The Champion Mindset: be bold for change!
Updated: Jun 30, 2019
Photo by Dominic Nazeri
I’m currently in the middle of teaching the MBA Leadership Module at Hult International Business School: 10x3-hour classes with a bright and hungry group of international students. The theme of the module is Authentic Leadership and I am integrating this with the top 10 Attributes of the Champion Mindset.
I have asked various speakers, many of whom have contributed to creating the top 10 Attributes, to come and talk to the students about their own Champion Mindset and the ‘red pill’ choices they have made to get them to where and who they are now. One of my coaching clients, Thomas Klemm, was very keen to talk to the group but due to his very busy schedule, Thomas offered to give his speech in this blogpost instead.
I first met Thomas four years ago. He was a rising star with huge potential but was too dutiful, caught in the ‘good boy’ syndrome and was not tapping into his intuitive intelligence. One of his early homework assignments was to read ‘Creativity Inc: overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration’ by Ed Catmull, a book that gave Thomas permission to integrate his innate creativity and intuitive intelligence with his proven implementation skills. In the last four years, Thomas has made great leaps both in himself, his personal life and in his professional field. He is now Head of Digital and Client Analytics for Wealth Management, Deutsche Bank. It is proving a joy to work with and witness his fast evolution.
Thomas begins by asking the question: ‘What makes your heart sing?’ This is part of ‘My Tree of 3 Commitments’, a framework I use to ask how we are attending to and integrating our personal, professional and inner worlds:
Thomas: “What makes your heart sing?” Many of you have already been asked this question by Hannah or if not I urge you spend some time on this question. It became a turning point in my career, which over time also helped me to melt my professional and private life into one, which I truly love!
Let me take you with me on this journey. When I was first asked this question in 2013, I was at a point in my life where I had rocketed through corporate ranks, but then got hit in the head by not getting a much desired and expected promotion. While this sounds like an ordinary ‘ouch’ moment in a career, it exposed me – admittedly also at a young age – to a wave of doubts. Adding to the disappointment, I had to deal with feedback around not being authentic enough because I lacked the ability to open up and I was also told I did not have strategic vision. Everything added up to a situation where I heavily started to question my investments into my job. In hindsight, I can see my professional life was not in sync anymore with my private life and my true inner self. “Is this really everything and worth the effort?” was the key question that became stuck in my head.
And then Hannah asked me that very simple question: “What makes your heart sing?” It helped me take a pivotal step back and look first at creating my personal vision. I spent some time unleashing the core of what fulfills my life and delivers a purpose. I remembered how in teenage/university years, I wanted to live my life at the edge of technology, travel new countries, meet new and interesting people and help others with what I was learning.
In the professional context, I remembered how fascinated I was when I started my first job in the organization that I still am today. I loved the idea of a) making a difference, b) delivering value and c) working in a truly global firm which unites people from all countries over the world in a peaceful environment. However, over the years, it felt that I had been swallowed by the daily routine in a corporate system and some of the cynicism that had impacted the entire financial industry during the crisis. I also felt I had become that person riding in the back seat of a car instead of driving it, even if that meant at the risk of taking a wrong exit.
This leads me to another big learning of these last four years. I had to truly discover how to make my love for innovation part of my daily life again. First, listen to your inner-self to hear whether you are currently on the right track or whether a certain opportunity or change would pave the way to achieve this. My learning was to really start listening to my inner self, and train this again and again. Sometimes an opportunity sounds great but is it really what YOU want or only what someone else wants to simplify his or her life with your help? This is rarely black and white as you have to find the right balance between performing at best in a team and/or an organization but at the end you need to care about what will help you to contribute in the most productive way mid-term. In these moments, I frequently went back to my 1-pager of my personal vision, but also trusted my inner circle to provide me advice. Ultimately however, I listened as hard as I could to my inner-self.
Second: you need to take risks and give up on the safety nets. After I moved roles within the company, I received the great opportunity to lead work on technology and innovation. However, I had to find out the hard way that even if something sounds completely logical and the right next step to you, a group of people will have doubts or even resist. Admittedly you read this in every MBA study book, but reality feels very different. Showing your authentic passion, integrity, and connecting with as many of those individuals as possible will help to build fundamental support but if you want to keep moving, you cannot manage to convince everyone. This is the moment where you need to jump...i.e. take the ‘red pill’The Courage to Dance… even if it makes you feel vulnerable, knowing failure could largely fall back on you.
My eye-opening moment was when I realized that this vulnerability is a given and if it did not exist, it would be an indication that I was not trying hard enough and remaining below my possibilities. This was also the moment when Steve Jobs’ “the willingness to crash and burn” statement, that I had read dozens of time before, was speaking to me in a completely new way. During my last vacation, my visit to the Kennedy Space Center also reminded me about the big picture, the destiny of humankind, the ultimate desire to explore new worlds, succeed in big steps but also requiring us to take risks – over and over again. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g25G1M4EXrQ).
Another skillset that always impressed me with great leaders is their incredible level of authenticity and ability to take people on a journey. Fortunately, I had the privilege to work for several people I can and could look up to and in today’s world, fascinating speeches – like this one by Colin Powell https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2KmOrTsffw– are only a mouse click away. While I love authenticity, I was struggling with it when communicating to superiors which resulted in the ‘ouch’ feedback about my inauthenticity. I found this even harder to digest, as I knew from multiple feedbacks that my team members perceived me in a different light. This struggle was partly because I did not want to leave the path of political correctness but also as a half-Scandinavian, there seem to be some natural traits, a level of shyness, which make it even more challenging. But people want to know who you are, what you think, what you stand for, and connect to you because it also helps them to put trust in you, have confidence in what you do and join your journey or make you join theirs.
Today, when I look back at the day of the “what makes your heart sing” question and the years in between, I’m privileged to do this with a big smile on my face, but also acknowledging the work still ahead! Hannah’s‘The Top 10 attributes of the Champion Mindset’ will lead to very different and individual pain-points, challenges but also success stories in your minds. What they all have in common, however, is that they are muscles that need training – for everyone’s professional and private success. Like an athlete, who spends months and years with different training types to succeed in competition and afterwards goes back into the training camp, this also holds true for the 10 attributes. Baby-steps, crash and burns, ouches are part of the journey, enabling many of us in this community to be prepared for the upcoming tournaments!