I have seen evidence that people can rise up above difficult circumstances and impossible odds to make extraordinary things happen. I’ve seen this happen in my own life and in the lives of others. I find I am happiest when I am helping create that spark of possibility in the people around me, and when others begin to see positive changes in their lives as a result.
An early memory of this happening was in high school, playing football. I was from a school that had a rich tradition in sports, especially football, and our little town enjoyed many winning seasons. But my team was horrific. We were losers. We were near the end of the season and had lost every game thus far; in fact, we had not scored a single point in six games! We were demoralized and deeply resigned. It was a terrible suffering to have such high expectations to live up to, and yet fail so badly.
At half-time in our seventh game of the season, we were being humiliated again, losing 24-0. It appeared as though history was repeating itself. But in the locker room, the energy inexplicably changed. There was electrical charge in the atmosphere and a feeling that anything could happen. A chemistry between the players began to ignite. The weight and heaviness that had been killing our spirit lifted, and our mood lightened.
When the second half began, one good play turned into another, and a synergistic momentum took over. Suddenly, I felt like Superman, and each and every team member seemed to be connected together like one being. We were all Supermen! We scored a touchdown, and then another. We couldn’t be stopped.
We shut down the opposing team with a wall of defiance. We were in perfect rhythm; one mind, one body, working with intensity, passion, and precision. We won our first game of the season that day and we were all lit up and joyous. In the next game, our last of the season, we destroyed our opponent 48-0 and broke every school record in total offense, scoring, and defence. It was the most fulfilling experience of my life up to that point.
I haven’t played football in many years, but this experience is still vivid, decades later. I knew I had an important leadership role in that win, and my personal performance was a key in our victory. But what really stands out for me today was the feeling of being connected with the team, and sense that we were one body, with many arms, legs and heads, working together in harmony. Together, we were strong, and we lifted each other up where previously we were a fragmented mess, picking at each other with criticism and meanness.
These kinds of experiences are rare, but when they happen, it’s remarkable, whether in sports, business or in our personal lives. I have spent a great deal of my life trying to understand how to recreate this experience; in myself and in those around me, especially with those who I love most.
A few years back, I designed and led a leadership program for 400 executives, which for me, came the closest to my high school football experience. The future of the business I was working with was dim, and people were frustrated and hopeless. It would have been easiest perhaps to let the client go, sell off the remaining assets to the highest bidder and let thousands of people find new employment. Many people were already looking for new jobs.
As we got into the work, and began to explore the essence of true leadership, something began to percolate. One by one, leaders in the business began to grasp a core idea — “the leader I have been waiting for was ME.” Gradually, the feeling of hopelessness gave way to the possibility for a better future. Eyes brightened, and hearts began to pound and hope was renewed. New leadership emerged, people took on once “impossible projects,” and the business began to turn the corner, toward winning.
One executive said the change was clearly visible, “where people could let go of being the victim of their circumstances, and take ownership of their performance.” Not only did they get the results they desperately needed, but many of them got a renewed sense of passion and vitality. They got their lives back.
On the surface, it might seem what lights me up is “winning.” In my high school football days, I might have explained it just that way. However, as I have looked more deeply at the source of these kinds of breakthroughs and the practices that make them possible, I have come to view it differently, and perhaps not surprisingly, it’s not ultimately about winning and losing.
I have come to believe in these diamond-like moments, when people are able to suspend their unhelpful beliefs, negative attitudes and habits of mind, a possible new world becomes available. I will call that world “transformation,” a space where life is unfolding moment by moment, where we are present to that unfolding as it is occurring. When we participate as a co-creator in life, we can creatively and constructively change the course of history, in big or small ways. Making this experience possible for people is what I have dedicated my adult life to.
One of the benefits of the transformation experience is that performance can increase in unpredictable ways. It can be useful when it helps us see new ways of doing things that we couldn’t see before, explore options we wouldn’t have explored, or tap into resources we didn’t know were available.
More importantly, when moments of transformation occur, people experience their true nature, the “being” of the human being. People become themselves. Sometimes, it’s just for a moment; other times, it’s a life-altering change where returning to “normal” is simply not an option. I believe everybody has had experiences like this, and although it’s somewhat rare, it’s not really all that esoteric and mysterious.
My Why is to support others living their lives fully engaged, and to increase their fulfilment. When this happens, the concern over who wins and who loses, and the numbers on scoreboard is of little consequence.
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