nelson Mandela is known throughout the world. A dedicated opponent of South Africa’s racially divisive apartheid regime, he was arrested, convicted and imprisoned for sabotage. There, for not five, ten or twenty years, but twenty-seven, he remained, much of the time in solitary confinement while his people were being killed.
For most of us, the futility of such an existence would have been too much to bear, but, on his release in 1990 from Robben Island, he left with his head held high. Most remarkably, after his release Mandela did not seek to promote a message of revenge or rage against his captors. Nor did he talk about injustice – instead he sought reconciliation to heal a divided country. Such was his dignity and the integrity he exuded that he became a figurehead, not only for those people he had originally represented, but also many people within the ruling population who had previously seen him only as a terrorist.
That combination of internal strength, the highest set of values, courage and simple, straightforward communication marked him out as an instant leader and figurehead, who became President of South African from 1994 to 1999, and earned him the Nobel Prize for Peace.