The Defining Moments of Leadership

If you'd prefer to skip to The Bottom Line, please scroll all the way down. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy the entire post.

Part 2 of The Characteristics of Extraordinary Leadership Workshops series

Leadership is a choice! If you make the choice to lead, you will find a way to do so successfully. If you make the choice not to lead, explicitly or otherwise, you’ll find plenty of justification and excuses for why you can’t do so. Whether you’re leading a multi-national company and have an abundance of resources and formal authority, or you are just out to improve your own health, fitness, finances, etc., or you are somewhere in between, the key factor in determining your success or lack thereof is your level of commitment to your cause. This alone fuels your tenacity to get in action directing all of your knowledge and resources toward a common goal, and to stay in action when you hit the proverbial wall. 

If you make the choice to lead, you will find a way to do so successfully. If you make the choice not to lead, explicitly or otherwise, you’ll find plenty of justification and excuses for why you can’t do so.

We all know larger-than-life transformative leaders like Gandhi, Dr. King, Nelson Mandela, and others who accomplished what was thought impossible against all odds. What we really mean when we say that these figures were larger-than-life is not that they had some special inherent quality that others lacked—“I am the One and it’s not about me” applies to others as well, after all—but rather that their level of commitment to their causes was larger-than-life, and in some cases this was literally true. We call these people great because their commitment to something greater than them called them to greatness and they responded in kind; when they hit the proverbial wall, they went over it or through it, but they never let it stop them. The billion-dollar question, and the topic of this second installment of this two-part blog post, is whether the rest of us ordinary people have what it takes to accomplish great things as well. 

We have all experienced those moments when we feel as if we have done everything we can and, despite our commitment to a certain cause, we feel there is nothing else that can be done to move toward achieving it. In those moments, when the great wall of our limitations looms before us, we face a choice to keep moving forward or give up. It is the decision that we make in these moments of truth that determines whether we will achieve greatness or languish in ordinariness; everything before this is just practice and preparation. Transformative leadership is all about acknowledging that these moments will come, understanding the nature of how we personally process what is going on in our minds, and mastering the art of staying in action when everything else tells us we should give up.

The moments of truth in which we have a clear opportunity to choose to commit ourselves to a way of behaving or a desired outcome are rare, but when they do happen, they are epic. Can you think of a few of those moments when you made a choice that forever altered the course of your life? A decision you made that you stuck with despite the fact that you had made the same decision half-heartedly before many times. I have a vivid memory of one such moment. I was about 35 years ago, and I had been smoking cigarettes for 4 years. I had quit 4-5 times, only to go back to smoking. Then, one day, I was lying in bed with the flu, watching TV. There was a documentary on TV about the effects of smoking. One glance at the graphic pictures of the lungs of a smoker did the trick for me. I made the choice, for the last time, to give up smoking and I have never smoked another cigarette since.

Developing leaders, in my experience, has everything to do with creating the causes and conditions in which ordinary people freely choose to live up to the extraordinary beings that they are. Leaders who lead in a way that creates these conditions end up cultivating other leaders, ensuring exponential growth, rather than just giving rise to more followers, which ensures things stay more-or-less the same. These conditions can be created in workplaces, family environments, places of worship, schools, and so on. Workshops and learning events provide some of the greatest opportunities, however, for cultivating and experiencing the conditions that cause someone to have an epiphany that forever shifts their paradigm and, consequently, their effectiveness and satisfaction in life and at work. Such experiences can alter the trajectories of our lives from their ordinary, default futures to the extraordinary, designed futures that we choose to intentionally create. I have been fortunate enough to have witnessed hundreds of people—all of whom thought of themselves as ordinary—experience these profound epiphanies and go on to achieve the extraordinary in their lives and workplaces.

Developing leaders, in my experience, has everything to do with creating the causes and conditions in which ordinary people freely choose to live up to the extraordinary beings that they are.

In order to have a fruitful experience in an environment that is ripe for moments of truth to come about, such as a workshop, one must first examine the specific, usually hidden, factors that are holding one back from being receptive to these experiences. Once one has acknowledged and examined them, one must also be willing to take the responsibility to deal with them.

So, let’s have a little straight talk about some of the most common thought processes that get in the way of us declaring, pursuing, and achieving the extraordinary. Please keep in mind: this is not intended to condemn you, but to compel you, and know that knowing this stuff alone doesn’t help, but that you can only act on what you do know. I have written about this extensively in a previous blog post, but here is a bird’s-eye view:

  • I want to … but … – Actually, most of the things you say you want to be or do or have come at a price that you aren’t willing to pay, and you aren’t willing to admit this to yourself. If you really want something, you will do everything in your power to achieve it. If you aren’t willing to do what it takes to have what you say you want, then you don’t really want it. And there’s nothing wrong with that; it just means you don’t personally see the value in what you say you want. All there is to do is be straight with yourself about admitting what you actually want and what you pretend to want, and line your behavior up with what you are really committed to.

