Debunking Leadership Myths #7 — I Am Already Surrounded by the Right People

The previous installment of my Debunking Leadership Myths Article Series focused on the common, yet misguided belief it’s okay to avoid actions that make us uncomfortable. Today, we tackle another frequent—but faulty—assumption: I am already surrounded by the right people. 

 Throughout this article series, using both anecdotal and research-based evidence, we’ve established that a willingness to be challenged and stretched—often to the point of discomfort—is essential to grow and progress as a leader. Those with whom you surround yourself factor into this directly.

Consider critically whether those around you—professionals you pay for advice, people in your mastermind group, networking organization, forum, peer group, etc.—are contributing to your growth, or perhaps delaying it. How can you know? Assess how much you contribute vs. receive in each interaction. If you’re giving more than you receive, you’ve likely outgrown that particular person or group and are in a comfort zone network or relationship.

If you maintain these comfortable networks and relationships over too much time, you’re likely to become stuck or even lose ground. 

Here’s why: The input you get from those around you is bound to embody the context of their lives and their fears—and potentially validate some of your own. When you surrender to fear (and to be clear, in most cases you don’t even realize that you are), you’ll find that you’re stagnating or setting yourself back. Even worse, you’re passively agreeing to receive advice (even “experience share” input) from people who haven’t yet fully achieved what you’re aiming for!

Combatting the myth that you’re already surrounded by the right people requires a conscious effort to leave comfort zone networks behind for individuals and groups who will push and challenge you – particularly people who might seem to be out of your league. 

I first encountered this crucial concept in 1993, when I began searching for my first home. Early in the process, my grandpa Ben pulled me aside. “Mark,” he said, “I need to give you a piece of advice before you buy a home.” 

“Sure, what’s your advice?” I asked.  

“No matter what you do, don’t ever buy the most expensive house in the neighborhood.” 

“Why not?” I asked. 

“There’s only one way the other houses in the neighborhood can affect your property value over time,” he told me. 

His advice made perfect sense to me. When I made that first purchase, I did as he suggested. In fact, I still do, heeding this insight in all of my real estate transactions. 

But it wasn’t until about a decade later that I realized grandpa Ben didn’t just give me real estate advice. By that point, I had established my coaching practice and was affiliated with an organization of practitioners primarily in the leadership development business. During one of our meetings, we were discussing a subject that had become well-trodden ground for me. Just then, I had an incredible flash of insight: I had become one of the most expensive houses in my professional neighborhood! 

I had acquired more experience and more clients than most members of the organization, and as a result, my continued participation was decreasing my professional value over time—just as grandpa Ben had referenced in his home buying advice all those years prior. 

In that moment, I made a deliberate decision to surround myself with people who make me uncomfortable, who challenge me with their intelligence and achievements, and who help me grow. I believe that this is the most direct path for accelerated continual improvement. 

If you find yourself in a similar situation, sitting amongst others whose experience and expertise you’ve surpassed, you’ve got to move on. To increase your value over time, surround yourself with individuals who have already reached the next level—who are beyond the place where you are now. These are the people who will broaden your horizons and challenge you to grow. 

Of course, these are also people who could put your ego at risk! This can be more of an issue for some people and less for others. Regardless, the value of the right people in your circle is well worth the potential discomfort.

My long-standing client Boris provides a perfect example. Boris runs a company that makes porous metal filters and filter elements that are distributed worldwide for a multitude of applications. A couple years ago, I offered him a seat at an exclusive two-day workshop for CEOs with Jim Collins. The workshop was costly and would require a significant time commitment, including a flight to Boulder, Colorado, where it would be held. Boris hadn’t done anything like this previously—and he would most certainly be changing his neighborhood by accepting the invitation. He jumped at the chance.  

Upon arrival, Boris found himself in a roomful of CEOs from around the world, many of whom he considered to be a step up in terms of experience and expertise—not to mention Jim Collins himself.  

With the discomfort of challenge and stretch comes great opportunity. Boris returned grateful and reenergized, with a whole host of new ideas that he continues to implement to advance his business. 

Here are some questions to consider:

  • When was the last time you changed your professional neighborhood? 
  • When was the last time you put your ego at risk and surrounded yourself with others significantly more experienced and capable than you? 
  • When was the last time you felt a bit intimidated by others in a room, or upgraded your professional advisors, your coach, or your mentor? 
  • When was the last time you evaluated and upgraded your personal relationships, including where, how and with whom you spend your time? 

This is truly what it takes to stretch, discover, grow, and uncover habits that may not be serving you.

If you’re ready, here’s how you can get started:

Employ Activator #5: Change Your Neighborhood – inspired by my grandpa Ben’s real estate advice, your neighborhood refers to the people around you. 

Use the free New Neighborhood Tool to help you plan and take action. With a clear path to identify and reach those well positioned to help you grow, you’ll be on your way to changing your neighborhood, your perspective, and your leadership capacity to reach new heights. 

It’s never too late to change your neighborhood, so the right time is always now. 

Stay tuned for the next article in this series! We’ll be dissecting and busting another people-based Leadership Myth: employees should be accountable on their own.


Resource Links…

In my work as a business and leadership growth coach, I encounter articles, research, and stories about how leaders learn, grow, and become more effective. As you’ll see below, I share a select few in each edition of my newsletter – particularly those at the intersection of leadership, business growth, and behavior change.

Find the Coaching in Criticism

“For the past 20 years we’ve coached executives on difficult conversations, and we’ve found that almost everyone, from new hires to C-suite veterans, struggles with receiving feedback. A critical performance review, a well-intended suggestion, or an oblique comment that may or may not even be feedback (“Well, your presentation was certainly interesting”) can spark an emotional reaction, inject tension into the relationship, and bring communication to a halt. But there’s good news, too: The skills needed to receive feedback well are distinct and learnable. They include being able to identify and manage the emotions triggered by the feedback and extract value from criticism even when it’s poorly delivered.”

Intelligent Minds Like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos Seek to Master This Crucial Skill. You Can Too.

“You may have heard the term “critical thinking,” but what does it mean exactly?

Critical thinking is the process of careful and deep thinking about a subject or idea. It includes being able to analyze and weigh facts, to carefully reason, and to make insightful connections. 

But take another look at the name of this concept, and you get another clue as to its meaning: Critical thinking.

Of course, the word “critical” can mean important or vital, but it can also be linked to criticism. In other words, we might think of critical thinking as looking for something wrong, something that can be improved.”


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