Are you tired of mediocrity and interested in doing really great work?

Identify your heroes to find out what really matters to you.

I was reading Focus (which is a great book and I’ll blog about sooner or later) and there was a bonus chapter about How to do Great Work that totally rocked my world. It was a simple question:

Who are your heroes?

At first I thought, I don’t have any heroes. But then my mind started wandering. My first hero surprised me. A lot.

But the really interesting part is why they are your hero.

I am sharing this exercise because it can help you discover who you really are and what is important for you. For me this short activity was profoundly insightful. YMMV.

#1 Conan the Barbarian

I imagine that at this point many readers are having a hard time relating to my hero or are perhaps even begin to wonder about me as a person. I was mystified myself until I thought about what attributes of Conan make him a hero for me:

Strength of mind, courage, and for doing what is right. Conan strictly adhered to the warrior code and would often get into all kinds of difficult situations for doing the right thing no matter what the cost. Conan spent much of his life as a wandering mercenary – I finally seems to have found a path as a consultant in the guise of an Agile Coach.

At a young age, Conan was taught what was best in life: “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentations of the women.” Metaphorically, I see this aligned with the Good To Great management practice of getting the right people on the bus.

#2 Mahatma Gandhi

He is my hero for selflessness, courage and wisdom. Gandhi believed in a cause and purpose greater than himself. So do I. My mission is to make a difference in the lives of the people and companies I work with.

Be the change you want to see” is a famous statement from Gandhi and is central to how I think about myself and my work. Whether at home with my kids or working with clients, the better I am at modeling useful behaviours, the more effective I am in helping others.

One consequence of this is that I am very dedicated to not only learning useful tools (communication, facilitation, etc.) but more importantly mastering my inner game and developing myself as a human being. Like Stephen Covey says, victory begins at home.

#3 Captain James T. Kirk

 I’m 42 and I watched a lot of Star Trek when I was a kid.

The aspects of Captain Kirk that I admire are leadership, ingenuity, boldness and passion.

Leadership: Kirk pursued his objectives with a single-minded purpose. He was caring and supportive of his crew and yet could make difficult decisions in times of great need.

Ingenuity: Perhaps creativity captures what I mean. With laser-like focus on a goal, there were no holds barred in how it was achieved. I get goosebumps when I think of Kobayashi Maru – a demonstration of changing the rules of the game (literally) in order to win.

Passion: Kirk brought energy to any situation he was involved in. He lived life with a vim and vigor, one day at a time.

#4 Sarwan Sahota

I was startled and perhaps even alarmed to find my dad on my list of heroes since I am still working through the usual stuff that goes on in families (See Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfections).

When I started to think about what I admired in him, I realized I admire him for doing the right thing and having a strong code of ethics.

My dad was raised as a Sikh. The religion – designed to help people to survive via fighting prowess – says to always carry a weapon (Kirpan); never cut your hair so that long beard and hair demarcate you as a Sikh. I learned the attitude – to quote Rodney Dangerfield – “I don’t take shit from nobody.”

My dad has a strong sense of ethics that would often put him controversial situations with those less concerned. One simple example: I remember as a kid when we visited his office and would use the photocopier (when prepping to play one of a myriad of games) he would have us keep track of the number of copies and pay the cost into petty cash. I still think about this today – when I am at a client site and use a printer, I make sure to offset the cost.

Sacrifice. When if came to doing the right thing, my dad was prepared to make whatever sacrifices were needed. He put his job and career on the line to fight for what he thought was best for Ryerson University (where he worked) and his coworkers.

Deep Insight – what defines me

When I look at my heroes, I see they have a lot in common that define how I see myself and what I value. Heroes are what drive our behaviour.

Do the right thing regardless of personal cost.

This is what defines me. It is a chilling and profound insight.

The scary part is that it explains why I have cared more than others around me for doing what is best for the people, for the team, for the company. It explains why I have swum so hard against the current to the point of rupturing relations and employment. And my own personal cost has been high.

Finding Balance

I am fortunate that in the last year, I have found balance.  Flawless Consulting helped me learn to ask clients what problem they want solved and to focus only on that. So I am doing better than ever staying aligned with those around me.

I do not have a guardian angel like Conan and Kirk, so I remind myself to pause and reflect on my personal safety in potentially risky situations. I am doing a better job, but it’s hard not to be distracted by doing the right thing.

Who are your Heroes?

I encourage anyone interested in self-discovery to do this short exercise. And for those who are particularly courageous, to share them and link back here.