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Reach as High as You Can

Reach as High as You Can

By General Robert Van Antwerp

10 years ago


leadership, Personal Constraint Theory,



The audience was a bit shocked when I opened my keynote by asking them to reach as high as you can.  After everyone had their hand up, I asked them in a stronger tone to reach a little higher!  Strangely enough, every hand reached a little higher.

They laughed when I asked them, “What didn’t you understand about reaching as high as you could?”  We talked a little about saying what you mean and meaning what you say, then I gave them one more chance by asking them if they were now reaching as high as they could.

One lonely non-conformist in the back corner got up out of her chair, stood on her tip-toes, and reached for the ceiling!  Then another, as if on cue, stood on his chair and reached for the sky.  And another went from chair to table and easily touched the ceiling from his new perch.  Pretty soon everyone was abuzz talking about what just happened.

What did just happen?  We found out that every leader in that room had constraints—things that were holding them back from reaching as high as they could.

For some, it was the desire to defer to the group norm or to just not embarrass themselves that kept them “in the box.”  When I interviewed our non-conformist, even she said that she had thought about standing at first but wasn’t sure what her CEO (who was in the room) would think!  But look what happened when she took a chance.  Soon others were following her lead and looking for innovative solutions.

Others weren’t able to think critically about what they were asked to do and imposed imaginary limitations on themselves—assuming they had to do the best they could from their chair!   We’ve got to challenge the rules—real or imaginary—if we are going to achieve the best.  Great leaders know the fewer the restrictions, the more innovative the solution set.

The truth is, our constraints, or lack thereof, are the greatest determinant of how successful we will be.  Wouldn’t you like to know what your constraints are so you can eliminate them and reach your full potential?

General Robert Van Antwerp

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