Your business and your team can only grow as high as you have grown yourself. Sure, you can be a poser for a while, but ultimately, you can’t lead someone past where you have gone. Lee Iacocca said, “The speed of the leader, the speed of the team.” So, the fact is: the best leaders are the best learners. You must prioritize your own personal and professional development throughout the year in order to keep leading well. Carve out the time to do it, and make sure you budget money to do it. Henry Cloud emphasizes, “The wisest leaders who are going to be there for the long haul and be the most productive and fruitful are the ones who have put into place their own growth structures, their own growth relationships, and their own growth focus.” You either grow, or, sadly, it’s time to go.
One of the most impacting diagrams I ever saw at a seminar was the Life/Death Cycle. On the Life side were the words Birth, Growth, Maturity. That is a place where every person, every leader, every business, every relationship starts out and the trend is upward, getting more successful with each passing month by being a learner and taking calculated risks and locking in great rhythms. But, at the top is a turning point that is unseen by the naked eye. If not maintaining a growth focus, ever so slowly, that leader or business starts heading down the Death side of the chart, which begins with a complacency that turns into Decline and then Death (the sad place where divorce, bankruptcy, resignations, and other bad things occur). The key is to start a new growth curve while still being successful and never believing that you know it all and can rest on your haunches.
“Self-development is not about stuffing in a whole bunch of new information or trying out the latest technique. It’s about leading the leader within you. The art of leadership is comes from the mastery of the self.” –Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner
Your growth journey starts by getting comfortable with who you are. Be willing to take assessments that reveal your values, strengths, personality style, motivations, and language of appreciation. Consider forming a personal mission statement through which you filter opportunities that come your way. By knowing your profile inside and out, you know what weaknesses to staff around and which strengths you need to spend most of your energy doing. It also helps your staff know you as an authentic person and what they can expect from you.
All high performers have coaches, no matter what sport or skill. Consider hiring a Life or Leadership Coach yourself. Coaches are objective sounding boards who ask you the tough questions to make you think about your habits and your time management and your priorities. They assess where your strengths and weaknesses lie and help you live out the best version of you with their support, accountability, and resources. Take full advantage of the tools they have to offer and do your assigned homework in between sessions. Then reap the benefits of being a healthier, more confident leader than you are now.
Or maybe it’s mentoring in the industry that you need. Find someone running a successful business in another area of the country and see if he/she would be willing to spend some time with you, answering your questions that you prepare in advance, to value their time. Visit their location, explore their web site, look over their handbook—find out what’s working. You can’t make all the mistakes possible on your own—so, learn from theirs, and what traps to avoid.
You can also grow by reading about what makes a great leader. Way to go on reading this blog! Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. Each year choose a leadership proficiency that you want to improve—such as conflict resolution, crafting the vision, team-building—and get a book on it. Just read twenty minutes per day. Mark up your favorite takeaways with a highlighter. If you struggle with reading, you can always do an audio version of a book, or search for a leadership podcast. There are YouTube videos and TED Talks to watch if you are more visual in your learning. Charles Tremendous Jones said, “You are today as you’ll be in five years except for two things: the people you meet and the books you read.”
In addition to reading, you may want to learn from attending a local leadership seminar in your area or at a conference. The added benefit to attending an event is the opportunity to meet others who wrestle with the same sets of issues that you do. Who knows? The person sitting next to you might have the solution you need during the conversation at the lunch break! Don’t be like some conference-goers who “get all they can, can all they get, and then sit on their can!” Take good notes and mark some as immediate action items when you return to work; literally, put the tasks into your calendar. When you teach what you have learned to your team, it drives the learning deeper into you and they benefit as if they attended, too.
Stretch yourself every year to get better at a technical skill, too. Maybe it’s learning a computer program. Maybe it’s improving your financial accounting prowess. Maybe it’s mastering marketing best practices. Be able to answer the question, “How are you better today than one year ago?”
“Leadership is day-by-day personal development based on sustained action.” –John Addison Staying curious puts you in a learning posture. Learn to ask lots of questions. Every person, every networking event, every piece of information—all are learning opportunities. I encourage people to journal what they learned that day before they go to bed, no matter how small that takeaway was.
Sometimes leaders have blind spots that are causing some tension on the staff. They might have a quirk that causes confusion or a facial expression that looks perpetually offended. They may think they are good communicators, but their staff feels in the dark. The way to address this is by taking the vulnerable action of distributing a leader report card to your core team, the ones who know you the best and who care about you and your success. The leader report card can be set up to give you candid feedback on what they want you to stop doing, to start doing, and to continue doing—or it can be other short-answer questions in certain areas of your leadership. You are not above feedback. Yes, it’s humbling to put yourself out there, but you will gain more respect for adopting a growth mindset—and truly taking the feedback to heart. At the least, ask them what one thing they need more from you, to do their job successfully—and make it happen. That’s “feed-forward” (making for a better future) instead of feedback (which just makes you feel threatened or ashamed from past actions).
I was at a leadership retreat where the core team gave each other one way that they thought their colleague added the most value to the team, and one way that they could add more value. Phrased that way, it was a positive conversation though delving into the “danger zone” of a little discomfort.
So, I know you are busy. We all are. But the most successful among us keep growing. And, “Being busy is never an excuse for being ignorant.” –Michael Bense You won’t find the time; you must make the time.
You are not just a human being; you are a human becoming. Learning is changing. Be a lighthouse so people can set their courses by you. You are a role model and you cast a shadow on the team, like it or not. Own your shadow. Effective leaders keep working on themselves and model personal and professional growth for the benefit of everyone.
Want to hear how other leaders keep growing? I interview local Tri-cities CEO’s, entrepreneurs, and non-profit executives on my podcast: The Tri-Cities Influencer. Find it here.