Your Real & Ideal Self – TEDxBabsonCollege
John Over the last two decades, I’ve been on a quest to learn everything I can about leadership obsessed with what makes the best leaders so good after running companies small and large for the last 20 years. Today, I speak on stages all across the world to audiences who are interested in that same question. My name’s John Laurito and I’m your host. I invite you to join me on this journey as we explore this topic. What makes the best leaders so good? Welcome to tomorrow’s leader.
John So I remember looking down and my hands were shaking and not just shaking, they were trembling and it was weird, I could feel this like wave of heat that started at my feet and just worked its way up my body, like through my legs, up my torso, up through my shoulders and my head. And I could feel just beads of sweat start to bubble up on my forehead and my head. And I felt my heart beating really fast. And it’s weird. I should have felt great. I should have felt honored. I should have felt proud. Here I was my boss had asked me to speak in front of 70 of my colleagues for good reason because he wanted me to share some of the things that we were doing.
John I was leading an office. We were having great success. And he said, John, why don’t you speak and share some of the things you’re doing for a half an hour with this group? Now, these were 70 people that I knew, not nameless faces. These were people that I had relationships with. I respected. They respected me. So this should have felt pretty comfortable. But here I was at the back of the room staring at the backs of their heads, watching the speaker before me, who was just about a couple of minutes from finishing up. And I was feeling nothing like I wanted to feel I felt out of control. I mean, even my breathing was strained. I was really struggling to breathe naturally. It was almost like walking up a hill at 10000 feet above elevation, above sea level. It was feeling like I just couldn’t get my breath. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t do anything. And my heart was beating so hard I could look down. I could see it beating through my shirt. And just then the speaker ended his presentation, introduced me, and I began my walk to the front of that room and I could see and feel the wave of eyes.
John It started now turning to look at me as I was making my way to the front, I got somehow to the front center stage and looked out at the group and I could feel sweat dripping down my face and down my back. I could feel my face read. I could just my shirt felt tighter on me. I couldn’t breathe. And the face is looking at me, started with interest and then went to confusion and then to concern, like thinking, what’s happening here?
John I don’t know. I couldn’t speak. The only thing I could think to do was turn around. There was a whiteboard behind me and I grabbed the pen and started writing on the whiteboard. To this day, I have no idea what I was writing, but for twenty painful, silent seconds of writing hieroglyphics on the board, I had to turn around. I turned around and faced my audience, who still was looking at me, very concerned and puzzled. And again, I couldn’t speak. I could not get words out. And all I kept thinking is I have to get out of here. I didn’t know what to do. And I ran out of the room, off the stage and out the door, down the hall thinking, I can’t believe what I just did.
John I literally ran off the stage and I went into the bathroom that was down the hall. And I, I stood in the bathroom and I’m just trying to collect my thoughts in total disbelief at what I had just done. And the door opened up and people that had just witnessed this came in. I guess the organizer didn’t know what to do and just said, OK, take a bathroom break. I didn’t know what to do at that point. So I just went into the stall and pretended like I was throwing up. That was what my excuse was going to be, that I was sick. But I could hear the comments. I could hear the laughter of the guys that are outside that stall.
John That was a devastating day. That was a low point in my career. See, my ideal self was someone who was cool, calm, and collected under pressure. It didn’t matter. I could speak in front of thousands of people on the biggest stages in the world, and I’d feel great, totally confident, at ease, and drawing that audience in. But my real self, my real self was scared and really felt weakened by this. I felt like I had no control over this thing that would happen when it would happen and how long and how intense and who would be watching. And I felt like an imposter. I felt like here I am, a leader trying to lead other people to become their ideal selves and ultimately do things that they wouldn’t have done otherwise. And here I was. I couldn’t lead myself through this.
John It was devastating. I actually kept it hidden for 20 years, 20 years of having panic attacks, and I did not tell a single person, not my family, not my friends, no one, because I felt that if I talked about it, I would legitimize it. I would give it fuel, I would give it momentum, and it would become this thing that. That was reality when in reality, I just wanted it to go away. I felt like if I didn’t think about it or talk about it, it would.
John But now my very private, personal, painful struggle was now made very public. Have you ever had an emotional pain that was so bad you would gladly take a physical pain in front of it instead of it? Absolutely. I mean, I have played baseball. I can remember a time I was a type of batter that I would either hit a home run or strike out rarely anything other than that. I’d always swing for the fences.
