Developing Leaders – Release Them

Could you imagine investing the money to buy a thoroughbred racehorse, investing the time and energy into training the racehorse but never letting them out of the gate, never letting them race? Why would you do that? Why would anyone do that? They wouldn’t. But, that’s what leaders sometimes do with the people they lead and are working to develop. They hesitate to let them race.

Last week I wrote that Experience is the 70% component of Leadership Development.  If you’ve got some thoroughbreds in your stable then take the following as advice from an article called, “The Process of Training a Racehorse for the Kentucky Derby.

“Besides conditioning and timing, it is important to get horses used to racing against each other. It is not uncommon for a farm to train their horses together on the track in the morning. This allows the horses to get used to getting bumped by other horses and the dirt flying up in their face, and allows them to learn to be guided to the rail by their jockey.

On Jan. 1, when horses turn three, they are eligible for the Kentucky Derby®. In order for an owner or trainer to get their horse admitted into the “Run for the Roses,” they must enter in a series of qualifying races called the Road to the Kentucky Derby®.

If the colt is then one of the top qualifiers in the series for the Kentucky Derby®, you’ll see them at the starting gate!”

Getting bumped by others, getting used to dirt flying up in their face, and learning to get to the rail is what experience is all about. It’s how leaders learn to win.

Why We Don’t

Some leaders hesitate to release their people into experience. What might cause such hesitation?

  • Lack of Time – leaders focus on getting things done and may not see time available to guide their protégés through the experience they need to grow. So shortsighted – investing the time now will save immeasurable time in the future.
  • “I do it best” – you may be more skilled at a certain task than the people you’re developing. However, if the task is not one you must do and your people can do it 80% as well as you, let them do it. It’s the only way they will get better.
  •  Past Failures – You’ve invested in someone before and they failed. No one I know likes the feelings associated with failure. But, like with anything else, we learn from our mistakes and do better next time.

How We Can

Here are some thoughts to help overcome the specific reasons we hesitate I just mentioned.

  • Use your Calendar – make coaching a recurring entry on your calendar. That is when you will invest focused time and effort into the people you are developing. This is a Covey quadrant 2 activity. It’s important but not urgent. these are often the things that we overlook but could bring the greatest return.
  • Set a Threshold – establish prerequisites for delegating certain tasks. What knowledge or skill must a person demonstrate before you will assign them certain tasks?
  • Use the “Scientific Method” – Thomas Edison said, “I’ve not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Now we have the electric lightbulb. Evaluated experience is the best teacher. When we fail, we should evaluate what went wrong, learn not to do that again, and construct another experiment using what we learned from the last one.

Racehorses have to race. You’ve walked them around the track and let them stand inside the starting gate (Exposure). You’ve provided them with proper nutrition, guided them in their gate, and taught them when to move to the rail (Education). Now you have to let them race. Release them to do their thing so they can gain the Experience that will make them a champion.

Developing Leaders – Experience

Several years ago the CEO of a large facilities services company, two other top executives of that company, and I did a sales presentation for a large potential client at their headquarters in Pittsburgh. On our way to the presentation, the CEO asked each member of the team, “How long have you been doing this kind of work?” He wanted to (and did) tell the client the number of combined years of industry experience our team represented. The client seemed impressed which pleased the CEO. Notice, that CEO didn’t ask about our education. He asked about experience.

Exposure to new things is valuable. It inspires the desire to learn. It’s worth 20% of an overall leadership development program. Education is necessary for instilling the knowledge and skills for leadership. It’s worth 10% of an overall leadership development program. The remaining 70% of an effective leadership development program should be devoted to experience, giving people real-life opportunities to use their new-found skills/knowledge.

