Why Make Eagles Swim?: Embracing Natural Strengths in Leadership & Life

Why Make Eagles Swim?: Embracing Natural Strengths in Leadership & Life


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Stop wasting time “fixing” your so-called weaknesses. And start leveraging the powerful ways you’re already innately great!
Bill Munn says the key to maximizing performance is already planted within us—and within everyone around us—in the inherent strengths we often ignore while we focus on overcoming so-called weaknesses. This bias toward improving on negatives gets in the way of our ability to fully excel in our work life and at home. We devalue our innate strengths in part because we take our gifts for granted, and in part because we’ve been conditioned to focus on getting good at things we struggle with, at the expense of excelling in the ways we're intrinsically great. An eagle doesn’t need to put energy toward improving his swimming skills because he is a natural master of soaring. Munn explains, with heart and authority, how we can live like the eagle, finding true success as we focus on our gifts—and help those we manage do the same.
Munn provides a selection of specific traits (Creator, Decisive, Developer, among others) and tools to help readers identify unique strengths in themselves and others. He follows with techniques that help us nurture our strongest gifts—our power-alley attributes—and better grow and manage teams according to the group’s overall attribute profile. With his advice, we kick unproductive habits to the curb and experience the power of our personal best. Munn presents tactics for recognizing and appreciating power-alley traits in others as well as insights into the power and pitfalls of each attribute, the best and worst attribute pairings, which attributes fit with specific job functions, and more.
Munn’s book speaks to those seeking to improve their teams and their leadership skills, as well as to any person who wants to leverage his or her own natural gifts while better understanding, engaging, and nurturing others.
​Bill Munn is a management-coaching veteran of twenty-six years and former top-level executive of a Dow 30 and Fortune 500 company.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626343368
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Publication date: 10/18/2016
Pages: 160
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Bill Munn is a leadership coach, speaker, and former Dow 30 executive with an MBA and a professorship in economics. With his twenty-six year coaching career combined with his background in time management, team-building tactics, and corporate development, Munn expertly explains his insightful theme that true success lies in focusing on one’s inherent gifts.

Read an Excerpt

Why Make Eagles Swim?

Embracing Natural Strengths in Leadership & Life

By Bill Munn, Libby Cortez

Greenleaf Book Group Press

Copyright © 2016 Bill Munn
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62634-336-8



This above all; to thine own self be true.

— William Shakespeare

* * *

If we'd met him as a child, what might you or I have thought of little Al, the dreamer? A thoughtful kid and reluctant talker who used to repeat sentences quietly to himself, Al was viewed by many as somewhat dull. He didn't conform well to the structure and discipline of primary school; struggled with the quick, automatic responses prized in this educational atmosphere; and never excelled in memorizing words, texts, and names, so his teachers considered him only moderately talented. One particularly harsh Greek teacher predicted that Al would never get anywhere. And he did in fact fail the entrance exam at the polytechnic institute where he aimed to study.

Those dearest to him recognized his differences as well: Al's sister and closest friend described him as calm, dreamy, and slow — although at once self-assured and determined. And his own parents were so concerned about Al's slow progress with language that they consulted a doctor on the matter. But his mother was ambitious and encouraged her son's self-reliance, and his father provided a sound counterbalance of a comforting, supportive environment where Al could develop his own personality.

So what happened to him? Little Albert Einstein grew up to be a giant in the field of physics. Although he never excelled in basic math, his creative imagination was the natural strength that allowed him to make great scientific leaps, like recognizing that light waves must bend as they pass a planet's gravitational field. A key to Einstein's success was the fact that he learned to accept and leverage the unstructured way his mind worked. For example, when he was stumped while working on a complex math problem, he formed the habit of leaving the blackboard and playing his violin. Many times, the solution came to him in the midst of making music.

* * *

And speaking of making things, let's look at Steve. Exacting Steve, who was such an extreme perfectionist that he lived without furniture because nothing he found was just right. As a boss, he was demanding, a micromanager so goal driven that he showed virtually zero empathy toward people. In his determined pursuit of perfection, Steve was often abrasive toward his team, who grumbled that his goals and deadlines were completely unrealistic.

But, as it turned out, they were not impossible. Steve's driven perfectionism led his company to widely acclaimed excellence in product design and development. His blindness to others' feelings kept him ruthlessly focused on priorities. And his exacting deadlines and micromanagement yielded unimaginable feats of innovation.

