with greg layton

The Inner Chief is for leaders, professionals and small business owners who want to accelerate their career and growth. Our guest chiefs and gurus share powerful stories and strategies so you can have more purpose, influence and impact in your career.

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In this episode we meet Laura Gassner Otting, Author and Founder of Limitless Possibility.

Laura has empowered thousands through her speaking engagements and inspirational writing, including her newest book, “Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life.”

She served as a Presidential Appointee in Bill Clinton’s White House, helping shape AmeriCorps; Was founder and President of the highly successful Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group, which placed nonprofit executives around the world.

Laura is both an experienced CEO and Guru and her advice around success and reaching your limitless potential is practical and inspiring.

In this episode we talk about:

  • What Laura learnt from working in Bill Clinton’s White House on a national program
  • How to live with purpose
  • Defining your own success rather than living someone else’s life
  • How find your Leadership Voice
  • The four words you need to never repeat ever again




Laura's Time in the White House and Her Why

  • I went from the White House to going into executive search. And I was interviewing people, and about four years into it, I was struck by this idea that even though I was interviewing people who were at the top of their game, these were leaders, they were people coming out of … there were people coming out of the White House, there were people coming out of massively impressive, bold-faced jobs. And I was fascinated by the fact that even though they were successful, on paper, they were successful, they weren't all that happy.
  • When you do search for non-profits, you get to talk about what people have accomplished and how they've accomplished it. But you also get to spend a lot of time talking about why they accomplished it. What's their purpose? Who are they? What's their calling? What do they care about? And I was so struck that there were not that many people where the what they did, matched the who they were.
  • And then I started thinking about my own life also, and realising that it wasn't that way for me too. And that's sort of when I had this moment of rage in this big firm and I said, “I can do this differently, better, smarter, faster. And with more authenticity, integrity and profit than this big firm.” I went on and launched my own firm. And I ran that for 15 years. During that time, I had to keep coming back as an entrepreneur, to why am I doing this? Why am I here? What's the point? And in each of those moments, I would realise that I had to continue to be honest with the plan. What's my plan? Who am I? Is there a plan at all? Because when you're running your own business, you really have to be conscious of those decisions of the expenditures you make and the time that you take to do things.

On Living with Purpose and Consonance

  • If you want to live a life of consequence, no matter how you define it, you have to live a life of consonance, where everything is aligned, where it's in flow, where as I mentioned, the what you do match the who you are. So this book really came out of the 20 years of interviewing thousands of people, and my own story of making specific changes, so that I could live a life that really felt like it mattered to me.
  • And I think that that's this purpose fallacy that we have, that purpose is for someone else, it's some other time after you've made your money. It's for the people who wear the white hats or who are okay living in poverty
  • I looked up the word purpose in an actual dictionary. And the word purpose means the reason for which something exists. And that's it. There's no picture of Mother Teresa. There's no friend wagging their judgmental finger at you. Your purpose is just the reason why you're here, and your purpose may be curing cancer. Your purpose may be feeding the poor. Your purpose may be administering alms to the unwashed masses. But your purpose might also be getting yourself out of debt, or building a business, or buying a Maserati and a beach house. Your purpose is just your purpose.
  • The first thing I do in the book, is I want to get rid of this idea that calling and purpose has to be writ large and lofty, and that it can only belong to people in the non-profit sector, because frankly, most of them are feeling just as untethered and unmoored as the rest of us.
  • And I think we also have this idea that ambition is a bad thing. Just like we get purpose wrong. I think we get ambition wrong too. We sort of hide it under this guise of faux humility, because that's, of course, more socially acceptable, right? Quote unquote, hashtag humble brag and all of that. And I do think that if there is a cause that you care about or there are people who you love, and if making the most amount of money or giving yourself a bigger megaphone or putting yourself on a bigger platform will help to advance that cause or help those people, I think it's not ambition. I think it's your responsibility.

