Are you Reaching Your Potential?

A Project Management Article by Michelle LaBrosse, PMP®, Chief Cheetah and Founder of Cheetah Learning

Are you reaching your true potential in life? According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the typical person is only working at 50 percent of his or her potential. Only 50 percent! I’m not sure if you remember from grade school, but that would be a failing grade. Let’s examine this a little more to see the components that contribute to this potential deficiency, and how we can remedy it.

Bored Stiff. 

A 2011 Gallup study shows that 71 percent of American workers are either not engaged or actively disengaged from their jobs, with highly educated and middle-aged workers the least likely to feel involved in and enthusiastic about their work.

A May 2012 Forbes article called “Bored In The Office: Is It The New Productivity Killer?” speaks to this epidemic. People become bored in the workplace when they are not being challenged, don’t have much control or input when it comes to important decisions, and don’t have a sense that they are progressing towards an important goal.

Both employees and employers need to work together to combat workplace boredom that leads to unproductively. People will work at their peak performance when they are utilizing their innate strengths and talents. This ultimately results in exponential improvements in productively, not to mention profitability. But according to a Gallup survey, only 25 percent of Americans are working in ways that best use their strengths. Do you see a relationship here? The 25 percent of people who are working in line with their innate strengths are the 25 percent who are engaged with their jobs, leaving only 4 percent unaccounted for when you consider that 71 percent of folks are disengaged.

Learning Freeze. 

Learning is a lifelong pursuit—not just an endeavor that ends once you are finished attending school and obtaining degrees. When we stop learning, we stop expanding our minds, and it is impossible to reach our full potential.

To learn effectively, proper training is crucial. The unfortunate reality is many people do not know how to effectively train others. Death by PowerPoint prevails as the main modality for attempting to transfer knowledge to others in the corporate environment. This is especially true among training that is created by internal staff, who may be well-regarded experts in their fields, but not expert in the science of learning.

A UCLA study found an overall 90-percent dissatisfaction rate with both internal and external approaches to learning project management. Project management is one of the critical life skills for success in any business, and an imperative skill to master for those looking to reach their potential. Think about when you do projects: It’s to go after a new market, to introduce a product into your market or to improve the performance of an internal process. Projects are the profit drivers of every single operation even if you are not working in a profit-driven enterprise. How you use your resources is vitally important to your success.

Increasing your personal effectiveness means learning how to better start and finish your projects. What is even more astounding is that only 30 percent of people finish training they start and 75 percent of all projects fail. This makes perfect sense because the training is often not effective from the beginning.

Training needs to be relevant and effective for employees to learn, and learning needs to take place for a workforce to grow and reach its potential. How can your organization rethink the way it conducts training to result in bottom line profits?

Underperforming mind and body. 

In the pursuit of success, many of us forgot to take care of our body and rely only on our mind to pull us through. This is simply unsustainable in the long term, and the neglect that you have shown your body will reveal itself in your work performance. The good news is that is it never too late to start treating your body right.

While people are individually responsible for taking care of themselves, and should prioritize the health of their mind and body if they want to be successful, employers play an important role here. If exercise and health are encouraged in the workplace, and rewarded, employees who once “didn’t have the time to exercise” (which is never really true, as whatever you prioritize is what you will find time for) will suddenly be able to take a longer lunch in order to get that run in, or leave work on time to make it to an intramural volleyball game.

Employees often take cues from upper management on what to prioritize, so it needs to start at the top for it to become a part of the company’s culture. And if you are an employer and are scared to promote anything that doesn’t translate to bucking down and working, ask yourself—would your rather have 13 hours of 25 percent level of productivity, or seven hours of 80 percent productively? When you take care of your body, you are more alert, more energetic, and can reach your potential.

This mind-body connection is something we at Cheetah Learning take very seriously. Over the past 12 years, we have helped people absorb a large body of knowledge about Project Management in four days to pass the PMP exam using a whole body Accelerated Exam Prep approach. Before this, people were spending six months studying, and 40 percent of them were failing this exam—yet 97 percent of Cheetah’s students pass this same exam after only four days of studying. Why? Because six weeks prior to class starts, they take a class that puts their brain in peak performance by creating a diet and exercise plan. This allows Cheetah students to significantly shorten their studying time while significantly increasing their studying effectiveness. Can you imagine what this level of productivity could do for your bottom line?