He was Steve Jobs, founder and former CEO of Apple. And, although he admitted that his strongest attributes were sometimes his shortcomings as a leader, he also lived according to his strengths, leveraging his gifts into a groundbreaking agile empire that reimagined and permanently altered numerous industries, including personal computing, music, film, retailing, and more.

* * *

But no one personifies innovation like Tom. Young Tom's teacher described him as mentally confused and muddled; overall, her assessment would probably equate to extreme attention deficit disorder in today's terms. He was so disruptive in class that he was expelled after a total of three months of schooling. But his expulsion led his mother to homeschool her son, and Tom later credited his success to this education, since she gave him the freedom to exert his creativity.

Throughout his adult life, Tom continued to resist structure and large organizations, and he remained very disorganized. For example, after one of his laboratories burned down, he remembered that he'd failed to purchase fire insurance. But despite his challenges, Tom let his creative side soar.

The result? Thomas Edison became a hugely successful inventor, accumulating over 2,300 patents worldwide. His innovations include the phonograph, the movie camera, and a storage battery for an electric car — in addition to a little gadget known as the electric light bulb.


Would you plant an apple seed and try to nurture it into an orange tree? No matter what type of fertilizer you used, no matter how carefully you monitored the water and sun, you would never succeed in making that apple seed bear oranges. (Although you may interfere with its ability to produce great apples.)

Human beings are like this. We each have seeds for different types of fruit in us, but too often, we spend our lives trying to become something we're not — in part because we take our natural gifts for granted, and in part because we spend so much time focusing on what we're not good at that we lose sight of the ways we're great.

Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Thomas Edison were each built to bear a certain type of fruit, and they didn't waste their energy trying to become something else. Instead, they unapologetically functioned according to their strengths — they focused on augmenting their natural gifts. And they changed the world.

So can you.

Here's some news that shouldn't be news at all: You're better than you think you are. So is your team. So are those people in your family you're always harping on. But instead of being better, you're spending too much time trying to be — well, something else. Something you're not built for. Some version of you that you think you're supposed to be, rather than the best you for which you're already designed.

Fortunately, you can change this. You can learn and practice tools that nurture your strongest traits — what we'll refer to as power-alley attributes. As you do this, you'll ditch unproductive habits and constructs, and you'll experience what your personal best really feels like.


My wife and I live on a lake where we're blessed to see beautiful wildlife in our front yard every day: deer and rabbit, mink and fox, herons, loons, and even bald eagles. What a breathtaking sight those eagles are — so grand in scale, so powerful in the air.

But what if I told you that every day an eagle walked out to the end of our dock, tiptoed hesitantly to the edge, and spent the morning doing nosedives into the calm water, trying to improve his swimming skills? Turns out, as he's soaring over our northern lakes at a thousand feet of altitude, using his remarkably sharp eyes to scan the water for shallow-swimming fish, he keeps seeing loons working below him, and he's amazed by their skill in the water.

For those of you less familiar with the North Country, loons are a symbol of pristine northern wilderness lakes, and they are fascinating creatures. You may have heard a recording of their haunting song, which is sure to crop up in any film where a Walden-like lakeside retreat comes into play. But many people don't know that unlike most flying birds, loons have solid bones that help them dive to depths of up to two hundred feet. The extra weight makes it difficult for them to take off in flight, but it also makes them incredible deep-water fishers.

Impressive, right? That's what the eagle thinks. So now, he's spending his days on the end of our dock instead of up in the sky. He's lamenting his shallow dives, groaning because he doesn't have those red eyes designed to scan the lake's darkest depths, and complaining about his underwater lung capacity.

But when the eagle's out soaring on his fishing rounds, the loon's entire family is looking up at him, talking about how great it would be if their loon boy could fly that way. He could hunt the whole lake in a few minutes, swoop down suddenly, surprise his prey, and be gone in seconds, avoiding competitors. Clearly, that eagle has a good thing going. Why doesn't the loon learn those traits?

This whole thing sounds crazy, right? So here's my question: Why are we all spending so much time trying to make eagles swim? Why don't we put more energy into the ways we're naturally built to be great?

