Plus, Minus, Equal

I read a book last summer that shared an anecdote that has stuck with me this year. The book, Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday, shared a training philosophy from mixed martial arts legend Ken Shamrock. The idea: Plus, Minus, Equal. Even though it was shared as a training philosophy it has had great applications in my leadership throughout this year. While MMA fighting is not my usual source of inspiration in growing myself as a leader, let me share how this philosophy has helped my growth this year.

Plus, Minus, Equal

PLUS — Find someone with more experience to learn from.

Like the title of the book, many times ego can be an enemy of growth. We need to always be looking for ways to grow and improve. We all can always do these things no matter our level, our title, or our experience — we all have room, and the capacity, to grow. When we stop acting with a growth mindset and stop learning from people that who have gone before us, we begin to limit our progress. If we believe we have all the answers, we place a ceiling on how good we could actually become. The “plus” is about stretching ourselves and showing others around us that we always have room to grow. This is how we model being a lead learner.

Examples in Leadership:

  • Find a mentor with whom to discuss difficult situations, ideas, or conflicts
  • Read books or autobiographies of great leaders
  • Pick the brains of someone else in your role who is better than you in particular areas
  • Listen to podcasts from people who are experts in areas you want to grow
  • Ask lots of questions from people who have lived in your current role
  • Always view yourself as a learner first, leader second


MINUS — Look for opportunities to teach or mentor

As a leader it is important to be a learner; it is also vital to be a teacher. Sharing with others not only helps to reinforce, and justify, what you know or do as a leader, but it also may spark a thought in others that leads to even better ideas.  When you start teaching, you truly understand the level at which you know about a topic. Teaching does not always have to be this formal. It can be simple advice, given from a point of care and concern, that helps others grow. The “minus” is about sharing what you have learned to support those who want to grow as well. It creates a culture of improvement and shows that you are willing to help others reach their goals.

Examples in Leadership:

  • Be willing to speak up and share things in areas where you excel
  • Look for those who are just starting and offer support
  • Be a great listener
  • Look beyond yourself and find ways to serve others
  • Offer feedback to those who are starting a new role


EQUAL — Find peers that challenge you

Leadership is often summarized by learning and teaching, but also by surrounding yourself with peers that challenge you to be a better. We are a product of those we spend the most time around. Mentors and mentees are an important part of leadership, but they are not typically the people we surround ourselves with on a regular basis. Mentors often tend to move too fast, mentees need us to pull them forward, and equals live along beside us where they challenge us, and help us maintain the daily standard we expect from ourselves. We need to look for those who are our equals who believe in the same ideas we do and are willing to hold us accountable for our daily actions.

Examples in Leadership:

  • Make sure those on your team share the same ideals
  • Have honest conversations and make sure those around you will share the same truth with you
  • Talk through problems you are facing and work to a solution together
  • Be vulnerable and share you faults with your peers to get feedback for improvement
  • Find a thought partner, where ideas can be shared and improved mutually


Having people in your life who equate to be pluses, minuses, and equals sets up multiple avenues for development and growth. It allows you to share what you have learned with others, collaboratively work to find solutions, and learn from those who have come before you. It forces you into a state of growth mindset as you teach, learn, and reflect in each role.

As we wind down a school year, spend some time this summer thinking about who will be your plus, minus, and equal during the upcoming year. Reach out to those folks and find ways to help yourself grow as a leader in your current role, as you push and challenge them in return.

Keep learning, keep growing, keep sharing!

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