John I remember facing a really tough pitcher and a critical moment of the game and thinking, wow, I just hope he throws a fastball, hits me in the head and I get a free base. So I get out of this situation. I don’t want to be having the responsibility of potentially striking out and letting down the team.
John That’s an example. But as a speaker, I remember thinking, wow, I wish I had a control that I could keep in my pocket and I could hit a button if I felt those familiar and really unwanted feelings coming. And I could hit this button and a light fixture would fall from the ceiling and back up, hit me in the head and knock me unconscious, and then I could get out of it. That’s literally how bad it was. And I remember thinking, I wish I could have something like that, but why did I ignore it for so long?
John Well, you know, I had subscribed to a philosophy that I learned many years ago in business, and that was that successful, happy people focus on and think about the things that they can control, the things that they can’t control and they can influence. They don’t think about it. They don’t worry about it. They don’t spend any mental energy on it. They spend 80 to 90 percent of the things they can control, 10 to 20 percent on things they can influence, and zero on what they can’t influence or control.
John So for me, I thought, OK, let me just ignore it. But there’s a flaw in that model. There’s a flaw in that theory. What if one of those things that’s in that third bucket is truly something that is preventing you from becoming your ideal self? What if it is something that is preventing you from having the career you want to have from ultimately being the leader that you want to be and ultimately having the self-esteem and the confidence that you want to have?
John Well, what I realized is you can actually move things from one bucket to another. You can take something that you have no influence on and in many cases develop influence and actually change it. You can then once you have influence, change it to something that you have control over. I learned that.
John See, we have the power to influence much more than we realize. And most of us never tap into that power. We never tap into the power to influence ourselves and then other people as humans, we tend to go down that path of least resistance. We like what’s easy. We like what’s comfortable. We like what’s pain-free. And sometimes changing what we’re doing in any way is uncomfortable.
John What I realized is all I had to do was find the three percent that makes the other 97 percent happen. You see, I didn’t have to accomplish that big goal or control this big thing that I couldn’t control. I just had to have and find the right three percent. I had to find the three percent that makes the other ninety-seven percent happen.
John I’ll give you a great example for me. I’ve always wanted to go to the gym in the morning. I’ve kind of known that that’s a great way to start the day. But I was working at 8:00 or 9:00 at night. I’d be staying up late. It was just a really bad cycle. But for me, I’d set the alarm clock at five in the morning. It’ll be dark out. It would be cold. I wouldn’t want to get out of bed. I’d hit the snooze button and I’d say, I’ll work out at night.
John For years it was like that. And then I realized, you know what? I don’t need to really go to the gym in the morning. The only thing I need to do is I need to get out of bed and I need to put my gym clothes on. That’s it. Because once I have my gym clothes on, I’m not going to go back into bed. And once I have gym clothes on, I’m probably gonna brush my teeth and grab my wallet and my keys and go into the car. And then once I’m in the car, I’m going to drive to the gym. And once I’m at the gym, I’m going to go in and I’m going to work out. I’m not going to just sit there.
John So in reality, it’s not waking up in the morning to go to the gym. The three percent that made the ninety-seven percent happen was just getting out of bed and putting my gym clothes on. My goal changed and I’ve gone to the gym every morning, every morning.
John So from there, I started to realize everything can happen that way. In reality, I have hard conversations that I need to have, ultimately, whether its loved ones are a boss or colleague or whatnot, these tough conversations, sometimes we think about them as being this big thing and reality, all I need to do is have that first few moments of the conversation.
John I just need to be able to say, hey, you know, I’ve got an important issue and something I want to talk about. Do you have a couple of minutes? Once I do that, I’m committed. I’m having the conversation. I’m in sales, I might say. Well, I hate prospecting calls, but I don’t really need to think about the whole call. I just need to pick up the phone and make it make a dial. That’s it. In fact, I don’t even need to do that. I can have somebody else do that. It works for everything.
John And it even worked for my panic attacks. You see, I realized that I had been dealing with these for so long and I had actually found the three percent with one of my panic attacks long ago when I was in high school. One of them was I’d be sitting in a classroom and I would just feel everybody’s eyes on me, whether they were or not. I felt like the whole class was staring at me and I would start to heat up. And I remember I would start to turn red and then I’d start to sweat.
