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Augmenting Potential

The most effective CEOs have successfully upgraded their operating system of fears, assumptions, safeguards, and beliefs to enable new behaviors with better outcomes in complexity and uncertainty.

Why it matters: There is a myriad of scientific proof that the more expansive the potential is, the more robust individual and collective performance is.

The big picture: 85% of all behavior change efforts fail because we try to run new behaviors like updated apps on an outdated operating system.

Augmenting potential is the transformation from existing potential to the next level of potential. It is a behavior change that others can observe. If it isn't observable, we still need to change. 

If you aren’t familiar with the potential development framework, check the summary at the bottom.

The Way to Change

Change is difficult. Some say it’s impossible. And most difficult is to change behaviors that reflect your level of potential.

Augmenting Potential Framework

90% of an iceberg is below the water. Our behaviors are 10% above the water.

Everything people can’t see is under the water. They don’t know what we think and feel. To change what we see above the water, we need to change what is under the water.

We need to identify the fears that drive counter-productive behaviors, the assumptions we make subconsciously, the safeguards these assumptions create, and the beliefs that narrow our choices.

These five transformations of behaviors, fears, assumptions, safeguards, and beliefs depend on each other. We need to work on all of them to boost our potential.

The iceberg is not static. Buoyancy, thermal forces, wind, waves, currents, tidal, pressure, and glacial forces cause the iceberg to change shape and size over time and eventually melt and disintegrate. 

The same are the five forces of transformation. They eventually melt and integrate when you are ready to move to the next level of potential.

What is Personal Transformation?

Scientists identify transformation as the shift ‘from subject to object.’ In layman's words, we transform when we:

  • Become aware of what we were previously blind to

  • Encountering unfamiliar contexts that disconfirm our assumptions

  • Facing a more complex situation that makes us recognize the limits of what we know

  • Running into an event that contradicts our idea of reality

  • Experiencing the opposite of our belief or value

  • Seeing ourselves from a different point of view

  • Bumping into an adverse situation that demands very different responses than we have in our repertoire

1. Decide the behavior change

We start our transformation journey above the water identifying the one big adaptive change we want to get better at. This is the ‘mother of all changes.’ If you successfully make this shift, it will enable other things for you.

Here are a few tips for choosing your one big shift.

Make it adaptive - If the change can fit into your to-do list, it’s a technical rather than an adaptive change. Everything you can cross off a to-do list in a matter of days is not a real change.

Make it about you - It isn't about others. It should implicate only you and be true only for you. For example, “I want people to buy into my ideas” is about others. What do you need to do so they will buy in?

Make it affirmative – Don’t try to stop things that get in the way. Convert your behavior change from negative to affirmative.  “Not rushing to decisions” becomes “Mining and considering all points of view before making decisions.” “Not controlling the conversation” becomes “Giving space to other people to share airtime.”

Make it not about the outcome - What needs to change about you to accomplish the outcome you want? “Getting more productive” is an outcome. What do you need to change to become more productive?

Make it observable - People experience our state of being through our actions. What are you 'doing' to accomplish a desired state of ‘being’? Articulate your goal as a verb rather than an adjective. For example, instead of 'being curious,' you choose 'asking questions.'

2. Identify your fears

Make a list of what you are doing and not doing that gets in the way of your behavior change. What would be worrying, scary, stressing doing the opposite of these behaviors?

The counter behaviors are observable verbs and not adjectives. Thinking, focusing, or considering are not observable behaviors. Here are a few fear examples:

  • Being out of control

  • Being wrong

  • Being excluded

  • Looking incompetent

  • Looking stupid

  • Looking weak

Notice how some fears are ‘being’ fears, and others are ‘seen’ fears. For example, my biggest fear was, “I’m not good enough.” I engaged in counter-productive behaviors to avoid the feelings associated with this fear.

These fears are the key to recoding oour operating system because they drive the behaviors above the water and generate the assumptions, safeguards, and beliefs below it.

3. Find your subconscious assumptions

Assumptions are unquestionable narratives we take for granted. These assumptions were developed earlier in childhood, adolescence, college, and career.

These assumptions are the footprint of experiences that shaped us into the way we are today, but they aren’t serving us in our growth, future career, and life.

These assumptions are so deep that we aren’t unaware of how they keep us hostages. When we find them, we're moving the unseen to be seen

Psychologists call this process ‘from subject to object.’ Once we see the assumptions we have been subject to, we start seeing through them, and they stop holding us back.

“If…then” sentences expose deeply held assumptions. The ‘if’ part is the condition. It’s the behavior we avoid. The ‘then’ part is the consequences of the condition. Assumptions are conditions that trigger the consequences.