Here's what I think is crazy: sitting down with a top salesperson for a performance review, only to spend eighty percent of that time discussing how she might improve the accuracy of the expense reports she's forever struggling with. That's eighty percent of a meeting spent telling an eagle to work on her backstroke — to take time away from flying in favor of fumbling around in the water. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the organization, someone's asking a gifted administrator to focus on improving his big-picture thinking. And someone else is (yet again) chastising a standout creative on the product-development team for his struggle with follow-through.

What is going on here? Why are we spending so much time focusing on weaknesses and so little time discussing how to leverage those natural strengths? Instead, let's get the eagle back in the air and the loon focused on deep dives. Encourage the exemplary salesperson to close her computer, get face-to-face with prospects, and exceed her new target; invite the detailed administrator to help with those expense reports; and put the creative person in a brainstorming room to focus on imagining the next great innovation worth selling in the first place. Suddenly, everyone wins. Sales are stellar, expenses are accurate and timely, and the company is working on some breakthrough new products.

That's the power of attributes.

Now listen: Eagles actually can swim when they need to. But their competence in the water is nothing like their expertise in the air. And loons can fly, but they need up to a quarter mile of water-surface runway to get all that weight in the air. It's deep diving where they blow the competition away, so that's what they should (and do) expend the most time and energy on.

We too can fly higher and dive deeper by focusing our energy on the unique talents intrinsic to each of us. These are our natural attributes. Most great success stories start with this approach.


An attribute is an inherent trait. It's a natural characteristic that can greatly influence your perception of and behavior toward the world around you. Think of your attribute profile as the way you're wired — the built-in programming of your own internal microchip.

If we were studying physical attributes, we might look at height, eye color, gender, etc. — things that are easy to see. Such traits affect how we perceive and interact with the world around us. For example, a friend of mine had a son who was six feet eleven inches tall and played in the NBA. When he walked through a house, he ducked at each doorway. But when I asked him about it, he wasn't even aware of ducking. For him, it was instinctive — like blinking. Back when he was first outgrowing doorframes, he'd only had to hit his head on a few before he learned. The height attribute led to a behavior modification.

The nonphysical attributes we're studying here can (and usually do) lead to the same thing. Although more hidden from view, these attributes are very real qualities of who we are — at least as definitive, and certainly much more important, than the color of our eyes. Let's look at Lauren, who has a huge dose of empathy (sharing other peoples' emotions). When talking to someone who has just heard sad news, Lauren's face looks much like that of the person speaking. Tears come. She can feel the other person's pain. She cares, and she hurts. This response is real and natural — like blinking. It's an automatic, reflexive reaction. That's an attribute.

And therein lies our essential success secret. According to Lewis Schiff, author of Business Brilliant: Surprising Lessons from the Greatest Self-Made Business Icons (New York: HarperBusiness, 2013), "nearly sixty percent of middle-class people strive to get better at tasks they are not good at. Exactly zero percent of high net worth individuals [say] the same." Of course, I'm not implying that net worth is everyone's ultimate measure of success; your own unique life vision will determine your goals. But since high net worth often reflects a successful career, it's worth noting that this group claims to invest no time at all in improving on so-called weaknesses.

Just think how often you hear caveats when learning about highly successful people. Walt Disney was a creative visionary whose legendary ideas changed the entertainment industry forever, but he was a completely incompetent artist who couldn't draw Mickey Mouse if asked. John Adams served on more committees in the Continental Congress than any other individual and played a huge role in bringing the United States into existence as a nation, but he was only a mediocre speaker, tended to take offense easily, and was generally regarded as vain.

The "but" is always there — for every person. Yet for those who become great, it's a side note to the real story. We don't remember Walt Disney as a poor artist; we remember him as a visionary genius. We don't look back on John Adams as a touchy guy; we recognize him as a man who helped mold the US democratic system. We remember great men and women for the strengths that they leveraged, not the weaknesses they improved upon.

What if Walt had spent his life trying to figure out how to draw that mouse? What a sad prospect. Yet many of us can imagine how he might have gotten off track in pursuit of such a skill. So let's make sure we understand skills and knowledge as they relate to attributes.

Attributes versus Skills

Attributes are not the same as skills. A skill is something you learn to do. It's not instinctive. Skills include driving a car, brain surgery, and carpentry.

