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  • When was the last time you had no idea what you were doing?

  • (Laughter)

  • OK, 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 to become fluent in a language:

  • I downloaded a flashcard app on my iPhone.

  • OK, so 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 that I'm going to make some small talk with the cab driver.

  • So I confidently state,

  • (Spanish) "Estoy excitada ir al hotel porque soy casada."

  • (Laughter)

  • Some of you know where this is going, yeah? OK.

  • 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'm sexually excited to go to the hotel because I've just got married."

  • (Laughter)

  • So, needless to say, I felt exposed and embarrassed.

  • But what about you?

  • Maybe, you're 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 beer league hockey player,

  • how much time and energy do you invest to become

  • totally awesome at what you do?

  • Here's 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 parent's divorce, 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 this 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's what she said,

  • "Leadership is my Everest, and you are my Sherpa."

  • (Laughter) 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 body builder or a bartender,

  • a surgeon, or a screen writer, 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.

  • OK, so three things.

  • Should we get started? Excellent.

  • All right, step 1 is to know thyself.

  • Here's the bottom line:

  • most people are completely delusional about their own skills and capabilities.

  • (Laughter)

  • It's true, and I can prove it.

  • Researchers Justin Kruger and David Dunning 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. (Laughter)

  • [Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong,

  • 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's 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.

  • OK, so here's the deal.

  • When I met Steve, he thought he was doing a bang-up job.

  • (Laughter)

  • But when I talked to his team,

  • I learned pretty quickly that that wasn't the case.

  • They said he was as smart as they come.

  • But they told me he had some, let's just call them "quirks".

  • 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.

  • This is 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 at his huge wooden conference table.

  • I look him dead in the eyes.

  • I said, "Steve, there's no way around this. Your team hates you."

  • (Laughter)

  • Are you surprised?

  • And his horrified expression said that he was incredibly surprised.

  • He said, "How could they say these things about me?

  • (Raising voice) How could they say that I yell?"

  • (Laughter)

  • So then he stared out of 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've just accepted reality."

  • [Truth]

  • 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.

  • 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 is 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.

  • OK, 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 pound in a week.

  • Here's 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.

  • (Laughter)

  • It was awesome, and the best part was when he would back track,

  • which we all do when we're trying to improve,

  • they would ask him, lovingly, "What would the new Steve say about that?"

  • (Laughter)

  • It's pretty great, right?

  • So for you, how do you pick your one thing?

  • Here's my advice: take a piece of 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.

  • So, you know yourself, you've got your one thing.

  • If you stop here, you're making a mistake I see all the time,

  • and it's very dangerous.

  • I call it delusional development,

  • the futile hope that just by wanting to get better at something,

  • that magically you will, as if through osmosis.

  • It's kind of like my trying to learn through a flashcard app.

  • I think we've established that that was "no bueno".

  • So, the only thing at this point standing between you and awesome is daily practice.

  • For hundreds of years people used to think that excellence was inborn.

  • For example, scientists used to think that the best marathon runners

  • had differences in their lungs or their muscles.

  • But recent research reveals that these differences are not inborn.

  • What makes someone exceptional is that they earn it through daily practice.

  • So, the best marathon runners don't actually show physical differences;

  • what's different is how much they train in the weeks leading up to the marathon.

  • So, let's go back to Steve, shall we?

  • Steve learned to practice daily by developing a habit.

  • Everyday on his way to work he'd think about what he was trying to improve,

  • and he'd make a plan to practice it.

  • Then on the way home, he would think about how he did,

  • and maybe some ideas for what he would the next day.

  • In sum total, Steve probably spent less than 30 minutes a week doing this,

  • and he saw massive returns.

  • In less than six months, his team started closing new deals.

  • He felt happier and more confident,

  • and his boss, who hired me, was ecstatic.

  • So, what do you think? Are some people born to be great?

  • Sometimes.

  • But my belief is this: Steve showed us that with effort and commitment

  • almost anyone can be better.

  • In his case a better leader.

  • Now, by the way, I always say that 96% of leaders can improve.

  • The other 4% are what we call sociopaths

  • (Laughter)

  • who lack the ability to connect with other people on a fundamental human level.

  • Right, so unless you're a sociopath, you can be a better leader.

  • But I digress.

  • Let's get back to practice.

  • The bottom line, you will not improve

  • unless you make a daily commitment to practice.

  • So, everyday, I want you to jump out of bed and say,

  • "Today is the day I'll get better at my one thing!"

  • Some days you'll feel stuck. Other days you'll be thrilled when something clicks.

  • But every day you'll learn, and every day you'll get better.

  • So, before we end, I want you to imagine that you are there.

  • You've become totally awesome at what you do.

  • What's that like? How does it feel? How's your life better?

  • Steve did it. Was he a superhuman? An exception to the rule?

  • Absolutely not.

  • Steve was a normal person

  • who made a true commitment to his own development.