  • I just don’t know what to do – This may be a fact. Actually, if you are going for something extraordinary, more than likely you won’t know where to start or what to do, and in fact, this the best place to get started. However, it is the story you are making up about this fact of “I don’t know” that is stopping you. If you are truly committed to an outcome, when you don’t know what to do, there is just one thing to do: Find out! Don’t know how to find out? Find out how! Wisdom is knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do. It is the drama about “I don’t know” that people use to justify quitting even though the fact is that they have just reached the starting line.

  • I need more information/knowledge/better tools to get started or keep going – Most of the time that is not the case. Be honest with yourself. When you want to get in shape, is it that you don’t know how to exercise or eat healthy or don’t have a membership to a fancy gym, or is it that you are not willing to do what you are already know and not using the resources that you already have available? Remember Rocky IV? Rocky trained outdoors in the snow, using some rocks and tree limbs, and eventually beat his Russian opponent. Yes, it is true that when we exhaust the knowledge that we have and we have used all of our resources, additional knowledge and better tools will help us to go to the next level of performance but 9 times out of 10, that is not the issue. More often than not, we use our knowledge and tools as replacements for the responsibility for acting on them. Counterintuitively, this attitude defeats the purpose of seeking more knowledge or tools, perpetuating a vicious cycle in which the more we know, the less we do. Remember, it isn’t what you know, but what you do with what you know, that makes a difference.

  • I know what I need to do but I don’t feel like it – Doing what you feel like leads to ordinary. If you say you want something extraordinary, seeking permission from your feelings will not carry the day. Feelings come and go on their own accord and, while they may initially be helpful in pointing us in the right direction, they alone will never be enough to sustain us on the journey there. A simple step to interrupt this thought process is to get an accountability partner, so that you can lift each other up when you don’t feel like doing what you need to do. Check out my post titled “The truth about why we don’t do what we know we should.”

  • It is hard – It is never the size of your challenges, and always the size of your commitments, that determines whether you stay the course or not. Ordinary is easy, but I think you’ll find that ordinary isn’t worthwhile. When you think it’s too hard, supersize your commitment!

  • It will take too long – Time will go by whether you are up to something or not. Going for something big expands your thoughts, words, actions, habits, and ultimately your character. This is the key to you making the best of your time rather than biding it and impotently hoping things will get better. Nothing gets better with time unless someone takes the time to change it for the better.

It is the drama about “I don’t know” that people use to justify quitting even though the fact is that they have just reached the starting line.

There are many more of these types of thought processes that block our performance and fulfillment and, most of the time, they are not easily detectable by us. The very first step is recognizing these thought processes for what they are, but that is only the first step; knowing this stuff alone won’t make a difference. The real key to transformative leadership lies in transcending these thoughts and emotions through our dedication to the experience or outcome that we are committed to. In my workshops, I don’t just regurgitate these concepts but rather help the participants individually unpack what is going on with them through a conversation that compels them to make a personal choice that they will stick with. 

Nothing gets better with time unless someone takes the time to change it for the better.
— Naveed Ghannad

The secret ingredient in extraordinary workshops is the subtlety and deftness with which the conversations are conducted and the space that is created for transformative realizations to surface for each participant. In the best workshops that I have attended and conducted, even when the audience is listening to the same conversation, everyone is able to relate it to their own situation and gain visibility on something that was hidden from their view before. Some of the characteristics of my workshops which enable this to take place are as follows:

  • A space (physically and mentally) that allows the participants to distinguish the noise in their head from the truth of the situation.

  • Introspective conversations—not looking out there hoping to find the answer.

  • Transformative learning, not just informative learning.

  • Focused on the possibilities, not the immediate obstacles.

  • Spicy coaching, aimed at compelling the participants, not condemning them.

  • Actionable, real world conversations, not theoretical stuff that sounds great but doesn’t apply.

The Bottom Line:

Extraordinary workshops create a transformative experience for each participant, in which he/she is enabled to truly and freely make a choice to alter the course of his/her life and that of others. They do this by creating a space in which it is liberating, not shameful, to own up to our self-imposed barriers and make new commitments to a whole new way of being and behaving that serve us in creating a designed future. The best workshops also arm the participants with practical tools and methodologies that can be put to good use immediately, but they attract the kind of participant who is willing to do the work and reap the long-term benefits rather than trying to find a quick fix that requires little internal work and is inherently self-limiting.

Have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary! As always, I would love to hear about your victories and/or challenges. Please leave your comments below or send me an email at

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