Back2Better: Exceptional – Activating Full Leadership Potential with Dan Cable

September 17, 2020

An Exclusive Collection of Resources for Navigating the Future of Organizations, Work and HR Post-COVID

Exceptional – Activating Full Leadership Potential

Why do we wait until someone dies to say all the things we loved and appreciated about them? Why do athletes watch highlight reels over and over to remind themselves of their strengths and build confidence, but it is uncommon for anyone else? How can we be our best selves when we don’t know what that best self really is?

Dan Cable,  Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School and author of several books including Exceptional, says that by focusing on what we do best we can access our full potential to become more exceptional versions of ourselves and lead healthier and happier lives. Helping your team members understand the areas where they are exceptional has positive consequences for both engagement and the bottom line.

A Living Eulogy Experiment

Being vulnerable and revealing another’s strengths is not always comfortable to do, but Cable’s research shows lasting benefits for the giver, receiver and the larger team.  He suggests team members:

  • Pick someone and write three specific memories of times that person used their unique strengths to contribute.
  • Focus on what specifically they have done that is praiseworthy and stay away from praise.
  • Write it like a story with a beginning (the setting/problem), middle (the person’s action), and end (the result and contribution and its impact both personally and on the organization).
  • Send the story to the person.

These stories help team members understand where they are at their best while also strengthening team dynamics and can strengthen relationships and trust.

A Personal Highlight Reel

Professional athletes cobble together clips of past successes into a personal highlight reel so they can begin to understand what they are exceptional at. These reels help athletes repeat past successes, pinpoint blind spots and build confidence. Cable says this isn’t just for athletes.  We can create a highlight reel to build a set of memories of unique signature strengths.  Gathering stories from others provides an external view—much like a video recording—of ourselves in action. Once we understand our strengths, we can use them to the fullest and generate valuable impact.

Back2Better: Craft your life around your strengths. By hearing the aspects of you that make you unique, they begin to resonate and empower you. You uncover hidden blind spots and see where you can make an impact.

Bounce Back

Cable’s research at Harvard shows that people who receive living eulogies and create their own personal highlight reels are statistically more resilient and physically healthier than their counterparts in the same stressful situations. They are able to “get back in the game” when faced with a stressful challenge and when they return, they are stronger than those who did not have a highlight reel.

Back2Better: Companies who are going to come out of the current crisis need to have resilient team members—both at work and in life. Leaders can help create bounce back in their teams by sharing with them what makes each person unique and exceptional.

The Power Play

Cable’s research also shows that teams that use the living eulogy as a basis for coming together are better able to innovate because they are founded on trust built through vulnerability and sharing that highlights each person’s strengths. Every individual using their best self-tools in a team lights up the entire team. How a specific leader initiates that is a form of art and may be a way to stand out as an exceptional boss.

Back2Better: Innovation often implies recombining unique perspectives. Building cultures where people are willing to try and learn instead of waiting to be told what to do will lead to more innovation and create an environment to flourish. Leaders must become comfortable catching people doing something right to motivate innovation.


By helping team members focus on strengths and creating a personal highlight reel, team members can train their brain to believe in their abilities and repeat those behaviors that create the biggest impact—therefore accessing their own version of exceptional and ultimately increasing team excellence while also increasing their own personal resilience.

To learn more about the Back2Better 50 Webinars in 50 Weeks series please visit here

If your team is dealing with similar issues or have questions you’d like answered please fill out the form below!

Back2Better: Exceptional - Activating Full Leadership Potential with Dan Cable

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