In an experiment, a scientist placed several fleas in a glass jar and they quickly jumped out. After putting the fleas back in the jar and a glass lid on top, the fleas jumped again, hit the lid and fell back down into the jar. After a while of being conditioned to the presence of the glass lid, the fleas began jumping slightly below the glass lid so as not to hit it. The scientist then removed the glass lid as it was no longer needed to keep the fleas in the jar. The fleas learned to limit themselves from jumping beyond the height of the lid even if the lid was removed.

And that is the sad tale of too many organizations today where people with an unlimited supply of potential have that potential capped by others, or worse yet, by themselves.

When a team is led by an average leader who is a “five” on scale of ten, the team they lead will perform at a three or four level, maybe even a five, but it will certainly not rise above that because the attitude, actions or ability of their average team leader caps their results at “average”. So in order for the team to go higher, the leadership of that teams needs to go higher. If it doesn’t, after a while the team begins to accept the limited belief that it’s not necessary or even possible to go higher. Who wants to keep hitting their head on the proverbial ceiling? Eventually you either quit jumping or you find a new jar with a higher lid.

In my office I have a picture of Michael Jordon sailing through the air launching another legendary shot. The caption reads, “It is a rare person who comes along and raises the standards of excellence, who captures the hearts of many, and who inspires a group of individuals on to achieve the impossible.” Jordon was a lid lifter. His leadership helped his team unleash their potential and reach new heights and achieve six NBA championships in eight years.

Seeing it done helps others achieve it themselves. That’s what leaders do. They know the way, go the way, and show the way. Your job as a leader is to be a lid lifter for others, and that means you need to first be a lid lifter for yourself. Max DePree said, “In the end, it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” Transformation begins in you, so good self-leadership means being intentional about investing in your own growth, challenging your current thinking, and taking risks without the fear of failing.

Then you will be better equipped to be a lid lifter for others, investing in your people and making their development a priority, challenging limiting beliefs, and creating and encouraging a culture of lifelong learning that rewards risking, stretching and growing.

Orrin Woodward said, “Average leaders raise the bar on themselves; good leaders raise the bar for others; great leaders inspire others to raise their own bar.”

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