“In the end, the only way for a person to learn leadership is to lead.” –John Maxwell (The Leader’s Greatest Return)

A Case In Point

In his book Bounce, Matthew Syed wrote about the power of practice over talent. He cited a study performed in 1991 by psychologist Anders Ericsson and two colleagues. they studied violinists at the Music Academy of West Berlin. They divided the boys and girls into three groups based on their perceived level of ability:

  • Students capable of careers as international star soloists
  • Students capable of careers in the world’s best orchestras
  • Students capable of careers teaching music

These ratings were based on the opinions of the school professors and the student’s performances in open competition.

What Ericsson discovered was that the biographies of the students in all three groups were remarkably similar. Most began practice at age eight, decided to become musicians right before they turned fifteen, and studied under about four teachers, and had on average studied 1.8 other instruments in addition to the violin. There was no remarkable difference in talent between them when they started. So, what was the difference? Practice time! By age twenty, the bottom group had practiced four thousand fewer hours than the middle group and the middle group had practiced two thousand fewer hours than the top group, which had practiced ten thousand hours. “There were no exceptions to this pattern,” said Syed of Ericsson’s findings. “Purposeful practice was the only factor distinguishing the best from the rest.”

Helpful Experience

That story could be misleading. It’s not just the number of hours spent doing something that determines one’s level of expertise. The conclusion was that “purposeful practice made the difference. That sounds a lot like what Green Bay Packers legendary coach, Vince Lombardi, used to say, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.” Perfect practice or purposeful practice is practice that is guided and coached. If I practice bad habits, they will become a permanent part of how I do things. But, if I practice under the coaching of an expert, they can guide me into getting better.

In the program I helped develop for the healthcare system, we made experience 70 percent of the overall approach. One example is leading a morning huddle. Many healthcare departments begin the day with a brief meeting called a huddle. Huddles usually consist of a standard agenda and last about 10 minutes. It takes some skill to lead a successful huddle.

Our approach was to have new managers sit in on a few huddles to observe and listen to the information and questions. Then we gave them a few lessons on public speaking. Finally, we had them lead huddles with a mentor in the room to provide feedback. The feedback often included the questions, “What went well?” and “What would you do differently next time?” After hearing the answers to those questions, the mentor would then offer their observations in support or redirection of the new manager’s own thoughts.

Repeating that experience several times led to the development of expert skills. The ultimate goal in all this is to develop people to the place where they can develop other people.

Developing Leaders – Education

At some point, there needs to be a classroom. Once you’ve ignited the desire to learn by providing people exposure to real-life situations they will be responsible for, you need to impart the knowledge and skills. Note: throughout the training process, you will engage the help of others. Providing exposure requires the involvement of others and so will education.

Several years ago, when I was in graduate school, I had the opportunity to take a class from a man who was the top expert in his field. He was a prolific writer, fluent in 26 languages, he was brilliant. I couldn’t wait to be in his class. I learned from that class that having knowledge and knowing how to effectively impart that knowledge to others is two different things. I spent the class mostly confused. It was a huge disappointment.

Don’t be that teacher. If you’re not skilled at imparting knowledge or skills, enlist the help of those who are. Your organization may have a training department or access to online courses.  Use them. As the expert in your field, you can help develop the content but let those who are experts at education use their skills on your behalf. You’ll still get the connection credit from your trainee for making it all happen.

Education is about more than “instructing.” It’s about facilitating learning. True educators focus on making sure students learn.  People learn in different ways.

Learning Styles

Here are several examples of learning styles:

  1. Verbal – these people learn by using words
  2. Visual – these people learn by using pictures
  3. Musical/Auditory – these people learn by using sounds/rhythms
  4. Physical/Kinesthetic – these people learn by using their hands and body
  5. Logical/Mathematical – these people learn by using logic, reasoning, systems, and sequence
  6. Social – these people learn best in a group
  7. Solitary – these people learn best by themselves
  8. Combination – these people learn in a combination of two or more of these styles

Can you see how different instruction methods are necessary to help people with these learning styles learn?

