Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles 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.