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Activating Your Ambition
SCOPE of Leadership Media & Press Kit

A Conversation with Mike Hawkins - Author of Activating Your Ambition


Why did you write Activating Your Ambition?

In the course of conducting leadership programs, I found that my participant’s retention and application of the material was less dependent on the knowledge they gained and more dependent on their mindset. As my programs evolved, I spent increasingly more time with them in developing their attitude toward change, overcoming their fears, and building their excitement about their future. This significantly increased their knowledge retention and application. I first conceived the book to be a prerequisite for my program participants to help them prepare for change and apply what they learned.


For whom did you target Activating Your Ambition?

The initial focus on my leadership program participants broadened to all people when my executive coaching clients commented on how they had benefited in many areas that went well beyond leadership. The principles in the book apply to anyone wanting to help someone else or themselves change for the better whether learning a new skill, overcoming a bad habit, or developing in any way.


Why is Activating Your Ambition important to you?

I believe most people live and work at a level significantly below their potential. People get stuck in their comfort zones and stagnate. Even those who attend seminars, read books, and seek counsel in an attempt to improve themselves often forget what they learned and fall back into bad habits. Change is not easy and the axiom “You can do anything you put your mind to?is an oversimplification. My hope is that people will apply the eight principles in the book and find that change is not only feasible and beneficial, but can be a great experience too. I have greatly benefited from self-development and my goal if for others to benefit too.


What makes Activating Your Ambition different from other self-help or business books?

It is practical. It is based on experience, not theory or academic research. I follow behavioral science and have great respect for the experts in the field, but this book is from a practitioner’s perspective. It doesn’t get bogged down in the differences between cognitive, interpersonal, and behavioral therapy. It simply describes what works in terms everyone can understand.


You talk about eight basic principles that consistently lead people to sustainable behavior change ?is change truly this simple?

Change can be hard, no question - especially when engrained habits have to be replaced with new habits. However, people can change and the eight principles in Activating Your Ambition make it much easier to do so. These principles deal with the root cause issues behind most self-improvement failures. For example, many people attempt to add self-improvement to their already overloaded schedule. It makes exercise, reading a book, or whatever they aspire to do all but impossible. By following the “time and energy?principle, people free up the time and energy they need before embarking on their aspiration. When all eight principles are followed, changing behavior is very straightforward and for many it will be simple.


While the principles discussed in Activating Your Ambition are certainly applicable in a work environment, what about at a personal level?

The eight principles apply whether in a personal or professional context. The principles are “change neutral??they deal with the core enablers to change, not the content of the change itself. The issues that prevent people from being more organized at work are the same as those preventing people from being more organized at home. The enablers that help people improve their relationship with their spouse are the same enablers that help people improve their relationship with their co-workers. These principles are just as applicable to people wanting to improve themselves at a personal level as they are to people seeking to improve themselves professionally.


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What is the biggest obstacle you’ve seen to people improving?

Success. People who have been successful are the hardest to change. They adopt a mindset that they must be doing everything right because they have been successful. Unfortunately for them, success isn’t guaranteed to last forever. And worse, many times people incorrectly correlate their success to their behaviors when in reality their success was more a result of other factors.


Is it really worth trying to help someone change their behavior who is older and toward the end of their career?

I presented the eight principles of Activating Your Ambition to a group of mostly retired men at my church. I remember thinking as I prepared that they would be a tough audience and probably not very interested in my topic. After all, they were retired ?what kind of ambition would they still have? I was very wrong. They were completely engaged and to my surprise, they all had a list of improvements and goals they wanted to pursue. It is never too late to pursue your ambitions.


What do you say to people who claim that people really can’t change?

You’re wrong. How then can you explain the fact that people do quit smoking, spouses improve their marriages, and bad leaders become good leaders? Look no farther than me ?I’m a poster child for change. I think what people mean is that change is hard. And I agree, it can be hard, particularly when you don’t know how to go about it. But most behaviors are learned and can be unlearned.


Your approach seems to go against the thinking that people should focus on their strengths. Do you disagree with that philosophy?

Strengths and weaknesses are situational. You can’t say something is a strength without context. My trait of being an achiever is my strength when completing a project, but is my weakness when in a situation that needs patience. I am fine with people focusing on their strengths as long as they know when those strengths become their weaknesses. As importantly though, I believe people need to step out of their comfort zones and work on those areas that truly hold them back.