Levels of Thinking

Another consideration is that people’s level of thinking about a subject will grow and mature. When I spent two years working in an education environment I was introduced to something called “Bloom’s Taxonomy.” It’s a way of understanding levels of thinking. Here it is from lowest to highest:

  1. Remembering – the ability to recall basic facts and basic concepts
  2. Understanding – the ability to explain ideas or concepts
  3. Applying –  the ability to use information in new situations
  4. Analyzing – the ability to draw connections among ideas
  5. Evaluating – the ability to justify a stand or decision
  6. Creating – the ability to produce new or original work

A Simple Outline

As you can see, the field of education is deep and complex. That’s why it’s a great idea to use the resources available to you. Tap into your training department if you have one. Use online tools or send people to classes. Chances are the education available through these resources has been put together with learning styles and levels of thinking in mind.

What if you don’t have such resources, or, you want to build a strong connection by conducting the training yourself? Here’s a simple training outline that can help you cover most of the complexities.

  1. Tell Them – explain what you’re about to teach from beginning to end
  2. Show Them – demonstrate how it should be done
  3. With Them – lead them through the steps with both of you doing the same things at the same time
  4. Watch Them – observe them doing it independently while answering questions and offering coaching at the end
  5. Teach Back – you learn more about something when you have to teach it. Have your trainee teach you what they just learned

Last week we talked about the importance of Exposure. This week we’ve been talking about Education. Most leaders make the mistake of thinking Education is the most important training tool. They seem to believe that if you get a diploma or certificate, then you should be ready to go. The truth is that Exposure should make up about 20% of the training experience. Education, while vitally important, should be only about 10% of the overall leadership development plan. Next week we’ll discuss the final component that should make up 70% of how you develop leaders.

Developing Leaders – Exposure

Last week I started a series on developing leaders. I wrote about a project I had worked on with a large healthcare system’s Northern California Region of 21 hospitals. We created a leadership development program for Environmental Services (EVS, the department responsible for cleaning and disinfecting the hospital to prevent the spread of disease) leaders across the region.  Where we started, and what I wrote about last week, was the question, “What knowledge and skills do advanced directors in that department need to have to be successful?”

After identifying the list of knowledge and skills we then asked the question, “How do we help people develop that knowledge and those skills?” The first thing most people think of when asked that question is training. What comes to mind first when we mention training is a classroom, in-person or virtual. But, that’s not where we started.

Forty years ago I read a book that still has an influence on my concepts of leadership development. Here is an excerpt from the publisher’s description of that book:

“On March 14, 1948, Douglas Hyde handed in his resignation as the news editor of the London Daily Worker and wrote “the end” to twenty years of his life as a member of the Communist Party. In [his book], Dedication and Leadership, [Hyde] advances the theory that although the goals and aims of Communism are antithetical to human dignity and the rights of the individual, there is much to be learned from communist methods, cadres and psychological motivation. Hyde describes the Communist mechanics of instilling dedication, the first prerequisite for leadership.”

Start With Exposure

If you have children who are or have been in High School, or you remember your High School days, you may remember the question, “Why do I even have to learn this stuff? I’m never gonna use it.” You can fill in the blank with which subject may be referred to by the question. But, do you remember?

A state and/or local body decides what should be in a school’s curriculum for a set of reasons that make sense to them at the time. Students may have some electives within disciplines but largely their responsibility is to show up and learn.  When they don’t understand why they’re learning this or that, motivation to learn is often very low. Only the most internally dedicated students, usually those who see this course as a necessary step toward a larger goal, excel.

The Communist Party, according to Hyde, takes a different approach to teaching new recruits. To instill dedication in new members, one technique of “the party” is to put brand new members on a street corner to hand out party literature. With very little knowledge or experience, they field questions and often endure negative feedback from passers-by. This exposure to the real world creates within the new recruits a strong desire to learn. It gives them questions they want answers to so, by the time they get to a classroom, they are eager to soak up the instruction.

We took a similar approach with the healthcare system’s EVS leaders. We set up the program to begin with Exposure in order to create the desire to learn. In fact, our goal was to focus 20% of the program on exposure opportunities.

