Who is your Morgan Freeman?

pregnantJennifer is a high-level executive at a large company who tried unsuccessfully for much of her adult life to quit smoking, blaming her failures on a lack of self-discipline. Smoking took an obvious toll on her health and productivity at work, resulting in decreased endurance and more sick days than her peers.

A few years ago when Jennifer became pregnant, she was able to quit immediately and didn’t touch a cigarette until the day her child was born, when she began smoking again. The same cycle repeated itself when she became pregnant with her second child; she resumed smoking again after the child was born.


As Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz explain in their seminal Harvard Business Review article, “The Making of a Corporate Athlete,” Jennifer is tapping into her spiritual capacity, the fourth and final level of their high performance pyramid for leaders (read part 1, part 2 and part 3), the key areas leaders should grow and develop, in much the same way world-class athletes do.

As long as Jennifer was able to connect the impact of smoking to a deeper purpose she valued – the health of her unborn child – quitting was easy. But without a strong connection to a deeper sense of purpose, she went back to smoking to serve her short-term interests, including sensory pleasure and managing anxiety.

Even though she understood smoking was unhealthy, felt guilty about it on an emotional level and experienced negative physical effects, all were insufficient motivations to change her behavior. As Loehr and Schwartz explain, Jennifer needed a more sustaining source of motivation – which just in time for the Oscars season is where Morgan Freeman comes in.

Many leaders are just like Mrs. Daisy in the famous movie, being “driven around” by endless deadlines, fires and whatever seems most pressing at the moment, while losing sight of any bigger picture – aka the reasons why we are doing all that running around in the first place.

Spiritual capacity, defined by Loehr and Schwartz, simply means the energy that is unleashed by tapping into one’s deepest values and defining a strong sense of purpose. This capacity in leaders serves as a powerful source of motivation, focus and resilience in the face of adversity.

To train in this area, as world-class athletes would, requires reflection, which many of us don’t simply take enough time to do. Loehr and Schwartz suggest any number of rituals such as meditation, journal writing, prayer and service to others that give you the opportunity to pause, identify and connect to your deepest values.

This exercise can be extremely challenging and sometimes painful, as you may for the first time recognize the disconnect between your deepest values and how you are living your life. But discovering what truly drives you and then aligning your actions accordingly, is ultimately what you need as a leader to truly perform better, longer and with more passion as a world-class leader.

Who are your Morgan Freemans?

If you want to grow yourself into a world-class leader, email me at cwills@studentpaths.com with the secret password MORGAN in the subject line and I’ll share a couple best practices I personally use to grow my spiritual capacity as a leader.

Chris Wills About Chris Wills

Father Time, or Chris Wills, is passionate about helping other leaders learn and grow and free up time they didn’t think they had. He is the Founder of Student Paths, an organization that better prepares students for their future in college, career and life readiness. You can reach Chris at: cwills@studentpaths.com

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