Potential and Muscle Failure in Leaders

Dr. John Townsend

April 21, 2016

Leaders are highly interested in potential, both for themselves and for their organizations. They want to be high capacity, they want to actualize, and they want to get as much growth out of themselves and their companies as is possible. Yet often, they get started and things get really vague and they just don’t know if they are reaching their potential.

For example, a CEO I had in my leadership training program was, to the other team members, “The Guy” in the group. His company had both the highest valuation, the best annual growth percentages and the most number of employees. And he was a truly nice person, no real ego issues. Yet once I started getting to know him, I realized he was an underachiever and I told him so.

He was a bit put off by that but wanted to understand my observation. I told him, “You’re a very talented person, but you’re running your company in your sleep. What would make some of your colleagues sweat bullets is pretty easy for you. So I think you’re a 12 cylinder Lamborghini who is running on 9. To the world, you look like you’re firing on all of them but I think you’ve got 3 more that you’re not touching.”

He thought a bit and then said, “OK, that’s probably true now that I think about it. So what do I do?”

I said, “Muscle failure.”

He said, “I don’t get it.”

“Muscle failure”, I repeated. “You know, when your workout trainer shows you how to push the weights to a certain number of reps until that point comes where you cannot, just cannot do one more rep. It is not a matter of will, it is a matter of capacity. By definition, your muscles have reached their potential, at least for that session. Then, later you keep developing. I’d like you to start trying things at a higher level that are scary for you, make you insecure, and are a bit overwhelming. Let’s get you higher to your own potential.”

He was and is a motivated person, and took the challenge. The result was that in 2 years his company went scale at a level he had never dreamed. Then, of course he went on to the next challenge, because it all started feeling pretty good.

Most leaders are actually like this man. The world sees us getting lots of base hits but we know, in our heart of hearts, that we’re not really pushing to who God made us.

You don’t have to be a performance-oriented, legalistic, self-hating person. In fact, you’ll never reach your potential that way, as the Law is never enough, and Grace completes things. But you don’t want to be comfortably numb either, do you?

Where is your muscle failure? Start thinking about the next challenge.

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