Some Examples

One of the competencies for these leaders was “Demonstrates Customer Focus.” In a hospital setting everyone who comes through the door, staff and members/guests, is an EVS customer. A service strategy to address the whole spectrum of customers is to concentrate on service delivered to each of the many departments.

With that in mind, we had new EVS leaders attend the management huddles/meetings of some of the departments they serve. When an EVS manager is present in a meeting of the Surgery department, for example, the opportunity is rarely missed to bring up questions or concerns about between case cleaning, terminal cleaning (at the end of the day, not after someone dies) , or the sterile core, or bio-hazardous waste removal. The new EVS leader may not have the answers to those questions but, s/he  certainly has the motivation to find them. That exposure generates a desire to learn.

Even if those questions don’t come up, the new leaders are exposed to the meeting agenda letting them know what’s important to that department.

We also had them attend various committee meetings. One important committee, of which EVS is always a member, is the Infection Prevention and Control Committee. In those meetings, data and trend analysis about specific types of infections is discussed as well as strategies for preventing them in the future. This committee also reviews and approves procedures and products related to infection prevention including EVS procedures. What a great opportunity to instill a desire to learn about something that may not have been interesting to that new leader without exposure to the committee.

Exposure creates the desire to learn and grow. What are some things you could expose new leaders to in your organization?

Developing Leaders – What Do They Need?

Several years ago, I was asked to be part of a team tasked with developing a leadership training program for the Northern California region of a large healthcare system. This particular project was focused on developing leaders within the Environmental Services departments across 21 hospitals in the region. We were to standardize a plan that would allow people to grow through three levels of leadership (supervisor, manager, director) and transfer seamlessly from one hospital to another. We started from scratch.

We decided to follow the advice of Stephen Covey and “Begin with the end in mind.” Our approach was to begin by identifying the knowledge and skills required of an advanced director asking “What does that leader look like?” Then we worked backward, peeling away one level of advanced competency after another until we arrived at the base requirement for a first-time supervisor. Our team identified 78 specific skills. We categorized them under a list of 14 competencies that reflected the organization’s 9 Core “Total Performance Behaviors.”  This ensured that the program aligned with the organization’s method of evaluating leadership performance.

We then worked on three levels of development for each of the three positions. Whether a person was a supervisor, a manager, or a director, we developed training that focused on

  1. “Foundations” – the basics for that position
  2. “Full Success” – what a proficient person at that level would look like
  3. “Next Level Prep” – which was getting them ready for promotion

Here’s an example

One of the core behaviors this organization wanted to see in their leaders was that they  “Champion Innovation and Change.” Below are the competencies and skills at each developmental level that we identified.

  1. Core Total Performance Behavior – “Champions Innovation and Change”
    1.  Competency 1 – “Models Change Leadership”
      1. Skill 1 – Understands the business need for change. Facilitates the adoption of change through engagement and role-modeling
        1. Foundations
          1. Communicates the case for change to staff
          2. Develops basic change plans to accelerate staff engagement and adoption.
        2. Full Success
          1. Produces comprehensive change plans that include; stakeholder management, plans for engaging staff, plans for early wins, and strategies for building momentum and post-implementation sustainability
          2. Generates buy-in with staff, celebrates their willingness to change, and acknowledges them for great work
        3. Next Level Prep
          1. Provides Change Leadership on behalf of the Manager for Service Area wide change initiatives
          2. Implements sustainable changes within the department that become best practices
      2. Skill 2 – Provides Change Leadership for special projects involving labor and management (re-bid / re-balance, new space opening, re-organizing workflows, fixing problems, etc)
        1. Foundations
          1. Knows who to enlist to support the change (staff, HR, Labor Leaders, Department Managers, etc.)
          2. Articulates basic actions needed to move forward with a change
        2. Full Success
          1. Articulates changes that need to happen, and works with stakeholders to determine impacts to the stakeholders and strategies/tactics needed to enlist support (Staff, HR, Labor Leaders, Department Managers etc)
          2. Develops basic project plan and schedule to achieve change
          3. Has delivered special projects
        3. Next Level Prep
          1. Develops and negotiates clear roles for all leaders and support functions involved in the change
          2. Creates comprehensive project, risk, and change management plans for special projects.
          3. Has delivered complex special projects
    2. Competency 2 – “Encourages Participation in Change and Innovation”
      1. Skill – Encourages staff to offer ideas about better ways of accomplishing work
        1. Foundations
          1. Creates opportunities and makes time for staff participation and ideas in decision-making about work.
          2. Encourages staff to test new ideas
        2. Full Success
          1. Leverages tests of change and analyzes failures to build sustainable solutions.
          2. Uses both success and failure of tested ideas as learning opportunities for the staff
        3. Next Level Prep
          1. Maintains a portfolio of improvements and tests of change planned or underway
          2. Acknowledges improvement ideas offered by staff that have been converted into practice.