John And I felt like more and more people were watching. And I go into a little cocoon and pray that nobody would see me. And God forbid the teacher wouldn’t call me out, which they did one time. And I remember starting to draw a picture and I drew a picture of a guy who was standing there. I happened to be a pretty good drawer and I was drawing a picture of a guy who is who was freezing. He was shaking and he had icicles just hanging from every part of his body. And ultimately, as I’m drawing this, I realized, wow, I’m not hot anymore. I’m actually getting cool.
John It had a physical change and that I was breathing OK, and I no longer had a panic attack. It went away. And then the next time I drew that picture, I only made it through halfway and the panic attack was gone. The next time I just drew the face and the time after that, I just put the pen to paper and they had gone for good. So now I just had to find that same type of thing for when I was on stage. Right. And I couldn’t just stop. And in the middle of a stage presentation say, OK, let me draw a picture and, you know, hold on one second here. And just, you know, that wasn’t realistic.
John I couldn’t do the light thing that might be a little too violent, but there was something I could do. All I needed to do was give myself a break. That’s it. I just needed a couple of minutes because what I figured is I just needed to breathe because when I stopped breathing or had difficulty breathing, it’s really impossible to talk. You need breath going over your vocal cords in order to be able to speak. Try it. You can’t do it.
John So what I realized is, OK, if I can relax and just breathe normally, then I’m going to be able to speak. And if I can speak, I can continue along and I can go through this presentation and manage through this. So what I did is I came up with an idea. I figured, OK, all I need to do is have some questions that I need to throw to the audience if I’m in that situation. So I did. And a couple of questions prepared at the beginning of every presentation.
John Sometimes I use them, sometimes they didn’t. But if I felt that coming on, I did. And it gave me a couple of seconds to regain my pace, my composure, my breathing, and it worked. Eventually, I didn’t even have them anymore. Not only did I not have to use them, just the fact that I had them in my back pocket to use eased my panic attack. It was like a switch, a light switch that I could turn off that panic attack at any given moment. That gave me the confidence and the self-esteem to realize I don’t have these anymore.
John Something incredible happens when you gain control and influence a different outcome. It’s empowering because it gives you confidence and that confidence helps you extend and expand your comfort zone. That comfort zone helps you take bigger risks, like standing in front of larger audiences, and it helps you take bigger chances and ultimately bigger victories. And those bigger victories lead to even more confidence. And it’s an amazing phenomenon.
John Once we can influence ourselves, we then can influence other people authentically. That was my challenge. I was doing it from an inauthentic place because I hadn’t done it for myself effectively. Once I did, my leadership effectiveness absolutely took off. That’s when I became the best version of myself as a leader. And when we realized how far-reaching and long-lasting our influence can be, it is staggering.
John We never realized the power of our influence. There was a boy on a Saturday morning. His dad had asked him to paint the fence and this boy kind of begrudgingly began to do it and took him a couple of hours. And when he got done, his dad inspected it and his dad came upon an area, the fence that was behind the shed. And the boy had not painted it and he asked the boy about it. The boy said, well, it’s not visible, nobody can see, nobody’s going to know. And the father said, no, you will know. And his father, who is a cabinetmaker, went on to explain that the quality of what you do and the detail of what you do is critical.
John He explained as a cabinet maker, even the piece of wood that was against the wall that he used in building a cabinet was as fine a piece of wood like the one on the outside. Well, that conversation stuck with that boy for the rest of his life. He internalized that and almost obsessed about quality and quality of design. And as he grew up and he built things, he built them in a manner where they were as nice on the inside as they were on the outside.
John And today, over a billion people are impacted by that conversation that took place that Saturday morning because that boy was Steve Jobs. You never know the impact of what your influence is, what Steve and his dad didn’t know that day was, that conversation was the three percent that helped Steve find the other 97 percent that put him on a path to design things as beautiful as the iPhone and ultimately touch each and every one of us. When you find your three percent and you change your path in your world, then it’s up to you to help somebody else find their three percent. Thank you very much.
John Thanks for joining us on today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader for suggestions or inquiries about having me at your next event or personal coaching, reach me at John@lauritogroup.com. Once again, that’s John@lauritogroup.com
John Thanks. Lead on.