Learning to Be Awesome at Anything You Do, Including Being a Leader by Tasha Eurich (Transcript)

Full Transcript – Learning to be awesome at anything you do, including being a leader by Tasha Eurich at TEDxMileHigh conference.

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Tasha Eurich – Leadership developer and expert

When was the last time you had no idea what you were doing? Okay. I’ll go first. How does that sound?

A couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to learn Spanish in preparation for a trip I was taking to Mexico. I know French, I thought how hard could it be? So I did what any self-respecting member of the 21st century would do it to become fluent in a language. I downloaded a Flashcard app on my iPhone.

Okay. Flash forward a few months. My two girlfriends and I had just arrived in Cancun. We leave the airport, we get in the cab. And I decide I’m going to make some small talk with the cab driver. So I confidently state: [Mexican language] Some of you know where this is going now. Okay.

And the look on the cab driver’s face made it instantly clear that I had not just said I’m excited to go to the hotel because I’m tired. What I’d actually said was I am sexually excited to go to the hotel because I just got married.

So needless to say I thought exposed and embarrassed. But what about you? Maybe you are struggling to run your business, fighting to master a skill you need to do your job, or just trying to lower your golf handicap. Have you been meaning to get a mentor or take a class or in my case find a Spanish tutor but you never really got around to it.

You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s that thing you’ve been dying to master. And if you’re a type A person like me, it probably haunts you in the form of a line on your to-do-list that you never cross off because you’re so bogged down in the tyranny of the urgent. Have you experienced that?

So whether you’re a business leader, an employee, a hobbyist or a beerly cocky player, how much time and energy do you invest to become totally awesome at what you do?

Here is my big idea. When it comes to your own development, you can’t keep waiting until you’re less busy or for someone else to do it for you. No one will truly invest in you but you.

Now my life’s work is to help leaders be better. This passion began in my childhood when I saw the power of leaders to transform people’s lives. Shortly after my parents divorced, my mother started her own business and it didn’t just support our family, it supported the families of the 25 people who worked for her.

And now as a grown-up and an organizational psychologist, I apply the scientific principles of human behavior to help leaders and companies succeed. But a client of mine recently explained what I do far better than I ever could. Here is what she said: “Leadership is my Everest and you are my Sherpa”. Pretty great.

So in the last 12 years of being an executive Sherpa or coach, I stumbled upon a pattern: Three steps for radical improvement that don’t just apply to business leadership, they apply to anything you want to do better. And today I’m going to share them with you.

But before I do that, you might be thinking really anything in short yes, whether you’re a bodybuilder or a bartender, a surgeon or a screenwriter, a violinist or a volunteer, if there’s something you want to do better, these three things will help you become totally awesome at what you do.

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Okay. Three things. So we get started. Excellent.

All right. Step 1 is to know thyself. Here is the bottom line: Most people are completely delusional about their own skills and capabilities. It’s true. And I can prove it. Researchers Justin Kruger and David Dunning [Cornell University] uncovered this phenomenon which they modestly named the Dunning-Kruger effect. But some of you might be more into NPR than science and you might know it as the Lake Wobegon effect.

So in a series of four experiments, Kruger and Dunning found that most people completely overestimate their talent. What was even scarier at least to me was that the least competent people were the worst at recognizing their incompetence. Are we bad people? Rarely. Are we stupid? Not usually.

We just live in a world where people hardly ever tell the truth. We’re polite, we’re busy, we’re afraid and then there is the classic frontal attack of: Can I give you some feedback? Now if you don’t run the other way when someone says that to you, you’re probably feeling a little defensive when you hear what they have to say. Aren’t you?

So for me, in my work coaching leaders, I’m often sent in to tell someone the truth when everyone else is afraid to. And today I’ll tell you a story about an executive I coach named Steve. But remember, these three steps apply to anything you want to be better.

Okay. So here is the deal. When I met Steve, he thought he was doing a bang-up job. But when I talk to his team, I learned pretty quickly that that wasn’t the case. They said he is a smart as they come but they told me he had some, let’s just call them, corks. No, no, let’s be honest. His team thought he was a jerk. He would bark orders at them. He would question their competence. He would scream at them in a way they found unprofessional and frightening. It’s a true story.

One of his employees had just started taking blood pressure medicine because of it. And lucky me, I got to be the jerk who told him all of that. So just imagine that you’re with me in Steve’s palatial corner office. So we sit across from each other his huge wooden conference table. I looked him dead in the eyes and said, “Steve, there’s no way around this. Your team hates you. Are you surprised?”

And his horrified expression said that he was incredibly surprised. He said, “How could they say these things about me? How could they say that I yell”. So then he stared out the window for what seemed to me like an eternity. He said, “You mean I’ve been doing these things for the last 20 years and nobody told me”. But eager to give Steve some good news, I said, “Steve, don’t worry. These problems are totally fixable and you just took the most important step”.

“I did really? Great. Wait, what did I do?”

“You just accepted reality.”

So what about you? If you had room for improvement, would you know? Delusions about ourselves are the roadblocks on the journey to becoming awesome. So no matter how hard it is, you have to take responsibility for learning the truth about yourself.

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So how do you do that? Here’s my advice: for you Step 1 means knowing where you stand. So first if you have them, you should be looking at your objective measures of success. A surgeon might look at her complication rates. A gardener might look at which of her plants have lived and which have not.

Then you look at your subjective measures. The easiest way to do this is to find someone who will tell you the truth. Ask them. What am I doing that’s helping me succeed? What’s getting in the way and how can I adapt my approach to be better? Remember, above all, seek the truth.

So you’ve gotten this feedback. You know where you stand. Step 2 is to pick one thing to work on. In my experience, once people have all this feedback, they are raring to go. And they wake up the next day and try to change everything. Think about that. It’s ridiculous. Isn’t it? It’s like going on a crash diet to lose 10 pounds in a week.

Here is the truth: It is far better to make progress on one thing than little to none on many things. Let’s go back to Steve. We can all probably agree that he had lots of choices of things to work on, right? But there was one thing that would give him the most bang for his buck. Do you know what it is? Steve had to learn to get control of his anger. We agreed that we wouldn’t work on anything else until we got that under control.

So over the course of the next month, that’s exactly what he did. He learned to soften the tone of his voice. He learned to bite his tongue. He learned to question instead of blame. And lo and behold, in a matter of weeks, he started to get a handle on it. So we moved to listening skills, then to coaching. On and on it went, one thing at a time for months.

So what do you think Steve noticed? In a very short time, he felt a new level of confidence. Now this wasn’t hollow confidence that comes from delusion. It was real confidence because he was doing the right thing.

Now what did Steve’s team notice? In a very short period, they started talking about this wonderful guy who they called the new Steve. It was awesome and the best part was when he would backtrack which we all do when we’re trying to improve, they would ask him lovingly, what would the new Steve say about that? It’s pretty great, right?

So for you, how do you pick your one thing? Here is my advice: Take a piece a paper and draw a line down the middle. On the left hand side, list all of the skills you’re trying to improve. Then on the right hand side, for each skill on a scale of 1 to 10, I want you to imagine that you only got better at that and then rate how much more awesome you would be. Start with the highest number and work your way down.

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