Where is your greatness?
By Jo Hawkins Donovan, for SBT
Quite a few years ago, my business was in the midst of a lean season when it was time to plan the holiday party. As usual, I reserved a private room at the elegant Grenadier’s Restaurant in downtown Milwaukee. That year though, instead of any exchange of material gifts, I gathered a lot of big smooth stones from the shores of Lake Michigan.
At the beginning of the evening, I gave each associate one of the stones and a permanent marker. I asked that they each take a few minutes to think, and then write a word on the stone that represented his or her greatness. This was to be our version of the proverbial stone soup.
As a longtime coach, I know that there is greatness in all of us; a coach is often the catalyst for the discovery and expression of a client’s greatness. My associates, stars every one, had already revealed to me varying levels of greatness, although we had not ever had conversations about it. Our spouses or significant others were all involved in making this stone soup as well.
Some at the table got right into it and had no trouble identifying their brilliance.
Others had a lot of reluctance to really label any of their talents as "great", and said so.
There has been a lot of programming in our culture against "tooting your own horn" which has left a lot of false modesty in the way of achieving potential. We seem to be more comfortable with inadequacies than with our greatness.
One guest, to our delight, unabashedly broke into song when it came his turn to describe his greatness — and it was great singing!
Some words that people wrote on their stones were "fire", "Nike", "straight arrow" and "vision."
Eventually each person admitted to greatness within and we had our very nourishing stone soup, followed by Grenadier’s amazing cuisine.
I know there is greatness in all my clients. Sometimes it seems ready to blossom; sometimes it seems just a seed. In getting to know a client, I want to know what is it that gets in the way, what keeps her from identifying that greatness and expressing it into her world.
Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton have a book with a similar theme, Now, Discover Your Strengths. On their Web site is a short quiz you can take to help identify your greatest strengths, with some "so what?" commentary that is helpful. These authors share my belief that when we are using our greatness, or our top talents, in our work, we are the most engaged in the job and the most committed to the organization. Sadly, when asked if they are using their strongest talents in their jobs, most people say they aren’t. What a waste!
The coaching relationship provides a safe place for exploration of greatness.
Sometimes, with care, I help clients accept that they are built to do lots more than they think. If I suspect that they are walking around in a small-sized version of their real selves, I might invite them to think bigger thoughts, do bigger, be bigger. Together we develop clarity about the barriers getting in the way of this and any disadvantages, any costs involved in shedding that too- tight skin and setting much higher standards for themselves.
Greatness doesn’t have to mean being CEO of a Fortune 500 company or getting into the football hall of fame. It might mean baking the best-darned lemon meringue pie in the Midwest. It might mean reading to first graders in that school on the corner. It might mean staying calm in a crisis. The point is that it is your greatness, not a diluted version of someone else’s.
You might use a coach to help elicit your greatness. You might already have a firm idea of where it lies but be hesitant about what to do with it. You might want to check out the tools offered by Buckingham and Clifton. However you choose to become more aware of and more comfortable with your greatness, you will learn some delightful tidbits along the way. I’d like to hear about your discoveries.
And always. I urge you, do not go to the grave with your song unsung.
Jo Hawkins Donovan has a coaching and psychotherapy firm in Whitefish Bay, and can be reached at 414-332-0300, or email@example.com. The firm’s Web site is www.hawkinsdonovan.com. Hawkins Donovan will respond to your questions in this column. Her column appears in every other issue of SBT.
June 13, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee