2009 may go down as the “year of the hero.” We’ve seen a number of dramatic falls and few noteworthy rises. A quick scan of the annual end-of-the year headlines tells the story. It got me thinking about heroes: what is it about heroes that we find so compelling?
I made a quick list of my personal heroes—the people in my life past and present who I look up to and who have touched my life in some meaningful way. As I stood back from my scribbles, the first thing I noticed was that my list contained few celebrity heroes. It was mostly made up family members, coaches, teachers, mentors, teammates, and colleagues.
Then I made a list of their most admirable qualities: Sacrifice. Strength in the face of adversity. Leadership. Selflessness. Resourcefulness. Creativity. Achievement of goals. True talent. Service and generosity. Integrity. Pursuit of worthy challenges. The list went on.
As I gazed at the rather long list of virtues, five key themes emerged. I turned them into personal strategies that, if followed, provide a pathway enabling each of us to bolster our own hero-ness.
Lead With Your Strengths. The path begins with fully understanding and leveraging our unique talents and successfully managing our weaknesses. This approach requires us to fully leverage our talents. Can you be truly heroic without playing to your strength, without being in your real “power zone”? Probably not.
Serve Others. All heroes share their gifts to make the world a better place. The essence of a purposeful life is contribution, committing to serving, and helping others. By nature, we are self-centered but we have an infinite capacity for selflessness.
Engage Fully. If our talents are not matched by a worthy challenge, if we are not willing to take intelligent risks, and if we are not connected to the pulse of life, then we will slay no dragons! Doing excellent work, creating projects of passion, building networks and connections that enable us to move forward…these are the lifeforce of true engagement.
Think Big. The art of possibility is a compelling and powerful force of change with the power to open up new and different ways of looking at things. Too often we pose the question “What should we do?” before asking “What is possible?” Creative thinking and innovation are rooted in the power of taking a positive approach and seeing the possible.
Envision the Future. There is perhaps no more motivational theory or practice known to us that leads to higher performance, impact, and meaning than that of setting clear and compelling goals. This, of course, is the most visible part of any hero’s journey, as it is the great accomplishment that brings the spotlight.
But the spotlight is not the goal. And it occurred to me that the rise of fall of those in the 2009 spotlight hinged on their ability to manage these five strategies well. And it brought to mind a quote by editorialist Peggy Noonan:
As we head toward 2010, ask yourself: “Who am I a hero to?” (Hint: look over your shoulder).
Matthew E. May is Chief Strategist for MBox Design, and the author of In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing. He blogs here. You can follow him on Twitter here.