Although an attribute may enhance your success at learning a skill, the skill itself is not an attribute. For example, someone who has a strong communication-related attribute can likely get his point across clearly to others and hold an audience's attention during his explanation. To further leverage this trait, he might hone the skills of composition, creative writing, or public speaking. But the skills alone do not make an attribute.

Attributes versus Knowledge

Likewise, attributes are different from knowledge. Knowledge is something you learn, whether or not you end up using it in any way.

If you are a mathematician, chemist, or historian, your chosen specialty is largely based on knowledge. And your success in acquiring knowledge may be enhanced by certain attributes, such as thirst for learning or precision in note-taking. But the knowledge is not the attribute; it's a body of information you've assimilated.

It's worth noting that your attributes can powerfully affect how you use your knowledge. For example, a politician who is strong in the attribute of conceptual thinking might make a concerted effort to study historical facts. Then, he could use his attribute to apply that knowledge, linking patterns of history together to conceptualize a new way of approaching a current societal problem.

Although attributes are not learned the way skills and knowledge are, you can improve upon your attributes by increasing your related knowledge and skills. For example, if you are a natural people person, you can enhance your listening skills and improve your knowledge of human emotion and feeling to help that attribute flourish.

But as we'll discuss, if interaction with people is a huge challenge area for you, it might not be worth your time to focus on such skills. Always be prudent. Although this type of training could very well help you in some way, you have a finite and precious amount of time and energy to offer. If you want to live and work at your full potential, please don't waste it. Don't take swimming lessons if you're an eagle. Prioritize your natural gifts, and you'll be amazed at the heights you can reach.


One final note of encouragement as you begin learning and applying this attributes concept — you will see results quickly. Some things in life take years. Not this.

In the introduction, I told you the story of Mark. He saw results the first night! Like him, you'll probably begin seeing results shortly after you start trying the tools. Usually, this happens within weeks or months. But it's up to you — it's all a matter of when you begin accepting the concept and taking action.

So I encourage you to give it a go. Open your mind. Take notes while you read. Reread. Experiment. Ask for insight and help. Share your insights and questions with others. Do it together, with your team, your family, or your group. Visit www.AttributesAcademy.com for additional tools and tactics. In short, take action.

* * *

This brings me to the matter of resistance — the idea that we will succeed by focusing on our natural strengths makes good, intuitive sense. And as we've already seen, we're surrounded by examples and evidence that clearly support the power of this approach to life and work. Yet for many of us, it's hard to let go of that nagging urge to focus on our so-called weaknesses.


Excerpted from Why Make Eagles Swim? by Bill Munn, Libby Cortez. Copyright © 2016 Bill Munn. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Part I What's an Attribute?

Chapter 1 True to Form 13

Chapter 2 Our Negative Bias 25

Chapter 3 Attribute Inventory 37

Chapter 4 The Good, the Bad, and the Great 65

Part II Identifying Attributes

Chapter 5 Determining Your Attribute Profile 77

Chapter 6 Listening (and Watching) for Revelation 91

Chapter 7 Perfect Your Listening Skills 113

Part III Attributes in Action

Chapter 8 Attributes and Personal Growth 125

Chapter 9 Attributes in Teams: The Attribute Matrix 133

Chapter 10 Opposite Attribute Pairings 141

Chapter 11 Stumbling Blocks and Balancing Acts 151

Chapter 12 Attributes-Driven Sales and Leadership 163

Chapter 13 Interviewing for Attributes 171

Chapter 14 Attributes in Different Occupations 179

Chapter 15 Performance Reviews that Actually Work 187

Conclusion 197

Notes 201

About the Authors 205

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Why Make Eagles Swim?: Embracing Natural Strengths in Leadership & Life 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Linda Lewis More than 1 year ago
This book is an excellent read on the subject of attributes. I have read the book and it has completely changed the way that I interact with people. It has given me an understanding of my own attributes as well as an understanding of why I continue to fail in certain areas. When my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD (or as Bill calls it VAS - Variable Attention Syndrome), this book helped me understand her attributes and how we could overcome the ADHD together. If you have ever wanted to better understand how to interact with different people, this is the must read book.
AIBeard More than 1 year ago
If you have any interest in learning more about your strength attributes, maximizing your work team's joy and productivity, or enhancing your business and personal relationships, you have to read this book! Bill has captured the magic of what makes you and I tick, and then shows us how to "tick" in sync.