Here’s Why

No matter what you want to create or develop, it begins with a clear picture of the finished product in your mind. Whether you’re baking a cake, building a skyscraper, or developing a leader, you start by knowing what the finished product will look like.

That finished product, especially in the case of a leader, will reflect what your organization needs from them. What do you need them to do for you? Once you know that, then you develop the picture of what they need to have and be able to do in order to deliver what you need.

The next several posts will be on the topic of developing leaders. I started where we should start in that process, identifying what they need in order to deliver what your organization needs from someone in that role. Whether or not you’re currently looking for a new leader (hint: you should always be looking for new leaders), I encourage you to invest the time and energy into creating a “what they need” list. It doesn’t have to be as elaborate as the one we created for that healthcare system, but put some thought into it. It will pay huge dividends.

A Dark Night In The Woods

After our delicious brunch with Juliana in Kansas City, we headed out to visit with dear friends, Keith and Terry, in the St. Louis area. To be more accurate, we headed out to visit with Terry. Keith’s work often takes him out of the country and, unfortunately, this was one of those times.

Keith and Terry are friends we’ve know for over 40 years. We met in college where Keith and I were security guards together in downtown Chicago. Keith and Terry were married a month before us and Suzi stood up in their wedding. Life circumstances have prevented us from spending as much time together with them as Suzi and I would love, so we cherish every moment we can get.

The Fun

We met Terry at their daughter’s house where she was finishing up a day of (grand)child care and headed out to dinner. Terry drove us to a favorite restaurant, and, after we were seated, she got Keith on a video call. He was at the airport overseas waiting to come home. So, Suzi and Terry visited across the table while I got to visit with Keith for awhile through the wonders of modern technology.

After dinner (the best pastrami sandwich I’ve ever had) we picked up our car and followed Terry to their house. Keith had built them a house in the woods on land his family had owned for a long time. Though we’ve known Keith and Terry for a long time and I remember conversations about how the project was coming along, we’d never seen their beautiful home in person. We were looking forward to it.

I knew the house was in the woods. I just didn’t know how deep in the woods it was. The fact that it was already dark when we drove back to the house probably contributed to the feeling that we were way off the beaten path. All we could see on the one-lane drive was Terry’s car in front of us and what was immediately within reach of our headlights. That included a deer, a opossum and trees, lots of trees.

We eventually wound around the last bend into the spot Keith had cleared for their home and onto the driveway. What a beautiful place!  Terry took us on a tour. We even got to see Terry’s sister who was visiting and her parents who live in the downstairs apartment Keith built for them. It is a beautiful home and we were so glad to finally see it in person.

Despite Terry’s urging to stay the night, Suzi and I needed to get more highway behind us before settling in for the night. Terry offered to lead us back out to the main road but we declined. I had GPS and the we didn’t remember the route being that complicated. That was a mistake.

