How can you lead Human Performance Unleashed?

Guest post by Chip R. Bell

What is human performance unleashed? What features might we find? What are the lessons for leaders who want to enhance such extraordinary performance? Crazy Horse, a Native American warrior, is a fine example. But don’t think in terms of stern bravery and toughness. “People who are unleashed bring out the best in others because they’re practitioners of compassion”.

The construction continues in the Black Hills of South Dakota. When completed the sculpture being carved out of Thunderhead Mountain will be the largest in the world. The subject of this 563-foot tall massive sculpture is the great Sioux warrior, Crazy Horse, riding on his stallion while pointing into the distance.

Crazy Horse was one of the Native American warriors who defeated Lieutenant Colonel George Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in Montana in 1876. He was famous for his extreme bravery, quiet humility, and strong dedication. One Arapaho warrior, Water Man, who fought with Crazy Horse, characterized him as “the bravest man I ever saw.” He would ride closest to Custer’s soldiers all the while encouraging his warriors. He would shout, “Hoya –hay. This is a good day to die!” “All the soldiers were shooting at him,” said Water Man, “but he was never hit.” He was a warrior unleashed!

Human Performance Unleashed inspires others

The obvious goal of human performance unleashed is the pursuit of excellence. But, it is more than the quest for the kind of achievement that resides at the far end of the yardstick. It is the strong expression of wholeness. People who are unleashed are “suns” of distinction, not “moons” of accomplishment—they do not reflect but rather radiate energetic joy. Their infectious heartiness touches, influences, and gives courage to all around them.

When we watched Simone Giles, Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt in the 2016 Rio Olympics we were more than proud witnesses; we were inspired to elevate our own pursuits by their example. The greatest asset of human performance unleashed is not its high-octane output but rather its robust influence. Crazy Horse did more than simply show off personal bravery; he unearthed like-minded daring in his fellow warriors.

Human performance unleashed is a genuine expression of self. Click To Tweet

What is human performance unleashed? If we dissected its elements, what features might we find? And, what are the lessons for leaders who are eager to find, nurture and sustain such extraordinary performance and its desired impact?

Being Self, Not Watching Self

A little-known story about Crazy Horse came from Chief Rain-in-the-Face from the Hunkpapa tribe of the great Sioux nation. In the book The Custer Myth by historian W. A. Graham he reports that some Indian braves went into battle only after consuming drugs, alcohol or both. Rain-in-the-Face claimed Crazy Horse never needed such help to be brave. He wanted to remain in the moment high only on his pledge to prevail.

I grew up on a large remote farm. Introduced early to the world of literature, I fell in love with reading great heroic stories. Since there were no other boys my age to play with, I lived in my head. I would read about the three musketeers and then become a musketeer, running through the woods with my homemade mask and wooden sword. I would stay in character (and often costume) for weeks. It became a safe place to be.

The good news is, I developed a healthy imagination. But pretending did not stop with my youth. I became an unhealthy witness to my life, not the actor in my life. As a young adult, my experience of life was watching me on stage rather than being me on stage. And, I choreographed my actions to win applause from the audience. A fortunate significant emotional experience finally shed my spectator self and enabled me to discover the joy of authenticity and the power of realness.

Human performance unleashed is a genuine expression honed from a strong sense of self. It is unabashedly being who we really are in front of others. Unshackled by a fear of rejection, we are released to go further, soar higher, and keep going longer. Realness is boldness unclothed and without remorse.

Memo to Leaders: Examine leadership practices that directly or subtly erode the self-esteem of your associates. Avoid using guilt as a tool for influence. Communicate a compelling purpose. Encourage and affirm initiative. Remember the words of writer Tex Bender: “You can pretend to care, but you cannot pretend to be there.” Be present in the lives of your associates, not just their toil.

Open, Not Closed

crazyhorseCrazy Horse was shy as a young man. Author John Neihardt described Crazy Horse in his book Black Elk Speaks as a person of great modesty and reserve but who was generous to the poor, the elderly, and children. “Everybody liked him,” wrote Neihardt, “and would do anything he wanted or go anywhere he said.”

Human performance unleashed carries the trait of trustworthiness because it is borne of openness and vulnerability. We trust people who are transparent and forthright. It is the trait of people willing to pioneer and experiment. They carry a personal vision of excellence, even when there is no plan for success. They boldly take initiative, not out of duty or response to command, but from a strong sense of purpose.