How to find your purpose

  • Think about a time when you were at your very best. You were firing on all cylinders. You were making it rain. You were closing a deal. You were getting a standing ovation, or maybe you were having a small, quiet moment with a loved one. Maybe you were … difficult situation in private. There are moments where you know, you're just, everything that's in you, everything that you bring to the world, has been called upon in that moment. And then those are really your fundamental states of leadership.
  • Think about those moments and to write down the energy that they're using, the muscles that they're using, whether they're in public or in private. How are they moving their body? How are they using their mind? And to write down some of the adjectives that describe that. Pin them to a lock screen on your phone or on your rear view mirror or on your new bathroom or something. And to spend as much time as you can living into that person

On Defining Your Own Success

  • I turned around one day and I went, “Well, okay, I made it to the top. But the top of what? Is this actually where I want to be?” And so I filled in all those checkboxes along the path and I got to where I was supposed to. I collected all the gold stars. I ran on the treadmill. And then I looked around one day and I'm like, “All right, well, success just means running faster?” If I have more clients and I have more revenue and I have more projects, that just means I have more. But am I actually making more profit? Am I actually maximising impact in the world? Am I actually maximising the flexibility I have in my life? Or do I just have more of the stress? Am I just running faster to keep the treadmill going? I got to the top, the top of what
  • All along our path, there are people who insert their own definitions into our world. And if we don't fall for that, frankly, we fall for Instagram and Facebook and social media, where we've got these beautiful, flaxen-haired, beach-waved beauties looking out over the sand dunes telling us to, “Follow our passion.” And that, “You'll be happy when.” “Live life perfectly in balance.” And I think that's all nonsense.
  • So it's not until we stop and we say, “Well, what do I actually care about? What would make me happy?” That we get rid of everyone else and we say, “Screw the Joneses and their happy little shiny, beautiful, Facebook families.” And we say, “What's my own definition?” And rather than leaning in to everyone else's, we figure out our own and we lean into that

On Finding Your Leadership Voice and Defining Your Own Success:

  • We have to figure out who we are when we're at our very best. And stop trying to emulate other people's voices. And it wasn't until those staff members became confident in who they were and the voice that they had, that they could live into that voice.
  • Because I believe that confidence doesn't come from having big dreams. I think that we have this idea that if we can dream it, we can do it. That's just not true. I could dream that I could be the Queen of England all day long, but nobody's bringing me tea and crumpets at 3:00 PM
  • I didn't run those marathons eventually, because I dreamed it in the beginning and because I could dream that I could do it. I just started doing. And I put one foot in front of the other. When I put one foot in front of the other and my pants didn't light on fire, I started demonstrating competence. And when I started demonstrating competence, I began to have confidence that I could dream bigger and bigger.
  • And I think finding our personal voice of leadership comes from stepping into those moments where we try to do things that are hard, and we figure out what we're made of. And I think that it's so key to how we grow as individual
  • Now, life is really short. We don't have a lot of time on earth, and frankly, we're going to spend 80,000 of those hours of our lives working. So it's time to not be, I'll be happy when, but to figure out how to be happy now. I'm on this all-out crusade to get people to stop asking, “How can I help?” And create these band aids, and ask the question, “What needs to happen?” Because when somebody comes to you with a problem and they tell you all about it and you say, “How can I help?” They give you busy work. But if they tell you all about it and you say, “What needs to happen for you to feel successful?” Then suddenly they go, “Oh, well, actually I need to do this. I need to do that. Maybe if you could help me think through this problem, then I'm all set.” And suddenly, their lack of planning, their anxiety, their emergency, doesn't become your problem. You just help facilitate for them the solution, the pathway that they need to take
  • At every age and every life stage, we're going to be sitting on different seats on the bus. But we want to pick them. I think that's something that's part of who we are. We've climbed out of the primordial sludge because we had agency. We had plans. We had ambition. I think if you don't allow people to find their own solutions, then they're not going to be of solution to you. You can't be insatiably hungry for someone else's goal. It's got to be your goal. Because you're not going to do the work, you're not going to grind, you're going to do what needs to be done in the dark hours where no one sees, where it's exhausting, where you'd much rather just be sitting on the couch and watching TV. But if it's not your goal, then you're not incentivized to get there
  • And so, the whole idea around the book Limitless, is that we are so limited by everyone else's definitions of success and everyone else's expectations that we've lost ourselves in those limits. The reason I want people to define their own success and define their own goals is because they will be so hungry and so driven for those, that they will, in fact, be limitless.

A final message of wisdom and hope

  • My final message of wisdom and hope is to ask people to live on the edge of their incompetence. I think that we spend so much time being paid and praised and promoted for doing the things that we do well, for living in the centres of our excellence, that we don't spend enough time taking risks and putting one toe over that edge of incompetence and doing things we haven't yet done to figure out what else we're made of.