The Dark Night in the Woods

We headed back out into the dark night in the woods chatting about how great it was to  spend time with Terry and video chat with Keith. Then we came to an intersection. Left, right, or straight? We couldn’t remember. Straight looked like someone’s long driveway. We couldn’t see anything to the left or to the right. How did we get lost that fast? It had only been a couple minutes since we left Terry.

My GPS was pointing us down what looked like the long driveway so we immediately lost confidence it that and looked for a sign we’d seen on the way in. We didn’t see it so we made a decision. I don’t even remember which way we turned. But it wasn’t the same way we’d come in. I was actually impressed by how calm we both were for two people who had confidently told our friend we could find our way back and, only moments later, were completely lost in the dark in the woods.

We made another turn and stopped short when we realized this was someone else’s driveway. I put it in reverse, just when I realized I couldn’t see well enough to back around that turn headlights came on in front of me.

“Oh, No!” I thought, “this guy is wondering what someone is doing way out here pulling into his driveway.”

Up drove a stern looking man on an ATV. I rolled down my window and said, “I’m sorry, sir. We were just visiting our friends, and are trying to get back to the main road. We turned here but this looks like a driveway so we were trying to back out.”

“Who are your friends?” he asked in a tone that sounded more like an accusation than a question, though I could understand why he’d be wary.

“Keith and Terry,” I answered.

His face softened and he said, “That’s my nephew. This is a driveway. It’s my driveway. But you can pull along in front of the house, keep driving past and it will take you down to the main road.”

“Thank you,” I replied in relief imagining what an idiot he must think I am. At that point I was inclined to agree.

We drove on following his directions and found the main road in short order. We made the rest of the drive to our overnight stop without incident. Whew!

The Power of Stories

How many different lessons could be learned from that story? Aside from what you may have learned about me that I didn’t want you to know, I’d be interested to know what points you think you could illustrate with that story.

Be A River

For the last several weeks We’ve been talking about personal growth. As we leave this general theme, it’s important to ask, “Why do we want to grow?” Several answers may come to mind. Growth is its own reward for example. We are intrinsically motivated to get better at things. It’s called the motivation of “mastery.” Another very practical reason for personal growth is that it potentially opens more opportunities in life. I would like to suggest a higher reason. This reason taps into another intrinsic motivator, “transcendent purpose” – the desire to be part of something bigger and more important than ourselves. That reason is that growing yourself enables you to grow others.

Be a River Not a Reservoir

John Maxwell and others talk about the difference between a life of success and a life of significance. Young entrepreneur and founder of the website greattoawesome.com, Anshul Kamath, described the difference like this:

  • Success is consuming existing knowledge, data and news for your benefit. Significance is doing something news worthy and creating knowledge that others can benefit from.
  • Success is being able to afford to send your kids to a good school. Significance is educating others.
  • Success is earning a steady income, saving and retiring happy. Significance is empowering others with employment and a livelihood.

Put another way, a life of success is like a reservoir, taking in to fill itself. A life of significance is like a river, taking in at one end and sending along at the other. In one sense a river is always growing (taking in) but there is always room for more because it is flowing that water to other bodies of water. In the words of the Ancient Greek Philosopher, Heraclitus,

“No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

How to Become a River

How can I make the transition from reservoir to river, from success to significance? Here are a few practical steps:

  1. Ask Benjamin Franklin’s daily questions:
    1. In the morning ask, “What good shall I do today?”
    2. In the evening ask, “What good have I done today?”
  2. Be grateful – the attitude of gratitude is the antidote to entitlement. Gratitude is the fundamental river mentality. When I see everything as a gift, it’s much easier to share it.
  3. Put people first – above stuff, position, or achievement. People are the pathway to the others, not in the sense of stepping on them to rise, but in the sense that everyone rises when you care for the people as your priority.
  4. Don’t let stuff own you – we are servants to that which we give ourselves. Better to serve people than stuff.
  5. Define success as sowing not reaping – ask, “how much have I given,” rather than, “how much did I get?”
  6. Keep giving – a river that stops giving is a reservoir. I refer you back to step 1.

