Our work at Crafted Leadership provides a platform for leaders to know, claim, and contribute from the wellspring of their unique talents. This skill is paramount for leaders’ personal mastery and is of service to their organizations. We call this skill “choosing brilliance.”
Choosing brilliance means operating in a deliberate way such that your skills optimally match the opportunities for action. You experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with an activity or interaction. You have a sense of creating what you want.
Legendary psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this state of optimal experience “flow.” Some call it being “in the zone.” We use the term “Zone of Brilliance” (adapted from Gay Hendricks’ bestselling Big Leap book and work).
For leaders, when we advocate for them to “choose brilliance,” we mean for them to get intentional about 1) discovering their Zone of Brilliance and 2) prioritizing the time they work in their Zone of Brilliance. Why? Because they’re most effective in this zone – but more importantly, as Csikszentmihalyi’s research suggests – being in this zone is true happiness.
Your Zone of Brilliance describes the state when you are working at a peak level of creativity and productivity - and doing so with a high level of satisfaction in what you are doing. Evidence you’re operating in your Zone of Brilliance is when time seems to disappear, you’re so involved nothing else seems to matter, and new ideas or openings seem to come to you without effort.
This video of Chris Sharma’s ropeless climb across a freestanding lime arch in the Mediterranean Sea (which took months to accomplish) is a beautiful example of an individual engaged in his Zone of Brilliance.
Choosing Brilliance Benefits You and Your Organization
Why is it important to own your brilliance? Because owning your talents gives you capacity, strength, and energy.
As global visionary and author Lynne Twist says, when you look objectively at your own talents and unique gifts and tell the truth about them, without false modesty but with the humility that comes from really looking at who you are and standing with confidence on that foundation - from that place you become an inspiring leader.
Odell Brewing Company CEO Wynne Odell’s experience of moving from CFO to CEO is an illustration of choosing brilliance. Whereas the CFO role left her feeling drained, after transitioning to CEO, she said in our interview, “I realized this was exactly what I wanted to do and where I felt I could be most effective... I was not cut out to be an accountant. Moving into the [CEO] role was freeing.”
One of our clients left a well-paying corporate job – where she was successful but unfulfilled – to leap into her Zone of Brilliance and start her own business as a horse trainer and teacher. At Inspiration Riding Academy, Stefanie trains hunter-jumper horses and teaches people to ride and compete on different breeds. She is uniquely suited for this role, able to form extraordinary connections with horses and experiencing a constant sense of purposeful joy in teaching others. When she speaks about riding and teaching, she exudes confidence and enthusiasm that is a cornerstone of a Zone of Brilliance.
When you have respect and appreciation for your unique talents, you are of service to your organization because you have clarity about what you can contribute. You know the value you bring to the organization. And the value you bring adds to the value that the organization creates in the world. Individual talents are part of an organization’s assets. Not acknowledging your individual talents deprives an organization of the full use of its assets.
Discovering Your Zone of Brilliance
The process of uncovering your Zone of Brilliance begins with noticing and appreciating your unique abilities, the things you love to do, and your natural strengths. While there are many ways to discover your Zone of Brilliance, we have adapted an exercise here from Gay and Katie Hendricks. Supporting people through the process of discovering their brilliance is one of our favorite and most moving aspects of our coaching and courses. Once we’re aware of our unique abilities, the skill is simply to “do it more.”
Choosing Brilliance as a Strategy to Neutralize Limiting Beliefs
While choosing to operate from your Zone of Brilliance may sound like an obvious strategy, there are reasons people resist it. The primary resistance is internal. As management consultant Robert Fritz points out, most of us hold one of two core beliefs, each limiting our ability to create what we really want and stopping us from living from our Zone of Brilliance:
Belief in our powerlessness – our inability to bring into being all the things we really care about.
Belief in our unworthiness – that we do not deserve to have what we really desire.
In our own experience with leaders and our study with psychologists Julie Colwell and Katie Hendricks, Julianna and I understand these disempowering beliefs are deeply rooted, usually arising from earlier conditioning, and difficult to change.
However, you can’t both feel powerless or unworthy and feel in flow; they are incompatible states. That’s why a powerful strategy for shifting these disempowering beliefs is to increase your awareness of your Zone of Brilliance and prioritize the time you work there.
Personal Brilliance Statement
The most productive learning around choosing brilliance starts with an authentic, curious self-inquiry into your Zone of Brilliance. This can be done alone, but we suggest it’s even more fun with a trusted coach or friend or in a group with others invested in their own development. We encourage leaders to share what they learn about their Zone of Brilliance – with the intention that these talents will be of service to others, their organizations, and communities.
To support leaders in their self-inquiry, we created an exercise to help them add specificity to their Zone of Brilliance. We ask them to come up with a “personal brilliance statement” that captures their unique agency. These statements serve as an anchor in times of self-doubt or as a springboard in times of creative visioning.
Below are examples of personal brilliance statements that leaders in our small group Lead by Design Advanced forums have created for themselves:
A Radical Departure
We recognize that the Choosing Brilliance approach flies in the face of popular workplace mythology that values excessive hard work, pushing yourself, extreme efforting, and overcoming weaknesses. We don’t buy into that myth. Our work and interviews with clients tells us that an approach that capitalizes on inherent strengths is not only possible, but is a more reliable route to radical creativity, sustainable energy and fulfillment.