These are the people first to raise their hands without concern of critique or desire for acceptance. Their initiative emanates purely from a drive to be engaged and the thrill of being connected. They are absorbed with always living (and working) to their fullest. They learn the lessons of the past, enjoy the guidance of the future, but live in the moment.

Memo to Leaders: Encourage your associates to set goals and objectives high. As Norman Vincent Peale wrote, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll wind up among the stars.” Be a champion of greatness. Never tolerate mediocrity…in yourself, in others, in anything…ever. Share stories of greatness and invite examples of excellence from others. Speak in possibilities not in restrictions.

Inclusive, Not Exclusive

There is a back-story to Crazy Horse’s battlefield gallantry. After a violent, controversial incident in his village, he ventured alone on a vision quest to seek spiritual guidance on how to cope with the incident. He had a dream in which a warrior on a horse came out of a lake and floated above him. The warrior told Crazy Horse that if he dressed modestly and never took scalps or war trophies, he would never be harmed in battle. Crazy Horse’s father, Waglula, interpreted the dream as a plea for compassion.

Raise your hands without concern of critique or desire for acceptance Click To Tweet

The story provides a powerful metaphor to characterize a feature of human performance unleashed. As practitioners of empathy and compassion, people who are unleashed are magnets for bringing out the best in others. They are the people with the kind of optimistic spirit of greatness others want to be around and emulate. They treat everyone, regardless of their station or status in life, with obvious unconditional positive regard.

Usain Bolt’s connection with his spectators made them feel like co-runners, not observers. His obvious respect for them drew them in as his partners. When he gave his characteristic pose like an archer shooting an arrow at the moon, they screamed. When he held his finger to his lips to request silence before the start of a race, they were joyfully obedient.

Memo to Leaders: Be famous for your kindness and compassion. Never allow associates to use hurtful sarcasm or show disrespect of others, regardless of their intent. Pursue optimism. Let your unit become a haven for contrary views and a hangout for people with progressive attitudes. Listen to learn, not to correct or make a point. Seek to find the echo of you in your associates. Be a forceful spirit for remarkable.

Celebrate and Support

Human performance unleashed is a demonstration of confidence with every ounce of timidity or reserve removed. It is found among people who tell their doubts, reservations, cautions, and reserve to be a spectator in the cheap seats and not a noisy coach on the sideline. Such unleashed performance yields results that are more than over-the-top; they are awe-inspiring. It is the source of innovation—the stuff of breakthroughs, discoveries, and record smashing.

It is as rare today as it vital to organizational growth and success. And, it comes from the influence of leaders who reframe their partnership with their performers to be their guide, not their shepherd; a supporter, not a commander, and an ardent champion of removing any hint of fear in the workplace. It is a celebration of bravery.

Author Chris Hedges, writing for the website, had this to say about Crazy Horse: “There are few resistance figures in American history as noble as Crazy Horse. His ferocity of spirit remains a guiding light for all who seek lives of defiance.” Whether the defiance is against the “domestication” of Native Americans or the “denudification” of mediocrity, human performance unleashed is the personification of the Crazy Horse spirit.

  • Can you be who you are in front of others? Do you enhance this within your team?
  • What do you do to go beyond mediocrity? How do you stimulate others to do so?
  • How’s your current level of kindness and compassion?

Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several national and international best-selling books. His newest book is Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service. He can be reached at Human Performance Unleashed is a registered trademark of FPG (

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Leave a Reply

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. William J 'Bill' LeGray

    Marcella, and Chip;

    “Unleashing Human Performance for better outcomes?”

    Coincidently, for different reasons, I just released the following Tweet @blegray: It is about the Knowledge related to complete Organizational Science to facilitate/accomplish Organizational Development for People and their Things. The 140 character Tweet reads as follows: “OrgDev: Learning and Engaging to apply one’s self as an instrument, enabling Other(s)/;Things to Become/;Improve, maximumly for better outcomes.”

    Obviously, what you are exploring here can and often does relate to an individual’s entire lifetime of “study/work/study” to obtain improvements for societal benefits. I have enjoyed your comments in this Update, and very much appreciate your selection of- and dedication to- the “subject chosen” to encourage others to participate and provide meaningful contributions.

    1. Marcella Bremer

      Thank you, Bill! I like the way you phrase it: to apply one’s self as an instrument to enable others and things to become better. That’s what Chip Bell and I mean exactly.

  2. Ross Swan

    A great article. Crazy Horse was a great leader. I have many books on his exploits and thanks for bringing his leadership qualities into current leadership perspectives.

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