We’ve spent the last 13 weeks talking about personal growth. We’ve talked about curiosity, rubber bands, poop, recipes and much more. This, however, is the capstone concept of personal growth. Growing yourself enables you to grow others. If you make it your goal to grow others, there will be no end to what you can become.

How to Make a Recipe for Growth

I don’t have a certificate from the American Institute of Baking qualifying me as a Master Baker, but I can turn out a pretty good chocolate chip cookie. How is that, you ask? The secret is I follow the “Toll House” recipe on the back of my bag of chocolate chips. I’ve done it enough times I even have the recipe memorized. I can gather the ingredients and tools and have the first batch out of the oven in 15 – 20 minutes. The recipe makes it possible for me to consistently bake good tasting chocolate chip cookies.

Best selling author and small business guru, Michael Gerber (The E-myth) says, “Systems permit ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results predictably. However, without a system, even extraordinary people find it difficult to achieve even ordinary results.” A recipe is a system. Systems consist of components (ingredients like flour, sugar, eggs and tools like bowls, a mixer, cookie sheets) and processes (like measuring out the ingredients, combining and mixing, and placing in the oven at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time). I’m an ordinary guy but my cookies are consistently pretty extraordinary.

A Recipe for Personal Growth

Entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker, Jim Rohn said, “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you. Not Much.” Yikes! That’s true. In someone else’s life plan you and I will be, at best, a rung on their ladder or a medal on their chest. Do you want to be someone’s rung or medal? Me either. Here’s one more quote from Jim Rohn:

If you want to have more, you have to become more.
For things to improve, you have to improve.
For things to get better, you have to get better.
For things to change, you have to change.
When you change, everything changes for you.

We have to grow into who we want to be. So we’ve got to have a system for personal growth, a recipe if you will. As Rohn says, we have to design our own life plan.

What Would You Like to Bake?

Suzi’s (my wife) favorite cake is Angel Food (she’s an angel after all!). I love chocolate cake. We’ve already talked about my cookies. Each of those is a baked product but it requires a very different recipe to achieve each one. Before you begin to bake, you have to decide what you want to eat. As Stephen Covey famously said, “Begin with the end in mind.”

The same is true for personal growth. Where do you want to grow? What skill or trait or vision of the future do you want to work on? That’s the beginning point of your personal growth recipe. The desired outcome determines the ingredients and processes required to get there.

Guidelines for Creating a Recipe

You’ve decided you want to grow in a certain area. Now you need a plan, the recipe. Here are some guidelines for creating your recipe.

  1. Measurement – how will you measure your progress? Make a checklist of the necessary elements in your growth plan and track your progress.
  2. Priorities – think proportions. How much time, energy, and money are you willing to invest in your goal? Remember, don’t prioritize your schedule. Schedule your priorities.
  3. Application – the heat of the oven transforms the recipe’s combined ingredients into a cake or cookies. In the same way, the heat of putting your skill, trait, or vision of the future into practice creates the necessary transformation in you. As soon as you learn something important, think, “Where can I use this?” “When can I use this?” “Who else needs to know this?” and take action on the answer to each of those questions.

Your recipe for growth may include classes, books, interviews, skills training, or other ingredients. It will involve exposing yourself to new things, educating yourself, and experiencing the opportunities your new skill, trait, or realized vision open for you. How you combine all these things is your recipe for personal growth. What do you want to bake?

Know Yourself to Grow Yourself

When you plan a trip you have to know at least two things. You need to know where you’re starting from and where you’re going. That’s true if you’re going to the grocery store or going across the country. It’s also true when we talk about personal growth. It’s true but the starting and ending points of personal growth are often far less obvious than are the two end points of a physical journey. That’s why we say you have to “know yourself to grow yourself.”

