The Magic Key for Success

Posted by on Apr 21, 2014 | No Comments

Silhouette of businessman in keyhole

Have you ever had one of those days when you’ve worked really hard and have given it all you’ve got, and you’re left totally wiped out but happy? My hope for all of us is that we have more days like this.  Days that leave us realizing that the “good life” is about investing your whole self toward making an impact in something you believe in.   Not holding back.   Not doing it because you should, or have to, or feel obligated to – but because you’re choosing it.   Because you care.  In some circles, they call that engagement.  I call it, “the magic key.”

And oh was I feelin’ it today!  As I type this, I’m sitting in Union Station in Washington DC, after having the privilege to present for the National Hispanic Corporate Council’s (NHCC’s) annual summit.  Today I owe my engaged-self to SMU’s Cox School of Business’s Executive Ed Program that invited me to present.  In addition to the work I get to do with their Certificate of Leadership Program, SMU has brought me in for the past three years to teach Executive Presence as part of their 9-month Corporate Education Development Program (CEDP) – through which NHCC member-companies send their most promising Hispanic leaders.

To fulfill on my challenge to give the NHCC a “taste” of the CEDP-experience at this year’s summit, I endeavored to squeeze four hours of content into an intensive 45 minutes.  Ruthlessly, I culled my slides with the delete button, ripping away entire sections that are near and dear to my heart (it was a agonizing process).  But one thing I would not cut, no matter how little time I was allotted, was the piece on storytelling – it is just too critical to the “Executive Presence” conversation to lose.

And how quickly my instincts were reaffirmed!  One of the things that’s special about SMU’s award-winning CEDP program, is that, over the course of the nine months the group is together, they work on a social entrepreneurship project of their team’s choosing, and together they build a business case that is presented at the end of their time together.  “Executive Presence” has always been strategically placed in the curriculum – the last class they take before their big presentations.  When they present, they need to bring presence.

So, like I do in the actual session, I posed the question with the NHCC group:  Why do you care?   “From this list, choose the social entrepreneurship project that resonates most with you personally.  Why does it resonate?  What in your life has led you to believe that this is a project worth fighting for?  Why do you care – for real?”

I partnered them with strangers.  Asked the group of about 75 to move out of their comfortable seats around the ballroom and share their personal story with someone in the room that they did not know (an easy task, since they had all traveled in from across the country).  In 10 seconds the space was filled with energy.  Stories being shared.  Similarities discovered.  Connections being made.  Sharing personal stories requires vulnerability.  It forces us to risk taking our mask down and connect on a real human level.  It is our most powerful tool for connecting to the hearts and minds of others.

During the debrief when I asked them how they felt, hearing their partner’s story, I heard, “Connected…. Honored…. Proud… Happy…  Reassured… ”   As they reported back I could see their eyes shine as the partners looked at one other.   Seeing each other – they were no longer strangers.   In two minutes.  It never ceases to amaze me.

“Our stories are the currency that gives us access to the hearts and the minds of others.”  I hear myself say, as I’ve said hundreds of times before, and yet with each group I rediscover this powerful truth.

Imagine what would be possible if we could feel this at work?  “Connected…. Honored…. Proud… Happy…  Reassured… ”  If our projects and deadlines weren’t driven by arbitrary goals and metrics, but rather rooted in “why we care – personally”.  For, as I remind leaders every day, if we don’t care neither will anyone else.  People don’t give their best for a pay-check, they give their best because they care.  For real.

Today I encourage you to stop and think about why you’re doing what you’re doing.  Why do you care about your company, or this project, or your client, or service, or product?  Beyond the pay-check.  What, in your life, has led you to believe that what you’re doing is worth fighting for?   There is no right or wrong answer – but to be and bring your best, you must have one.  What is true for you?

For companies can spend thousands of dollars on incentive programs, and engagement training, and on nice office spaces.  They can recruit the best and brightest and pay competitive salaries, and have a million processes and systems in place to measure productivity and  “leadership behaviors”.  But they will never get the best their people have to bring if the human beings that make the organizations work don’t know why they care.  That’s what’s real.

If you were to look at all the truly great things that have been done by human beings in the history of the world, I suspect you’d find one thing in common:  the people doing these great things knew why they cared – and they didn’t hold back.   It’s what makes it possible to overcome the obstacles, to stay the course, and to forge new ground.  It is what propels us toward greatness.   It’s so simple.  It costs nothing!  But it cannot be mandated.  It cannot be controlled.  It’s up to each person to give of their own free will.

It is the magic key.

©OnStage Leadership, 2014;  Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop. 

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