Lead from Your Zone of Genius to Achieve Your True Potential

19 May 2024, Business Report (IOL)


When I started my professional life I “bragged” about how I am a perfectionist that can multitask. As I reflect on those years I realise it was exactly the perfectionism, multi-tasking and overworking that brought me to my knees. Now I live with chronic pain and  illnesses. 

It is generally accepted that women are good multitaskers and can get things done - but at what cost? As women entered the workforce and took on more decision-making roles in the professional arena, no adjustments were made by society and employers to accommodate the fact that these same women are still responsible for unpaid care of home and family.

This has led to women believing that they must overwork and always go the extra mile to prove their worth in the workplace and society. It is therefore not surprising then, that as women age many struggle with chronic health conditions and still question their self-worth - despite proving themselves over and over again. 

Strive for Love and Abundance

“Each of us has an inner thermostat setting that determines how much love, success, and creativity we allow ourselves to enjoy. When we exceed our innermost thermostat setting, we will often do something to sabotage ourselves, causing us to drop back into the old, familiar zone where we feel secure.” The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks

In his book, The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks talks about the Upper Limit Problem that holds us back from achieving our true potential. He argues that the more successful you get, the more urgent it becomes to identify and overcome your Upper Limit Problem (ULP).

Hendricks highlights two areas of concern that give rise to the ULP which is the path to operating from your Zone of Genius:

  • It is important to keep the “heart-and-soul elements of life - such as love and creativity - growing in balance as you go to higher levels of material success. Life is at its best when love, money and creativity are growing in harmony”. This rings true for me because I have always struggled to lean into my creative energy which I think  created limits on living a full and meaningful life.
  • The ULP limits our ability to embrace “feeling good” . Hendricks says that when we hit our upper limit, we start manufacturing thoughts that make us feel bad. We have a limited tolerance for our lives going well, leading to self-sabotage. I see this in myself and my coaching clients. Even when an opportunity we have worked hard for shows up, we find all kinds of reasons why we don’t deserve it.

Hendricks argues that if we are to live in our Zone of Genius, we must address the fear of living to our full potential. Many of our fears are based on the workings of the ego, “the part of us that's focused on getting recognition and protecting us from social ostracism”. The ego is often what stands in the way of living a whole rather than perfect life. When I work with clients, the ego (often interpreted as personality or “this is who I am”) can be the barrier to a life of love and abundance.

In the book, Hendricks notes that the “inner thermostat” usually gets programmed in early childhood - which he calls “misguided altruism”. This happens when we focus on taking care of the feelings of others. In coaching we also call this the “childhood wound” and if a person fails to address this, they may always struggle to move forward in life. In my case, my inner thermostat was focused on pleasing my father who never seemed to be happy with my achievements. My life became one of always focusing on pleasing the adult - living with this inner critical voice (my father) always reminding me that I need to do more to gain recognition. I agree with Hendricks that addressing the ULP cannot be solved in the usual way we solve problems; by gathering information or replacing one set of information with another. The ULP must be “dis-solved”, not solved. It requires bringing awareness to the root cause of the problem, rather than covering up the wound with an impermanent plaster. So instead of thinking you need to do a course to fix this, you may actually need to work with a coach or therapist to find long term resolution.

Hendricks says we operate in four zones generally: 

