March 8, 2022

The day I got a High Five from a Harvard Professor


The day I got a high five from a Harvard Professor is ingrained in me, not because it felt so surreal but rather what happened in the days thereafter.

How I got a High Five

I was sitting in a classroom at Harvard on day three of an eight-day executive leadership program. There were 60 students in the program from all over the world. Consequently, it was pretty hard to meet everyone, let alone remember everyone’s name.

On this day we were doing an activity of guessing answers to some random questions. It’s a little ironic that I can’t recall the purpose of the activity and it may even have been a typical ice breaker.

When it got to providing answers to the questions, there was one that I was the only person in the classroom that knew the solution. The lecturer responded with astonishment saying…

“How did you know that because no one has ever got that right?!”

Jokingly I responded with…

“Because I am a genius!”

The classroom erupted in laughter and the lecturer gave me a high five. This a was great moment for me because I could not believe I was at Harvard in the first place, let alone getting a high five from the lecturer.

For the rest of the program, everyone called me Genius.

My ‘Genius’ Label

Now clearly, I am far from a genius and they knew that. But that is what I was called. As I said previously it was hard to remember everyone’s name so a nickname of ‘Genius’ made it easier.

I still keep in contact with many of the people in that program and to this day they still call me ‘Genius’.

So, I didn’t engineer this scenario. It simply started from never outgrowing my need to be the class clown. But it is a great example of the power in the labels we use on ourselves.

The Power of a Label

These labels can serve us… or not.

Unfortunately, we tend to put negative labels on ourselves more often than positive ones. And this can have a significant negative impact on us, including how others perceive us.

At times my daughters have said things like “I’m stupid” and each time I remind them that they are not stupid. Rather they have taken an action that you would consider stupid, which doesn’t make them stupid.

To reiterate, we all do stupid things, but it doesn’t mean we are stupid.

Business Examples

Some of the ways this plays out in business are:

“I am really bad at public speaking/presenting.”

If you say that often enough, people will believe it. Maybe there is an opportunity to present that would do wonders for your career, but you are not even considered because you have told so many people you are not good at presenting.

“I love the challenge of solving big problems.”

If you say that often enough, people will believe it. This in turn might mean that you start being offered more strategic leadership roles.

Be aware of the labels you use on yourself because they can greatly influence what people think of you, for better or worse.


If you are wondering what the question was this is it.

Fill in the blanks:

1000 = W_________ that a P_________ is W____________