Absolute Impact: The Drive for Personal
Have you ever asked yourself, “Have I made
the most of what I have to offer the world?”
Matthew May has, and he’s come up with three
self-driven strategies that are designed to help
each of us find a positive answer to this
Absolute Impact offers a view of
leadership that moves beyond conventional notions,
encouraging us to make the most of our gifts by
positively impacting the lives of
others—ultimately resulting in deeply
meaningful achievement in our work and personal
Unlike conventional self-discovery books, May
blends ancient philosophy with modern science and
presents his strategies by telling the story of
three courtiers who are summoned to court to guide
the prince’s heir toward a future filled with
significant accomplishment. The discussions of the
four main characters, each with a unique
perspective, provide new insights into the
challenges of personal leadership.
Now let’s learn a little about May, his
understanding of leadership, and the book.
NFC: Why did you write this
May: Several events and
ideas came together to prompt me. While conducting
leadership workshops, I discovered that most of the
participants felt something was missing in their
work. That led me to conduct a nationwide survey of
working professionals. The results were disturbing.
More than 70% of the respondents indicated that they
would rather be doing something else with their
lives. Greater than 70% spent six out of eight hours
bored, anxious, on autopilot, or in some way
disengaged. Nearly 80% felt they could not bring
their “true self” to work.
For the leader of an organization, that means
losing the lion’s share of work force
productivity. For the individual, it means work
without meaning or mastery.
Beyond prompting the obvious questions of how and
why so many end up on the wrong path, those results
revealed to me that personal excellence was being
withheld from work at virtually every level. I set
out to help turn the situation around, focusing on
the minority that are engaged creatively in
I began writing in 2001, which was an unbelievable
year. We saw Silicon Valley fall. We began to see
CEOs fall. Then came 9/11 and we saw the Twin Towers
fall. We didn’t know what to do, so we did the
only thing we could do: Focus on what mattered most.
All of a sudden we hugged each other more, we let
people in front of us in traffic, we waved to
neighbors. We re-evaluated our lives. We saw
extraordinary acts by ordinary people.
Leadership was revealed at many levels. Out of
catastrophe came an undeniable positive impact. For a
brief time, we were making the most of every moment.
I asked myself, “Why don’t we head in
that direction as a matter of course?”
NFC: Why did you choose to write your book
as a fable? What advantages does that approach offer
that a more traditional approach
May: Storytelling is an
enormously more powerful way to get people thinking.
Written well, fables allow the discovery process to
take place and enable readers to make their own
Most leadership books are essentially lectures or
case studies in book form—heavy-handed and
prescriptive. They generally offer “success
recipes” based on some amalgam of visible
qualities derived from some select study
Cookbook approaches don’t dive deep enough.
They don’t work because what works for me
won’t work for you. That’s why people
keep buying the “silver bullet” books.
It’s the process that yields the original
recipe that holds the key. It’s not about
getting the right answers, it’s about asking
the right questions. Great achievement has no road
Additionally, most books offer only one
perspective—the author’s. We’ve
known for 2,500 years that human intellect tends to
be exhibited in four distinct mindsets, and unless
the views of each viewpoint are expressed, the themes
discussed lack universal treatment. We also know that
the “Socratic method” of learning, which
is essentially logical questioning, is one of the
most effective ways to get at the deeper truths.
I wanted to offer something different that would
make people really think deeply; the only way I could
figure out how to accomplish my purpose was through a
fictional dialogue among four characters, divorced
from reality to lend focus on the issues, each
presenting a different take on the topic.
NFC: Can you describe the three
self-driven strategies very briefly and tell us why
May: All three are
essentially learning challenges. The first entails
releasing our personal energy by learning to govern
our gifts. We must start there because our greatest
source of power lies in our ability to fully
capitalize on our native aptitudes and unique
intellect. If we don’t get this right,
we’ll wind up chasing jobs with no intrinsic
meaning and dreams that may have no prayer of coming
The second challenge involves focusing outside of
our self by learning to share our strengths. Our
greatest source of fulfillment lies in our choice to
employ our talents to the highest benefit of others.
The most important choice we can make is the choice
to serve others well. We are naturally self-centered,
but our capacity for selflessness is infinite. This
is the essence of a purposeful life.
The final challenge concerns creating a new
reality by learning to anchor our ambition. Our
greatest source of achievement lies in our capacity
to create and commit to a clear and compelling view
of the future that is tied firmly to our power and
purpose. Anything else is pure fantasy. We need to
learn to dream effectively!
It is through the combination of these three
strategies—in essence, masterful work done for
the right reasons toward a significant end—that
we can make the most of what we have to offer the
world. I’ve studied high impact individuals for
nearly 20 years. These three factors account for
nearly all the variance within that group. Most
managers address one or two of these, but if we can
do all three, that’s absolute
impact—that’s personal leadership.
MAY has studied and worked with high impact
individuals for nearly two decades. He is the founder
and president of Aevitas Learning, an executive
development firm focused on helping others improve
their personal performance leadership. He can be
reached at www.aevitas.com .