Distractions! 

Businessweek reported that distractions cost US businesses $650 billion a year! These distractions are marshmallows in our life—texts, Facebook and Twitter updates, and emails—that cause immediate satisfaction at the expense of our long-term potential. This same article goes on to recommend that workers take proactive steps to avoid distractions, such as putting up a stop sign in a cubicle when they do not want to be disturbed, or having a set period of time to check email instead of doing it as an interruption to other tasks they are trying to accomplish.

What is truly fascinating about these workplace distractions is that many of them are physically addicting, which explains why some of the habits are so difficult to change. In Lucy Jo Palladino’s book, “Find Your Focus Zone,” distracting activities such as playing video games or watching TV activates the basal ganglia of the brain, which then releases dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for feelings of pleasure and wellbeing. And, want to know the crazy part? Highly addictive drugs, such as nicotine, act directly on the dopamine system as well. So without getting too scientific, this basically means that you can quickly get addicted to an activity, just as a person can get hooked on a drug. Scary thought, right?

How many of you reading this article have pulled out your computer, and had good intentions of going to your work email, but as you typed in the URL, found yourself going to ESPN, Pinterest, Facebook… or any other number of vices, seemingly without you having to even think about it? It’s time to take back control of our brains and get off the dope… dopamine that is.

The first step in curbing the distraction addition that afflicts so many is to start being conscious of it. Once you identify the biggest offender in your life in term of time-wasting distractions, you need to work hard to rid yourself of these addictions, just as if you were quitting smoking or coffee—with patience and diligence.

Create a zone that does not allow distractions for a few hours each day where you focus on just the task at hand and nothing else. In Agile this is called a timebox, and is done regularly throughout the project lifecycle to promote distraction-free work.

Reach Your Potential. 

Now that you know the biggest issues we face in reaching our potential, what can you do? Can you imagine a world where you:

  • Worked at your full capabilities by leveraging your unique strengths.
  • Created projects and developed project teams to leverage the unique strengths of each and every team member.
  • Negotiated agreements and opportunities with others based on each person’s unique strengths.
  • Were able to learn anything quickly and stay focused amidst all the distractions of modern day living?

Cheetah Learning’s Effective Cheetah—Create and Play Your “A” Game, compiles three courses that allow you to reach your potential. These courses are:

  1. Cheetah Projects – You discover your innate strengths and the right projects for you that will bring you the most success in life. You learn how to leverage the strengths of others to start and complete those projects at Cheetah Speed.

  2. Cheetah Negotiations – You discover your innate strengths in negotiations and how to shore up areas that challenge you. You learn how to create agreements and opportunities with others that leverage each of your innate strengths to develop solutions far better than you could create individually. You learn how to remove the barriers to success and achieve agreement at Cheetah Speed.
  3. Cheetah Focus – You discover your innate learning strengths and create a very effective influence strategy that helps you adopt lifestyle practices that get and keep your mind in a peak performing condition.

Transform your life when you learn how to play your “A” game and create the environment where you enable everyone else around you to play his or her “A” game as well. Whatever your life goals are—to increase your earning capability, create more time, or have more influence—you can and will achieve what is most important to YOU at Cheetah Speed while you reach your full potential.

About the Author

Michelle LaBrosse, PMP®, Chief Cheetah and Founder of Cheetah Learning

CheetahLearningMichelle LaBrosse, PMP, is an entrepreneurial powerhouse with a penchant for making success easy, fun and fast.  She is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the Cheetah Success Series, and a prolific blogger whose mission is to bring Project Management to the masses.

Cheetah Learning is a virtual company with 100 employees, contractors, and licensees worldwide. To date, more than 30,000 people have become “Cheetahs” using Cheetah Learning’s innovative Project Management and accelerated learning techniques.  

Recently honored by the Project Management Institute (PMI®), Cheetah Learning was named Professional Development Provider of the Year at the 2008 PMI® Global Congress. A dynamic keynote speaker and industry thought leader, Michelle was previously recognized by PMI as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the world.

Michelle’s articles have appeared in over 100 publications and web sites around the world. Her monthly column, the Know How Network is carried by over 400 publications, and her monthly newsletter goes out to more than 50,000 people.

She is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner President Manager’s (OPM) program and also holds engineering degrees from Syracuse University and the University of Dayton.

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