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Change your 10% – Lead from where you stand

Change your 10% – Lead from where you stand

A few weeks ago, I was asked to give a commencement address to students starting out on their careers. I am always honored to be able to talk to those that are starting something that is new, and potentially make a pivotal change in their lives.

I wanted to give a talk of inspiration… but I didn’t want to be corny. Something that made sense for the here and now, not wishy washy stuff.  I reflected on one of the key pieces I learned in the Navy: Change your 10%. Focus on what you have the ability to impact.

Uh… what? Here are some of the highlights…..

The Story of 10%

I spent several years active duty as a Naval Officer; I still continue my service in the reserves. I’m proud of my service not only to my country, but also, and sometimes more importantly, to the sailors that I worked with on the ships that I served.

I went to boot camp in Newport, RI, and was assigned to Charlie Company and its very own Gunnery Sergeant. Now, for those of you that have never been in boot camp, never met a Gunnery Sergeant, but have watched a few movies on either – well – Hollywood did not make it up.

I was yelled at, got up early, ran until I was sick (literally… and congratulated on getting to that point), did a million sit ups, pushups, ran everywhere, and learned the other military motto. The Marines had “Semper Fidelis” or “Always Faithful” – in Boot Camp, we have another motto “Semper Gumby” – always flexible. We would run everywhere, and then wait – until the Mess Hall Opened, until it was time to go upstairs to our rooms, or just until the Gunny’s decided we’d waited enough!

It was a challenging place to be for a 19-year-old who thought she knew everything. It was humbling, but it became something else. Throughout the extremely trying days, it was also invigorating. In the evenings, if we had a few minutes of down time between running (and waiting) for the next exercise, Gunnery Sergeant would sit my 60 plus member Charlie company down and talk to us about what was really ahead of us – what was NOT advertised on the recruitment forms.

For we were all going to be leaders or impact players of our organizations – in some way, every one of us would be leading a ship, a squadron, a platoon at some point, at some level. We would be faced with a variety of challenges – from the basics of developing people to prepare for their next level, the next promotion, or (hopefully) even one day having our employees take our own job (which is a great accomplishment for ANY leader). We would face dealing with difficult people (both above and below and AT our level in the organization), deal with challenging bureaucracies, and try to get things done when there were 100 things to do.

How would we do it? How would we know which one to start first? What if there were 100 different problems that we recognized when we checked in? How would I know which one to start? What’s most important? The more he talked, the more concerned we found ourselves as the gravity of our jobs, as leaders or not, loomed larger by the minute.

And then… he said something that made it all possible. Something, that – if you listened, truly listened to what he said, to how he said it – and thought about it in your own words and experiences – you realized you could make it happen.

It was this: Change your 10%. Focus on the areas of your work that you can make a change, make an impact, and let go of the ones that you can’t.

Isn’t that a little defeatist? Doesn’t that basically mean that you are just giving up on areas that needed help – that needed work and your support as well?

No – not at all. I guarantee you when you go off to your next job, your next task, if you haven’t already felt it – you’ll see a number of challenges or problems that you’ll want to fix.  Have you already been there?

So do it. Don’t be afraid. You have the ability to make that impact – to make that change. When I say Change your 10% – I want you to focus on your immediate area – where can you make the biggest impact? Impact that area make it happen.

If you focus on areas that you can’t impact (right now) – because you don’t have the responsibility level or it’s in another department, you could find frustration and become unmotivated or unengaged. Instead, where could you better spend that time and energy? Focusing on your 10%! And you know what? If you focus on your 10%, and I focus on my 10%…. then eventually we will make the impact together.

How do I change my 10%?

You’re not just a cog in the wheel of a company – you’re not just a pebble on the company’s road to riches. You have the ability to make an impact in your job right here, right now.

Just an analyst? No way. You are the main person diving into the data, making sense of a bunch of numbers and spreadsheets. No one else is going to look at it the way you do. No one else has the EXACT knowledge, experience, and understanding as you do.

Just a front line manager? Not a chance. You have the ability to impact others in their professional lives, their personal lives – and their careers. You are an important piece of the puzzle, and perhaps changing your 10% means impacting a person that finds a career that sets them on a trajectory they never imagined.

Will you get it wrong? Sure, sometimes. That’s fine. In fact, no, that’s not fine – that’s GREAT. If you’re not getting it wrong, if you’re not applying yourself, challenging yourself, pushing yourself out of the box – you’re not doing it right. Thomas Edison once said that “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Push yourself outside of your comfort zone every now and then – you may be surprised just how much is right outside your door.

Don’t like what you’re doing? That’s ok – deal with it. Changing your 10% means you know what you have the ability to impact and leaving alone the areas you can’t change. For some of you – that means that although the job you have right now isn’t what you want right now, or in the field of this just finished hard earned degree – with focus, you can find what it is that you do enjoy, you do well, and/or makes you happy.

If you can’t change your job or position right away – then consider this advice: Bloom where you’re planted. It doesn’t mean you’ll be there forever. But if you’re in position now – make the best of it – because you could be amazed at how it gets you where you want to go. Maybe someone will see you do amazing work for a job that was underestimated. Maybe they will notice how hard you work, regardless of what you do. Do great things now, reap the rewards later. Bloom where you’re planted.

Today, you are my 10%.  I have written this today to help you see beyond yourself and remind you that you have possibilities and opportunities in front of you that you don’t even know of yet. Tomorrow, change your 10%.

Ashley Lesko, PhD

President & Talent Engagement Officer


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