Kristin found this month’s book group book, The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, helpful and frustrating in equal measure. If you think you might be partly holding yourself back from being the mama leader you could be, read on for some ways to work out your “Zone of Genius”.
There was so much about this month’s book group book, The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, that made me mad. He writes from the very definition of privilege, as a middle aged, white, wealthy male, with mostly CEOs and senior executive white, middle aged, wealthy, golf-playing clients, and makes generalisations from there for the rest of us to follow.
Apart from one example of a working Mum who just couldn’t find time to write her novel (I’ll get back to this), I couldn’t relate to any of his case examples of people who had followed his “you just need to do this one thing” approach – which, apparently, will lead you to an abundance of love, money and success.
But, with a push from Summer, who told me how helpful she had found his approach, I persevered all the way to the end.
And you know what?
The book has made me really think about where I am in my career, and whether I am really doing the things that I am best at. As promised on the cover, and despite the cringe-worthy examples, there are some really useful ideas in here to help us ask ourselves some questions to help point us towards the work (or life, or love) path we would like to be heading down.
The premise: you are holding yourself back
The main idea Gay puts forward is that we are our own worst enemies – that when we are just about to move from our Zone of Competence or Zone of Excellence (he likes capitalisation!) into the place where we are our very best (the Zone of Genius), we do something to sabotage ourselves. We might turn down the opportunity that would let us really use our skills; we might be too scared to Pivot towards work that takes us to our career goals. He calls this the “Upper Limit Problem”.
Yes, hello working mums, it could also be the good old impostor syndrome by another name – I’m not good enough so I won’t try this new thing. What if they won’t give me as good a flexible work arrangement as I have now (my own personal concern)? What if I’ve forgotten everything I used to be able to do before I had kids? What if I’m so tired that I just can’t do what I used to be able to do?
But – as I often say to people I am mentoring – how will you know that they won’t negotiate a flexible arrangement with you/that you can’t manage the new role/that you can actually do amazing things on very little sleep – if you don’t apply for the job, or lean in to a new opportunity in the first place?
The example that resonated with me was the aspiring writer, who is a stay at home mum who does family, housework, and then writing in that order. Gay’s advice to her: prioritise the writing if that’s her passion, and let some housework standards fall. She finds, of course, that the necessary housework gets done, the rest isn’t critical, and she starts to write and achieve her writing goals.
Now, there are many things outside of your control, but it is interesting to ponder how many of the limits on your mama leadership are self-imposed, and how many are part of a system that isn’t working for workers who happen to be mums. Even if there is one thing you can change (e.g. talking to your boss about being willing to travel/take on the big projects etc) – it might be worth the risk to try it out.
How can you overcome your “Upper Limit Problem”?
Gay provides a checklist of things to ask yourself when you’re struggling with your career, or life in general, to help move yourself past your upper limit and towards your “Zone of Genius”:
- What do I most love to do?
- What work do I do that doesn’t seem like work?
- In my work, what produces the highest ratio of abundance and satisfaction to time spent?
- What is my unique ability (or as his twelve year old granddaughter says, “what’s my superpower”)?
Here is a great little exercise he asks his clients to complete, which you might like to do for yourself.
“I’m at my best when I’m …”
“when I’m at my best, the exact thing I’m doing is…”
“When I’m doing that, that thing I love most about it is…”
Is there a way you can increase the amount of time in your week you spend on this task/activity? It may be a side project or hobby, that builds into something more over time, just like our own Summer turned her side project into a viable career, that led her to develop and hone the skills and confidence she needed to found Lead Mama Lead.
A note on time
Gay suggests that he has figured out how time actually works, and so he now puts in half an many hours and gets twice as much done. The manner in which he says it drove me crazy, but the essence rings true for me: when I say “I don’t have time to do that right now”, often what I really mean is, “it’s not important enough for me to put it on the top of the to do list”. The Big Leap suggests that “I am the source of both the time and the pressure to be on time.” So, perhaps I need do as Elsa does, and let it go sometimes!
As I was reflecting on this book, I came back to the things that Summer talks about that help her to find her Zone of Genius – the balance in her life of connection, gratitude and grit. This balance sits better with me than assuming I need to deserve money, love and success in order for it to arrive, as Summer’s approach allows me to connect with and support other people, rather than take an individualistic, hedonistic approach to my own success above all else. Money doesn’t always come to those who work hardest, want it the most, or are doing their very best.
But connection, gratitude and grit are something we can all use more of in our lives, and I think they can help us as we move closer to our mama leader Zone of Genius.
Take the topic further
- If you want to explore the ideas of the “Upper Limit Problem” or finding your “Zone of Genius, The Big Leap is a quick read. Although the tone was grating for most of our book group readers, many also found the concepts helpful and are applying them in their own leadership journey
- For examples of how to find courage and bravery that are easier to relate to, you might prefer Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, who is herself a mama leader
- Act Like a Leader Think Like a Leader by Herminia Ibarra discusses leadership in the workplace, and why we need to act like a leader before we feel confident in our own leadership skills. This is the only way to eventually think (and feel like a leader)
- The Confidence Gap by Russ Harris offers tangible strategies grounded in mindfulness to help you recognise and overcome your own negative self talk, and find the confidence to step into your potential