ACTivity/ Spark To Start


Jakarta, 7 March 2018 — So you want to challenge the limits you set for yourself. Where do you start? There are two ways to spark your fire of transformation.

In Limits You Set, we explored three kinds of limiting beliefs that we keep alive in our subconscious to sabotage our life when we start becoming successful. These are the limits of understanding, feeling, and courage.

Now, if you want to challenge these limits that you have set for yourself, it starts with what I call a spark, just like a spark ignites the fire on your stove and the power of your car engine. Fire warms your food, keeps you warm, and ... yes, it can destroy also.

In India's culture, fire is thought of as a purifying force, to burn away what you no longer need, and to bring out the best in you. That's why people in India pay respect to a special deity for destruction and transformation, Shiva, one of the trinity of leading deities. Shiva, remarkably, also symbolizes love, dance, and yoga. He is often portrayed as a dancer in a ring of fire, as in the image in this post.

Just think of that for a moment. Can you explore to see your transformation into leadership as if it were a dance in a ring of purifying fire, supported by practices that stretch you (as yoga would), and fueled by love (i.e., respect for and confidence in yourself, and compassion for people around you)? 

If you can see the importance of fire to your transformation in this new metaphorical light, then being aware of how you get it started with a spark becomes an important question, right?

I suggest that there are two ways in which you can get sparked to start the fire that challenges you to go beyond the limits that you have set for yourself. Two ways to light the fire that will burn what you no longer need, and transform its energy into new life.

I call these two ways Learning Inside-Out and Outside-In. Let's unpack that, shall we?

Learning Inside-Out

When you discover a spark inside you to start a transformation, it could come from your thinking to find new solutions, your reflection on your experience and what it is that you want or no longer want or need, from your hard work to improve your knowledge, skills, and livelihood, or even your meditation to help you see your life in a new light.

For thousands of years, wise men and women have urged us to 'wake up' and reflect on life. To discover your talents, and how to make the best use of them. To believe in your dreams and commit to your goals. To discover your values and your purpose for living your life.

They were right. And for this reason, many people call leadership development an inside job. It starts inside you, they say. And they are right, at least in part.

Because life often presents us with the truth as if it were a coin, with two sides that are equally pertinent to your quest. Two sides, just like the complementary energies of Yin and Yang. 

Now then, let's look at the other side of the coin.

Learning Outside-In

Being sparked to challenge your beliefs can also come from the outside, from what a friend or colleague says, or what strikes you when reading a book, from something remarkable you observe while watching tv or social media, or from what you hear a speaker say at an event.

Years ago, I remember discussing delicious food with a colleague in the office. At some point, he told me that there were some choices he had made about eating because otherwise, he said: "I would end up looking like you." It felt like a stinging slap on my face. I was stunned by his words and walked away speechless.

Five minutes later, I was in the room of my office mate next door, asking him all about the diet that he was practicing. He showed me the book (Eat Yourself Slim by Michel Montignac) and I said I want to follow that too. He was kind enough to lend me his book on the spot until I could buy my own copy. I was sparked, and my culinary lifestyle changed from that day on, until now.  

Much later, I went back to the straight-talking colleague and thanked him for his sharp-tongued comment, telling him how it had given me the spark I needed to start transforming my lifestyle.

As my story suggests, being sparked to learn Outside-In is not always a pleasant experience. That's why my message is to pay careful attention to sparks that come from the outside, from other people, from events, especially if you don't like or do not agree with what you hear. It might just be that it is what you need to transform.

Herminia Ibarra, a leadership professor at INSEAD, describes in her book Act Like A Leader, Think Like A Leader how a colleague advised her to change her style of teaching to get better attention from her students. He suggested that she walk around the room and intentionally invade the personal space of her students, thereby forcing them to pay attention. Ibarra shared that while she felt very uncomfortable with the idea, she decided to do it anyway. It turned out that it helped her in transforming her interaction with her students. She was sparked from the Outside-In.

In our time of social media likes and echo chambers, it is especially important that you reach out and make contacts outside of your comfort zone, where there is a higher potential to learn valuable lessons from the Outside-In.

Leadership, as it turns out, is not only an inside job. It is also a contact sport, in the words of leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith. It's a good thing to engage and take some blows. It is a good thing to be sparked by people outside your circle, who do not think like you. It helps your growth to become a better leader.

So, as you set about challenging your self-made limits, what sparks will you observe this week? Think about the fire, the dance, about stretching, and about transformation. Think about the double-sided truth of being sparked to learn Inside-Out and Outside-In.

I'm curious to hear what you discover.