By Marc Hardy, Ph.D.
There are three obstacles that we human’s put in our way to fulfillment and success. First, we do not recognize or understand our talents and gifts. Second, even if we do, we discount them because they come easy to us and we do not value them. Third, we are far more critical of ourselves than others are of us, and we envy those who have been blessed with gifts we do not have. Because of this, we all need cheerleaders in our lives.
One of the most compelling components of Sharing Fire Leadership® and “Personal Empowerment Philanthropy®” is believing in others when they don’t believe they have a gift or are not special in any way. If we are honest with ourselves we can recognize times in our life when we really did not believe that we were talented, unique or gifted, even when others told us otherwise. Part of this is that we were brought up to believe that we should be modest or that pride is sinful. Some of us have been criticized so much by narcissistic people that we have come to believe their poisonous, selfish views of our potential. So it is imperative that as sharing fire leaders we understand that we must keep reigniting the flame that the negative people in their lives have dampened until the fire of passion reappears. We must keep feeding it fuel until the fire is so bright that the person we are encouraging not only believes in himself or herself, but believes more than others believe in them.
A leader who practices sharing fire must understand the transformational power of believing in others more than they believe in themselves. This means we have to observe them, assign new tasks that we think might match their gifts and talents, and constantly assess their successes or set-backs. If we feel that setbacks can be attributed to a lack of confidence, it is our responsibility to shore up that lack of confidence with constructive help and praise for the things they did well. If they do well, then our role is to let them know how impressed and proud we are and give them similar, more demanding tasks, while telling them we have confidence in them. This has a tremendous impact on them eventually believing in themselves.
We usually don’t know what we are good at, or if we do, we don’t put much value on it. I can’t tell you the number of people I have praised because they obviously had a great singing voice, or could draw extremely well, or could easily think strategically when the moment demanded, and these same people denied their talent. They usually said something like, “Oh, it’s nothing,” or “oh, that’s easy,” or “heck, anybody can do that.” No, my friends, they can’t. At least I usually can’t.
Frankly, we ignore our natural gifts and talents because we desire gifts and talents we will never have. I was born with wide shoulders and a stout body, a desire to read and write, and eventually a deep, resonant voice. I was decent at wrestling, speech competitions and English class, but what I really wanted was to be 6 foot 6 inches tall so I could play basketball and have a tenor voice so I could sing rock and roll songs. It took me a long time to realize that my deep voice and my ability to speak and write were my God-given gifts and I now use them on an almost daily basis as I compose blogs, articles and book chapters and speak in front of hundreds of people at meetings and conferences.
If we have an employee who is great with clients but who spends most of his days unhappy in data base management, it is our duty to move him into a role that uses his talents. There are also people who are terrible with people but work in sales, when their true talent is working with numbers. Not only do we commit a disservice to our clients by leaving employees in the wrong positons, we waste money and the employee’s real talent when an adjustment could make a world of difference. Often times, people are just in the wrong jobs. Counter this by doing strengths assessments, personality assessments, leadership assessments, etc., and find out where their real contribution may be.
So what is in this for the leader? More productive and happy employees. People who look up to you and admire and trust you, not because of your power, but because of your perceptions of them and your belief in their potential. If they finally understand that they can only be excellent at that for which they have gifts and talents, then they will value themselves and focus their efforts on their strengths and not their weaknesses. Because focusing on our weaknesses may make us proficiently mediocre, but never great. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can offer with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation, but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession.”
When those we encourage get to the point of believing in themselves more than others believe in them, incredible things can happen. When we no longer rely on the approval of others to feed our fire, when we are so convinced of our place and purpose in life that the opinions of others do not matter, when we know that we are using our innate gifts to accomplish a goal that is good for us and good for the world, we no longer cower in the corner. We can withstand the winds of disbelief and weather whatever storm it sends our way because we are authentic and congruent with who we are and what we value. Even more important, like Prometheus we are now ready to share our fire with others and believe in them more than they believe in themselves. As we recognize your own innate power to ignite the possibilities in others, we will change the lives of many others for the better, and in the process help create a better workplace and world.
Marc Hardy, Ph.D. is the Director of Nonprofit Certificate Education in the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame. He is also a speaker and author of the “Leadership Through Sharing Fire” concept (www.SharingFire.com). He may be contacted at DrMarc@SharingFire.com.