Regardless of what people tell you, you are neither as talented nor as inadequate as they want you to think. We are all somewhere in the middle. But the middle of what. What are the real boundaries of understanding about our self-perception?

One of the principles of the Circle of Impact model of leadership is that the greatest change that we go through is in our self-perception. The ancient Greek admonition to “know thyself” did not set those boundaries. The Greek philosopher Socrates elaborated on it in saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Yet, this doesn’t provide a sufficient context to understand the boundaries of our self-perception. 

in his book The Big Leap, Gay Hendrick speaks about having an Upper Limit Problem, a boundary that inhibits our seeing our real potential. In a helpful framework, he speaks of four zones that we all have: Incompetence, Competence, Excellence, and Genius. He wants us to discover our Zone of Genius for this is where our talent comes together with a specific context to produce success.

As I worked through his framework, I found that I spent most of my time in my zone of excellence. These were areas where I had talent, but the product of my efforts did not produce genius level results.

In other words, I was good, but not great.

By being satisfied with being good, I did not have a clear picture of who am I and what is possible. Without this distinction, I don’t believe that I could ever really discover the potential that the Circle of Impact can have for people and organizations. My self-perception had to change even to write this post.

My issues were not with those areas where I was barely competent and quite incompetent. Those were easy to see. Yet, I had not done anything about them.

Essentially, I just ignored them hoping that they wouldn’t matter. However, when I realized what my zone of genius is, and the potential that it has, I went and found help in those areas that I’ll never be a genius. I hired people.

From the perspective of Gay Hendricks, I could not remove my Upper Limit Problem until I discovered my zone of genius. You can do this too.

While we all have an Upper Limit Problem, there is also a corresponding lower limit problem. This limit is less a boundary and more like a place to hide. We accept a job that will be easy to do and poses no real challenge while providing a decent income. The lower limiting problem is really where we find our greatest change to our self-perception. This where our negative self-talk inhibits us from seeing our true selves.

We feel it. We know that there is more to us than what we are doing, but don’t know how to climb out of our hiding place.

This is the other side of what I’ve frequently heard from business leaders. They speak about the poor performance of their employees. They don’t understand why people do not try harder to do better work. It is a perennial problem with growing consequences for both the business and their employees.

What kind of problem is this?

It was easy just to see this one of poorly developed and under-motivated employees working in a situation that doesn’t provide them much incentive to work hard. While that may be true, I believe it is a symptom of two deeper problems. One is the self-perception of people and the perception of business leaders/owners towards their employees. Let’s address the problem in turn from the perspective of the Circle of Impact.

Ed Brenegar - Circle of Impact

The Challenge of Self-Perception

When we use the Circle of Impact to solve problems, we begin by asking what kind of problem is it based on the three dimensions of leadership. Is it an idea problem, a relationship problem or a structure problem?

As we try to understand how our self-perception impact us, we should realize that it involves all three dimensions of leadership.

The ideas dimension helps us to see what is our zone of genius, and also how to define our purpose and what values are most important to us. For many people, these ideas function already, but in a hidden way. We respond to situations from a sense of what is right for us even if we cannot articulate it. By being able to put words to those feelings, we begin to know what we desire from our lives. This becomes a critically important foundation for being a confident, secure person.

The relationship dimension is just as important. Unfortunately, for many of us, we lack relationships where are able to discover an appreciation for who we are because of the transactional nature of our relationships. It is as if there is nothing really personal about these relationships. This often happens in a business context because relationships add unneeded complexity to the work that needs to get done.

The structural part of our lives may be more difficult to identify. We think of structure like an organization with roles, departments, and processes. But there are also social structures to our lives. These structures provide us a way to see ourselves in relationship to others. This is where we find ourselves discovering our zone of genius. It may be through the social structure of a team or a family, but we come to see ourselves in a living context of interaction and action.

When we become clear about who we are, establish trusting relationships with people, and find places to be involved where we see ourselves making a difference, then our self-perception changes. We gain confidence and are able to say No to things that may compromise our sense of self-worth or integrity.

Improving Employee Performance

From the other side of this problem, what does a business owner do to inspire a greater performance from the company’s employees? If this is a problem, what kind is it?

If it is an idea problem, then the company may not have a clear enough statement of purpose that engages the imagination of employees providing direction that everyone shares.

They may see that their relationship to the company is simply a transactional one. Come to work. Do your job. Go home.

Employees may not see that there is anything at stake for them in their work. As a result, a low-trust environment grows within the business.

If the problem is a structural problem, then this would mean that the design of the company inhibits employees from being their best selves. Changing employees’ perception of their role in the company involves all three dimensions. A revitalization of the company’s core ideology is required.

Creating a culture of trust that frees people to take initiative to perform at a higher level must grow. Also, it means that from within the structure, employees are trained and supported to take personal initiative to solve problems, communicate more broadly and innovate needed changes in processes.

The Challenge of A Changing Self-Perception

Discovering our talents – our Zone of Genius – is only one part of a changing self-perception. It also involves aligning the three dimensions of leadership to fully realize the potential impact of that our talents, skills, and experience.

The great challenge of growing our self-perception is that we live and work in cultures that are so fragmented and broken that is difficult to bring all the parts together into a whole life. Yet, as we grow in a sense of what our real purpose is, and what we have to contribute, then we see how to make changes that lead us to be persons of impact that make a difference that matters.

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

Dr. Ed Brenegar is a Leader for Leaders working with individuals, their teams, organizations and communities who find themselves at a point of transition. Ed has developed an innovative leadership model called, Circle of Impact, that clarifies what the impact of their life or the work of their organization can be. From this perspective, impact is the change that makes a difference that matters. Ed. for over 30 years, has inspired and equipped people and organizations to practice this fresh understanding of leadership. All leadership begins with personal initiative to create impact that makes a difference that matters. Everyone within an organization or a community can, therefore, practice leadership initiative. In so doing, they turn what were once leadership-starved organizations into leader-rich cultures that make a difference that matters.

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