Lessons in Leadership speaker: ‘Fix your focus’ so you don’t quit

“You might be tired. Don’t quit. You might be broken. Don’t quit. You might be frustrated. Don’t quit.”

That was the strong message delivered Thursday night by author Dan Olowabi, the keynote speaker for the Heidelberg School of Business’ annual Lessons in Leadership event.

The executive director of Branches Worldwide, Dan is the author of Amazon's #1 new release, Authentic Leadership: How to Lead with Nothing to Hide, Nothing to Prove & Nothing to Lose. Through his inspiring storytelling, he encouraged more than 200 students in Wickham Great Hall to “fix their focus” so they too can master the timeless principles of leadership and become resilient and confident.

Through his work, Dan has met with high-level leaders across the globe who paint the perfect picture, “but inside, they’re screaming.” Their world may feel like it’s crumbling around them and they feel the temptation to quit.

Lessons in Leadership keynote Dan Olowabi
Lessons in Leadership keynote speaker Dan
Olowabi signs copies of his book, 'Authentic

“You’ve felt it. I’ve felt it. But the differentiator among great leaders is that they recognize this feeling and know what to do with it,” said Dan, a retired pastor. 

The big question is this: What do you do when you feel that temptation to quit? When you feel insecure? The answers to those questions are critical to successful leadership. 

Dan used a quote from the late Maya Angelou to illustrate his point: Angelou wrote, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. It may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”

“How you see the broader perspective makes all the difference in your life. … It’s less about the obstacles in front of you and more about how you deal with them.” 

Being authentic is about understanding and leading yourself so you can understand and lead others. The key, according to Dan, is “fixing your focus” and clarifying your identity. There are two possible directions you could go.

“The impulse is to look for a way out when you should be looking for a way through,” he said.

The question is not “if” but “how.” And when the temptation to quit surfaces, Dan suggests focusing on two things: rest and relationships. 

He told the students to visualize their lives like a tank with a fill function and a drain function. “You need to know the things that fill you and the things that drain you,” he said, “and focus on the things that fill you.”

In the season of business, he added, it’s easy to buckle down on the draining things, and that should set off alarms. But when you get to the point where you feel tired and ready to walk away, “What you need is rest.”

“When I’m overwhelmed, I take a big timeout,” Dan shared, “because if I don’t fill myself up, I’m going to quit.”

Dan recalled a time when he nearly quit after he learned that he did not pass his final test to receive his master’s degree. But a visit with his mom, a deaf woman who immigrated from Nigeria to pursue a college education in the U.S., changed his outlook. It took his mom two years until someone finally listened to her story and helped her get that scholarship, but she ultimately reached her goal. And when she did, she took a photo of herself in her cap and gown with her young son – Dan – standing next to her.

“She took that picture next to me because she knew there would be a day when I’d want to quit and she wanted to make sure I’d have a story of not quitting,” Dan said.

“So I didn’t.” The full-circle moment came when Dan finally received his master’s degree and took a similar photo in his cap and gown with his mom on one side and his young daughter next to him on the other side.

People in our lives depend on us, he said. “So you’ve got to have a story years from now that says, ‘Things were hard. Everything was stacked against me. I was tired and ready to walk away. But I didn’t. I stuck with it and things got better. … And when you’re ready to quit, remember the relationships in your life.”

When students look back on the day they wanted to quit but didn’t, “It’ll be the season you learned who you are.”

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