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Leverage Your Unique Abilities (With Dan Sullivan, Founder of Strategic Coach)



Do you spend time every day doing things you hate? Find out how focusing on what you love to do can help you achieve the four freedoms of entrepreneurial success: time, money, relationships, and purpose.

Dan Sullivan is the founder of Strategic Coach and has been my business coach for nearly a decade. Since 1974, he has personally coached over 6,000 entrepreneurs.

Dan joined me on my “Now to Next” podcast to share his new book, Who Not How. We discussed the importance of understanding your “unique abilities” to create effective collaborations in order to propel your life and business.

Be Honest About Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Dan Sullivan grew up on a farm. His father was in his sixties when the farm failed, and he started a new career as a landscaper. Dan’s father’s most successful 25 years of business were after age 60. This showed Dan that hardship and challenge create opportunity. Anything can free you up to do what you’re supposed to be doing.

Dan started thinking about the significance of his unique abilities in 1980. A friend in the Canadian parliament commissioned him to interview disabled people. Dan crossed the country back and forth, completing hundreds of hours of interviews. He realized these “handicapped” people were ordinary people who happened to have some disabilities.

His mind opened up to realize he was disabled in the sense that there were some things he wanted to do but couldn’t make happen. Dan was terrific in the spotlight when he was onstage, but anything that required detail, follow-through, or behind-the-scenes work he really struggled to complete.

Traditional thinking might say he should have buckled down and handled the details, but Dan realized he could find great people to do all those things he didn’t do well.

He stopped asking “how?” and started asking “who.”

Entrepreneurs Want Freedom

In Dan’s coaching experience, all entrepreneurs start with a certain amount of trust in their abilities. They have a sense of what they have to offer and believe it will be worth the risk, but the clarity regarding the “what” and the “how” doesn’t show up until they explore their relationships with the marketplace.

When people are willing to pay for your skills, you get feedback from the marketplace about what others appreciate about you. It confirms your confidence in your abilities.

While some people assume that entrepreneurs are motivated by money, their motivation is most often freedom. Entrepreneurs are willing to take risks to work in an area that fits their skills and interests so they can do the work they enjoy. If they have to work 60 hours a week, that’s okay because they are doing what they want and value in life.

Another common misconception about entrepreneurship is that the opportunity comes first. What I’ve done and what Dan Sullivan has taught for years is to create value before you ask for the opportunity. That is the essence of what it means to serve, and it’s the very definition of an entrepreneur.

Don’t ask for business. Show prospects what you can do first. When you lead with value creation at the highest levels, you get repaid with the four freedoms of entrepreneurship:

  • Freedom of Time
  • Freedom of Money
  • Freedom of Relationships
  • Freedom of Purpose

An entrepreneur who has freedom of time, money, relationships, and purpose can contribute in meaningful ways. For example, many universities, parks, hospitals, new medical breakthroughs, and music halls are funded by entrepreneurs.

Who Not How

Dan’s new book, Who Not How is simple: You have goals. A goal is a picture of yourself in the future. In that picture, you’re better than you are now. You’re getting better results than you are now, and you’re feeling better about yourself.

You may get excited and emotionally engaged about this future version of you, but then you hit a wall because you don’t know how to get there. If you did, you would be there already.

The worst question you can ask when you have a big goal is, “How do I do this?”

The better question is, “Who can do this for me?”

This simple mindset flip is the opposite of what we learn in school. Getting help or collaborating in the school system is called cheating. All the emphasis is on preparing you to compete against everyone else when you get out.

Instead of competition, when you ask “Who?” you open an opportunity for collaboration.

People love to be involved in something bigger than themselves. As an entrepreneur, you can be the person who creates exciting projects for other people. It’s incredible who comes along when you do that.

If you find yourself procrastinating on a part of a project, it may be a sign to locate a “who” with a skill set that fits those tasks. For example, I’ve had an email in my inbox for three days that turns my stomach every time I look at it because it requires me to go through a detailed list and address specific tasks. Speaking with Dan about Who Not How reminded me that is an indication to find a great “who” to take care of it.

On my recent podcast with Steve Anderson on The Bezos Letters, we learned that Jeff Bezos never hires someone he doesn’t admire. Many people think if they are going to hire someone to do a job they don’t want to do, it is beneath them, but this attitude cuts them off from the true collaborative potential.

In other words, I should admire my house cleaner because he loves keeping my house clean and does a fabulous job.  If I don’t, I should probably hire someone else. Then, apply this principle to all the other areas of your life.

People appreciate opportunities to grow in skills and be involved in engaging projects. When you surround yourself with people you admire, you end up with a result far beyond what you could produce independently.

Dan lays out how to find outstanding collaborators in the book and how to set up the project for success. He calls this the Impact Filter. One crucial component is laying out the solution. For example, “When this problem is solved, this, this, and this will be true.”

Coaching with Dan has made me a better partner and collaborator because I know to stick to my most vital skill set. It sets boundaries and context. I’m able to clarify the perception of what I can do and how I accomplish it, as well as what you should never rely on me for.  It creates amazing clarity and reduces a lot of friction because many people who are hiring you have a perception of what you do, but oftentimes that’s not what you do in reality.  They are hiring you for the result you can bring them, so when you share with them how they can expect to see you accomplish this result, and what sort of collaboration from them and their team you will need in order to cross the finish line, it sets up a much more successful collaboration, and will leave you with a much happier customer.

Collaboration Is Win-Win

If a person contributes their better abilities to a project, they need to be rewarded. Money is important, but it is a lesser issue than “You’re really going to enjoy this project.”

When people get excited to be involved, it’s a symbiotic process. The outcome you can get by yourself is tiny compared to inviting one, two, or three other talented, motivated people into the process.

An outstanding example in my life is songwriting. I’ve been playing guitar for 34 years, but these days when I go to Nashville to write songs, I leave my guitar at home because I get spectacular musicians to collaborate. I walk into the room with ideas but use those ideas as a starting point. We write the best song in the room that day – it’s a complete collaboration..

It’s invigorating to collaborate with outstanding people. You feel like you conquered the world. I imagine it feels like being on an NBA or NFL championship team. Everyone performed at the absolute best they could, and it feels great.

Here’s a big secret: You masterfully execute something just by staying in your lane.

You have to continue to develop what you like and the skills you bring to the table. The only way to establish what you’re great at is by taking away what you hate.

There is a process of finding your Unique Ability®, a term Dan has coined to express when you are operating as your best self.  But the greatest freedoms can actually come from constraints. No one ever talks about it that way — it is a counter intuitive concept. But if you don’t let go of good things, you can never have something great.

The book, Who Not How is the ultimate collaboration. Dan put in about 45 hours. He created a short book and handed it off to Dr. Benjamin Hardy, an organizational psychologist and best-selling author to expound on it, finish it and polish it.

They sold 10,000 books in the first three days on the market. Their goal was to sell 50,000 copies by Christmas, and in the first three weeks (by November 1, 2020), they had already sold 25,000.

Who Not How is going to spark your creative juices. You’re going to think about people who will make great collaborators. You’ll also realize why business and personal relationships in the past did not work. You will learn how to be a collaborator and how to wisely select others to collaborate with.

Find out more about Dan Sullivan and get free videos when you buy Who Not How on the website.

To catch the full interview I had with Dan Sullivan, you can watch it on YouTube or your favorite podcast listening platform. And of course, you can always reach out to me directly with any questions you might have!

 



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