  • The Zone of Incompetence - all the things we are not good at. When you think you can do everything yourself you will find yourself in this zone often. To live in your zone of genius, activities in this zone should be delegated (or automated). You don't have to do it. Project management is a typical example for me. Because I want structure and order I want to have a good project management system. I have learned that it's actually boring and frustrating (too  much detail) for me, so now I delegate it.
  • The Zone of Competence - activities that you are good at but others can do them just as well. Hendricks  notes that successful people often spend far too much time in this zone - the “competence trap” which leads to “diseases of unfulfilment” - vague and hard to diagnose illnesses like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (my hand is up). 
  • The Zone of Excellence - these are the things you do extremely well. Because you make a good living in this zone, you can be seduced by the reliability and comfort of this zone  - but does it ignite your inner fire?
  • The Zone of Genius - these are the things you are “uniquely suited” to do which draws on your special gifts and strengths. The Zone of Genius goes way beyond competence; “it's the sweet spot where your natural talent and passion collide, creating a flow state of effortless mastery and joy”. Hnedricks notes that your Zone Genius beckons you with increasingly strong calls as you go through life. By age forty, many of us have tuned out the “Call to Genius” but the reminders show up often in the form of depression, illness, injuries and relationship conflict. My own journey to my Zone of Genius is ongoing but I have learnt to let go of things I am good at but not passionate about, and finding the right people to delegate to.


Why Zone of Genius Leadership Matters for Women

Women often face unique challenges in leadership positions. Societal expectations, unconscious bias, and the pressure to conform to unattainable standards can make it difficult to truly live the life they actually desire. Leading from your Zone of Genius allows you to:

  • Manage Imposter Syndrome: By focusing on what you do best, you can build confidence in yourself and your abilities (and drown out the noise from others).
  • Embrace Your Authentic Leadership Style: If you feel that you have to put on a mask in certain spaces, you are not living with authenticity. When you are disconnected from your authentic self you will feel unhappy, unfulfilled and this can also lead to a life of (inner and external) conflict. If you lead authentically, you are not trying to fit the mould of others expectations. Operating in your Zone of Genius will allow you to show up authentically and be at peace with who you are. 
  • Inspire and Empower Others: As women leaders we can create a ripple effect of inspiration for other women by being true to ourselves, and doing work that we are passionate about - moving beyond the idea that success is only about “the top job” and more money.
  • Live the Life of Your Dreams: If you do what gives you energy and makes you feel deeply connected to what you are passionate about, then you are less likely to suffer the mental and physical effects of living a disconnected life.


Identifying Your Zone of Genius

Hendricks recommends answering the following questions to start identifying your Zone of Genius: 

  • What do I most love to do? 
    • I love it so much I can do it for long stretches of time without getting tired or bored.
  • What work do I  do that doesn’t seem like work? 
    • I can do it all day long without ever feeling tired or bored.
  • In my work, what produces the highest ratio of abundance and satisfaction to the amount of time spent? 
    • Even if I only do  a few minutes of it, an idea or deeper connection may arise that leads to huge value.
  • What is my unique ability? 
    • There’s a special skill I’m gifted with. This unique ability, fully realised and put to work, can provide enormous benefits to me.
  • What compliments do you receive most often? 
    • These can often point to your natural strengths. Of course when you are complimented for being a good multi-tasker, perhaps take that with a pinch of salt.

Leading from Your Zone of Genius 

Once you have a clearer picture of your Zone of Genius, here's how you can integrate it into your leadership style:

  • Delegate or Outsource: Don't be afraid to let go of tasks that fall outside your genius zone. Free up your time and energy for what you do best.
  • Communicate Authentically: Speak with passion and clarity about your vision and the unique value you bring to the table.
  • Create a Supportive Environment: Surround yourself with people who appreciate your strengths and encourage you to operate in your genius zone.And do the same for others that report to you.
  • • Embrace Continuous Learning: Always seek opportunities to refine your skills and expand your knowledge within your Zone of Genius.

Leading from your Zone of Genius, and I can attest,  is not a one-time event. It's an ongoing journey. By consciously aligning your leadership with your unique strengths and passions, you can create a fulfilling life experience and inspire those around you.  I want to end with this quote from the book because I think more women need to know that it is okay to feel joy, and to prioritise your happiness::

“Letting yourself savour natural good feelings is a direct way to transcend your Upper Limit Problem. By extending your ability to feel positive feelings, you expand your tolerance for things going well in your life.”

Shireen Motara is an African Feminist, Certified Women’s Coach and CEO of Tara Transform and The Next Chapter.




Back to blog