What is the key to going to the next level as a leader? Great question, but one that some people might struggle to answer.
Perhaps let me state in a more familiar way—what is the greatest obstacle you will face once you have begun achieving your goals and tasting success?
I believe it is the ability to let go of what you have so that you can reach for something new.
That’s because, often, the greatest obstacle you will face as a leader might be your own achievement. My friend Rick Warren says it this way, “The greatest detriment to tomorrow’s success is today’s success.”
Here’s the question that every leader must ask him or herself regularly: “What is the next level worth?”
John Maxwell teaches a very helpful principle: pay now—play later. We all pay in life. Anything we get will exact a price from us—and the longer we wait to pay, the greater the price. A successful life is a series of trade-offs.
I’ve found that the higher you go, the harder it is to make trade-offs. Why? As we climb higher, we have more, and we find it more difficult to let go of what we’ve worked for. Trade-offs become harder the more you have to lose.
If you want to be a better leader, get ready to make some trades. Here are 10 trade-offs worth making:
1. Trade Affirmation for Accomplishment
This is difficult for most all of us. We want affirmation and approval from others. It’s human nature. But affirmation and approval should be the byproduct, not the goal. I ask myself this regularly—Do you want to be loved more than you want to lead?
2. Trade Security for Significance
The great leaders in history were great not because of what they owned or earned but because of what they gave their lives to accomplish. Something in human nature woos us to stay where we’re comfortable. But if you always choose security, you will sacrifice growth.
3. Trade Financial Gain for Future Potential
The temptation is almost always to go for the cash—the quick score. But go back to the principle of pay now, play later: if you are willing to sacrifice on the front end for the possibility of greater potential, you are almost always given greater chances for higher reward.
John Maxwell has always encouraged me to delay gratification when it comes to personal growth. He learned a long time ago that if you put off pleasures, conveniences, or luxuries in order to pursue personal growth opportunities you will never regret it.
5. Trade Exploration for Focus
The only way to go far is to specialize in something. If you study the lives of great men and women, you will find that they were very single-minded. Once you have found what you were created to do, make it your focus—and stick with it.
6. Trade Quantity of Life for Quality of Life
I once read that the president of a large publishing company sought out a wise man to get his advice. After describing the chaos of his life, he silently waited to hear something of value from the sage. The older man said nothing. He simply took a teapot and began pouring tea into a cup. He kept pouring until the tea overflowed and began to cover the table. “What are you doing?” The businessman exclaimed. The wise man smiled and said, “Your life is like a teacup, flowing over. There’s no room for anything new. You need to pour out, not take more in.”
7. Trade Acceptable for Excellent
People do not pay for average. They are not impressed by anything merely acceptable. If something is worth doing, give it your best—or don’t do it at all. Leaders cannot rise up on the wings of mediocrity.
8. Trade Addition for Multiplication
One is too small a number to achieve greatness; that’s why leaders who develop leaders multiply their ability. We call it Maxwell Math: Add value to leaders who multiply value to others!
9. Trade the First Half for the Second Half
If you are in the second half of life, you have probably spent much of your time paying the price for success. Don’t waste it! Be willing to trade it for significance. Do things that will live on after you are gone. If you are in the first half, keep paying the price so that you have something to offer in your second half.
10. Trade Work for God for a Walk with God
If you are not a person of faith, then this may not make sense to you. However, if faith is a part of your life, remember that no matter how much value your work has, it cannot compare with a relationship with your Creator.
To be an excellent leader, I think you have to learn to travel light. You must learn to off-load before trying to reload.
To be a significant leader you must be willing to keep making trades, because for everything you gain, you have to give up something.
Are you willing to give up to go up?
John Maxwell Leadership Podcast