The assumption is “if doing the changed behavior, then my relevant fear will come true.”

In short, “if behavior, then fear.”

Here are a few of my clients’ assumptions:

  • If I listen open-heartedly to other people and don't dominate the conversation, I won't be perceived as the smartest person in the room

  • If I’m calling something out, other people see me as a downer and not a team player

  • If I bring up issues that challenge my boss, I will be belittled

  • If I take a stand against passive-aggressive disagreement, I won’t be liked and lose respect

  • If I step onto other people's territories, I will damage working relationships

  • If I set boundaries, I will be seen as unsupportive.

  • If I address the elephants in the room, I'll cause more trouble

  • If I ask too many questions, I’ll be bypassed, won’t get credit, or lose the argument

  • If I display emotions, I'm unprofessional

Once you find your subconscious assumptions, observe yourself in different situations to discover what people or events trigger your assumptions.

4. Expose your safeguards


Our deeply held assumptions generate powerful safeguards that we set unconsciously to protect ourselves from the fears that shape how we make sense of reality.

These safeguards are like heavy chains that don’t let us grow. People don’t change because they don’t want to. They can’t eliminate the safeguards set to protect them.

The biggest safeguard that holds back my clients, even CEOs, is identity coupled with self-worth.

We go the extra mile to safeguard our identity. We primarily base our identity and self-worth on results, intellect, or relationships:


Our identity and self-worth depend on accomplishments, successes, achievements, and outcomes.

When the outcomes are great, we are great. When things are not working, there is an immediate threat to our identity and self-worth. We respond with controlling behaviors to protect our identity and self-worth.


We need to be right to fulfill our identity and self-worth. Leaders whose self-worth and identity depend on intellect show up as critical, arrogant, and distant.

When people accept our ideas, we feel great. We feel smart. We are at our best. When we’re wrong, we feel like losers. Our identity collapses, and we don’t feel worthy.

This tendency evolves from a younger age when our teachers, parents, and other kids tell us, “You’re so smart.” After a few times, it becomes part of our operating system.

It’s a gift and an inhibitor. Our arrogant and critical behaviors drive people away from us. Nobody feels good around us. People, including our kids, can’t thrive around us because they feel they “aren’t good enough.”


When our self-worth is built on relationships, we avoid conflict and please others to keep harmony.

Such leaders show up passive. They speak less in meetings. They observe where the people in power are heading and align with this direction.

They will say, “I don’t want to rock the boat,”  or “I pick my battles.” They don’t confront their spouses, kids, and parents even when they have much on their minds.

Spot your beliefs

Beliefs come in pairs. However, we tend to believe only in one of the pair's beliefs and completely neglect the other.

Opposite interdependent beliefs and values are polarities (Learn more in previous newsletter articles).

One example that has polarized American society for decades is ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice.’ It makes the news every single day in the USA.

Polarity is two related interdependent beliefs that, at face value, compete with each other to the point that we’re trying to choose one over the other. Still, we boost our effectiveness and performance if we try having both.

Transformative change happens when we leverage the opposing poles and replace “either/or” with “both/and” thinking.

Here are a few examples of polarities:

  • Direct AND empathetic

  • Cautious AND bold

  • Tactical AND Strategic

When you hear “either/or,” it might be an opportunity to spot polarity by asking if there is a way to replace “either/or with “both/and.”

Sometimes, “either/or” is one over the other, and sometimes, it can be “both/and.”

“Are we having Chinese or Indian for dinner?” If we’re going out, it’s “either/or,” but if we order delivery, it can be “both/and.”

The other way to spot a polarity is when we shift “from _____ to _____.” That can be a belief, value, competency, or strategy. “From” represents the present, and “to” represents the future. 

For example, one of my clients wanted to shift from authoritative to vulnerable. In the context of his role, preferring one over the other resulted in bad outcomes.

If they're only authoritative, people feel intimidated, shut off, leave him to make the call, and they don't challenge his ideas.

If they're only vulnerable, they don’t move the agenda forward, they are slow to respond, and he shows up as a wishy-washy leader.

But when they leverage both authority AND vulnerability, they get all the benefits of both poles without the downsides of either.

Transformation of beliefs is the process of spotting the other poles and finding out if there is a way to leverage both rather than depend only on one.

The bottom line

Augmenting potential is a practical and vivid map for your leadership and personal growth for the rest of your life.

There is a myriad of scientific proof that the more expansive the potential is, the more robust performance is - at the individual and collective levels.

Transforming potential requires upgrading the operating system of behaviors, fears, assumptions, safeguards, and beliefs.

Potential Development Framework

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