What has been your toughest coaching client and how did it turn out?

One of my clients was ordered to go through my coaching program by his president under the threat of losing his job if he didn’t change. He was a terrible manager. He berated his people, considered small-talk a waste of time, and viewed achievement as the result of tasks, not the efforts of people. It took a year of working on his mindset and ability, but as his boss then told me, he became a new person. He is now conducting leadership seminars for his company and is a great leader. He is even considered by most to be an exceptional people person.


In your book, you talk about awareness being the foundation to all self-improvement. Don’t most people already know themselves?

Early in my executive coaching career I would naively ask my clients how well they knew themselves. Their answer was predictably a variation of “very well, after all I’ve lived with myself for a long time? The reality however is that there is little correlation between self-assessments and people’s actual behavior. We tend to confuse our intentions with our actions. That is why people need feedback from others and to truly understand themselves before embarking on a course of change. Otherwise, the odds are about eight in ten that the person will focus on the wrong development.


Many people can quit smoking or go on a diet for awhile, but the problem is sustaining their change. How does your approach help people sustain their change?

The final principle of the eight principles in the book is normalcy ?reaching that point where the new desired behavior is normal. The change has to become a habit just like brushing your teeth with your dominate hand. Our habits are nothing more than a mesh of synaptic connections in our brain. The challenge for people who have developed bad habits is that they have to let their existing mesh wither away while creating a new one. People declare victory too early before their habit is truly a part of them. The key is making your new habit routine long enough that it becomes your dominant mesh of synaptic connections.


As you point out in your book, you’ve overcome quite a bit of adversity in your life in order to grow personally and professionally. What can you tell us about your journey?

My parents divorced when I was eleven. I left home when I was sixteen. I hung out with the wrong people and lived for fun. Then through several experiences that dramatically increased my awareness of my irresponsibility, I became motivated to change my behavior. In the following span of about six years I overhauled my attitude, created new friendships, put myself through college, found my values, started a family, and starting working as an engineer. It was those years that taught me how to change and the power of change. I’ve since continued to focus on my development including learning new skills, changing my career, overcoming a fear of public speaking, and controlling my addictive personality which includes tendencies like overeating and overspending. I’ve learned to control anger and be more sensitive toward others. I could go on and on.


It sounds like you’ve been through a lot. What keeps you from feeling like a victim and just giving up?

One, I don’t like to quit and two, I’ve learned that adversity makes me stronger and better. I don’t like adversity when I’m in it, but without exception I can look back on every situation from being afraid of public speaking to overcoming bad habits and see how I’ve grown and improved from the experiences. I’ve fundamentally made a decision to embrace change, accept adversity, and benefit from them instead of letting them get me down.


In your book, you mention your faith. How does faith help people improve themselves?

When I’m tempted to give up or go back to an old habit, I consider that God gives strength to those who take refuge in Him. I have faith that God knows best and is watching over me. In Him, I find courage and peace. Faith can be a significant enabler in starting and sustaining your belief in yourself and in your self-development.


What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in helping individuals and organizations raise their level of performance?

It’s all about people. Whether implementing an organizational initiative such as a new computer system, entering a new business market, or trying to improve a relationship, success depends on being able to change behavior and influence people. Many managers, spouses and parents jump right into a telling mode focusing on a task, a schedule, a new procedure, or system when they really need to first deal with the mindset of people and how they can best help them learn or change.


What is the most important advice you give in this book?

Deal with the mindset of change before developing the ability. If you aspire to be a better public speaker, dig into your mindset before learning the art and science of public speaking. Uncover the root of your fears, biases, or other self-limiting behavior. Get motivated, secure a can-do attitude, and then learn the fine points of how to give a high-impact presentation. Or if you are coaching someone else, avoid the temptation to jump right in to telling them what or how to do something. Explore their self-awareness, motivations, and beliefs first ?then get into the “how-to”s.


Is there another book in your future?

There is. There are several areas I plan to write on related to leadership and selling where success is dependent on working with people, understanding the drivers of behavioral change, and employing other coaching principles. Being a good listener and imparting ownership in others are two examples.