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Only you can reach your potential

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Leaders often have to break out of the molds other people set for them, says leadership guru Warren Bennis. They have to invent themselves.

The leaders Bennis has interviewed on this topic agree that nobody except you can teach you how to reach your potential. But four lessons in self-knowledge can help you through the process:

  1. You are your own best teacher. You don’t gather bits of learning like possessions. Instead, you transform. Examples: emulating someone you admire, seeing a problem and fixing it, experimenting with ideas or data, and evolving in your personal values.
  2. Accept responsibility; blame no one. To illustrate that point, Bennis quotes Marty Kaplan, who at age 37, joined Disney to start his third career: “Every single thing was new, and so I had a complete tolerance for every conceivable experience. And as I learned from what other people would regard as real tedium, and stupid and avoidable experiences, I would then begin to filter those out of my input until I was ultimately doing only what I thought was useful and important.”
  3. You can learn anything you want to learn. Beyond mastering a discipline, your passion to grow includes seeing the world simultaneously as it is and as it can be, understanding what you see and acting on it. Kaplan notes that you have to be able to absorb some pretty unsettling things. “Part of it is temperament,” he says. “It’s a kind of fearlessness and optimism and confidence, and you’re not afraid of failure.”
  4. True understanding comes from reflecting on your experience. If you look back with honesty, you can look forward with a new vision. It’s like having a Socratic dialogue with yourself, asking yourself questions to provoke self-awareness. Ultimately, only you can decide what makes the race against death worth running.

— Adapted from On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis, Addison-Wesley.

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