02/14/24 | Leadership

Uncovering your ultimate goals by taking a Big Leap

What’s holding you back as a leader? Something underneath the surface is blocking you, causing you to lose confidence and be less impactful than you could be.

When I work with leaders on these issues, I start by identifying what I call the “Big Leap.” The Big Leap isn’t an excavation into the past but a clear-cut definition of your goals. What’s your ultimate goal? What do you want to achieve? What impact do you want to create?

Often, when I ask a leader these questions, the answers are vague, generic, or a regurgitation of what their organization has said their goals should be. That’s understandable; most of us struggle to know and articulate what we really want. But it’s the job of a leadership coach to guide—not tell—clients to discover that answer for themselves.

Getting to the Big Leap within the first coaching session is critical to the success of a coaching engagement. It’s an “aha” moment that propels a leader’s development forward and immediately removes a leader from their comfort zone. But getting there requires asking hard questions and not settling for the first answer that comes to mind.

Taking the Big Leap isn’t easy because it means thinking and acting in unfamiliar ways, and we’re all creatures of comfort and routine.

A leadership coach acts as an objective outsider, capable of reading between the lines of what a leader might tell themselves and others, which helps considerably when trying to identify the Big Leap. However, if you want to start revealing your Big Leap, here are some tips to consider:

Be open. 

Don’t go in with preconceived ideas. Whatever you think at first, and whatever you say first, that’s not it! Uncovering your Big Leap takes introspection. Start with your gut instinct, but keep digging. Keep asking, “Why?” until you reach the true answer.

Determine who’s saying what.

When I work with leaders, they’ll sometimes begin relaying what they think they want to work on. They’ve internalized what their company or manager has told them and claim it as their own. Sometimes, though rarely, they’re correct.

Other times, this leads to disaster. Once, I was assigned to work with a newly promoted manager. The company expressed that once he had taken a leadership role, his behavior had changed drastically—to the point that there were concerns about his sobriety.

After working with him, however, he confessed that his behavior was an attempt to meet the company’s definition of what a leader should be. Company executives told him he needed to be more extroverted, and he’d taken it to the extreme, desperately trying to fit into the mold they provided.

A Big Leap doesn’t mean an abandonment of your instincts or your natural personality traits. But it does require you to remove yourself from your comfort zone. To find the balance, you first need to separate your thoughts and expectations from those around you.

Look and listen for inconsistencies.

Look or listen for incongruence between what you say and what you actually do. Get curious about it. Intent and impact often get tangled up: you might intend to do one thing, but the results and impact are entirely different.

I once had a client who yelled and berated his staff constantly. It wasn’t until I confronted him that he realized his intent—wanting his team to get the work done—was at odds with what he was doing: terrorizing them.

He thought he wanted to be feared or intimidating to garner respect. But once we peeled back the layers, what he really wanted was to be effective. He was doing what he thought he was supposed to do to get the work done, unaware that he was demoralizing and demotivating his team, creating the opposite impact.

Look ahead.

Another way to reveal your Big Leap is to imagine doing nothing. You don’t change your mode of operating. You continue down the path you’re currently on. What does that lead to? Look a few steps down the road to see where you’re actually headed.

Likely, it isn’t where you want to go. So, trace those metaphorical steps backward. Where can you redirect the path? Where can you implement change? What does that change look like?

I once worked with a CEO who showed up at one of our sessions and said his board asked him to resign. It sounded like he was going to do it. I was shocked. “What? Why would you do that?” I asked him. “Why don’t you just come back to them with a plan about how you’re going to succeed?”

His immediate reaction was: “I’ll never be able to convince them.” He sounded defeated, but I encouraged him to take time to figure out what he really wanted. Did he want to be CEO? Did he want to walk away?

Finally, he zeroed in on what he wanted: I want this company to succeed, and if I leave, it isn’t going to succeed. And he just got down to business and did it.

Even if he refused to resign but continued on the path he’d been on, the company would have failed. He needed to see that his current mode of operating wasn’t leading to what he truly wanted.

Get the Gasp. 

Ensure that what you identify is of significant scale. If it’s not a stretch for you, it’s not a leap. It has to feel like jumping off a cliff.

It’s not a leap if you don’t feel it’s much bigger than you expected. If you can do it right away, it’s not a leap, let alone a Big Leap. Big Leaps require time and development. It needs to be something that makes you gasp and suck in your breath.

Lori Mazan is a distinguished 25-year executive coach who has provided tens of thousands of coaching sessions to today’s top leaders, from Fortune 100 CEOs to venture-backed startup executives. She’s the co-founder, president, and chief coaching officer of Sounding Board, Inc., and author of the new book Leadership Revolution: The Future of Developing Dynamic Leaders. Learn more at SoundingBoardInc.com.

Lori Mazan

Lori Mazan

LORI MAZAN is a distinguished 25-year executive coach who has provided tens of thousands of coaching sessions to top leaders, from Fortune 100 CEOs to venture-backed startup executives. She’s the co-founder, president, and chief coaching officer of Sounding Board, Inc., which offers a tech-driven, human-centric approach to leadership development. As the go-to leadership development firm for forward-looking companies—including Chevron, Sprint, Citibank, Intellikine, Tapjoy, and 10XGenomics—Mazan and her team develop capabilities that produce immediate, positive business results. Mazan packages these strategies in her new book, Leadership Revolution: The Future of Developing Dynamic Leaders (Wiley; October 3, 2023).

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