Knowing yourself is the starting point of your personal growth journey and it involves understanding what you want. There are three kinds of people when it comes to knowing what you want and doing it. First, there are those who don’t know. They are confused. Then, there are those who know but don’t do anything. They’re frustrated. Finally, there are those who know and make the journey. They are fulfilled. Which are you?

The really great thing is there is fulfillment in the personal growth journey itself, not just in arriving at the destination. If you think about it, when it comes to personal growth, when does one ever arrive?

To Know Yourself, Know Your Why?

A starting point for your personal growth journey is to understand your purpose. Knowing what to do becomes more clear when you know your “why.” How do you know your purpose, your why? I really like this exercise I learned from John Maxwell’s book Intentional Living. He suggests you can discover your “why” by asking the following questions:

  1. What do you Cry about? Almost everyone cries about things like the loss of a loved one (human or pet) or a broken relationship. So, the question is not what do you cry about? It’s, what do you cry about? What are the things that uniquely move you to tears? I’m a sap crier, not a sad crier. Don’t get me wrong, I cry about the normal things. But I tend to cry more about things that are moving. My family calls me a sap. So, I had to reverse engineer this to discover that I cry about Ignorance (when people don’t know that things could be better or how to make them better). I also cry about Estrangement (when relationships that should be wonderful are broken). Finally, I cry about Devaluation (I’m not talking about currency here. I’m talking about when people are written off as of having or bringing no value)
  2. What do you Sing about? Again, the emphasis is on you. What are the specific things that light you up to the point of wanting to sing? I get jazzed about discovery, when I see or help people learn the things that will transform their lives. I also want to sing when there is reconciliation, when those relationships that should be wonderful become wonderful again. Finally, I love it when those who’ve been written off are proven to be worthy. Call it redemption or transformation. I don’t care what we call it, I love it.
  3. What do you Dream about? This is not the big house, boat, or fancy car conversation. This is about what one thing, if you could change it, would make all the difference for you? I dream about spending the rest of my life launching leaders to live their legend.

So, Now What?

Comedian, Michael Jr. says, “To inspire people to walk in purpose is my Why. I can do comedy, write books, or be in a movie. They are ‘whats’ that are made more clear and impactful by my why.”

The next step in personal growth is to find some of your best “Whats.” Ask yourself,

“What are my strengths?”
“What are my weaknesses?”
“What are my interests?”
“What are my opportunities?”

In short, what do you like to do and/or want to do?

Now, ask some of your friends and family the same questions about you. They can validate or clarify especially the answers to the strengths and weaknesses questions. You may also find value in taking an assessment like the DISC analysis. I can help with that. I’m a certified DISC trainer. Feel free to contact me at jim@engagerdynamics.com. I’ll set you up with a web-based assessment that will give you a 30 page report outlining many helpful insights into your DISC personality profile. There is a small fee for this service, but it is well worth it.

Now it’s time to put it all together.

What’s Your Sweet Spot?

The next step in your personal growth journey is to identify what you’re great at? It may be natural talent or developed skill, but you’re good at it. You may like to do lots of things but there are a couple or one that you excel at. These are the things people tell you you’re good at but you don’t recognize it because it “comes naturally.”

Your sweet spot is where your passion (what you cry and sing about), your dream(s) (what you dream about) and your talent and skills intersect. When you’ve identified your sweet spot you have the “Know Yourself” part of “Know Yourself to Grow Yourself.” You’ve put a pin in the “Where am I now” part of your personal growth map. Now you can plan your growth to develop your sweet spot.

Growth Doesn’t Just Happen

Over the last three months I’ve been writing about Communication. In April the topic was “The Power of Connection” in four parts. May was four posts on Organizational Communication. Finally, last week I concluded a five part series on Listening. During the quarter that started this month, I want to shift themes from Communication to Personal Growth. It’s been said that “mastery” (the desire to get better at stuff) is one of a handful of intrinsic motivators. In other words, we are driven to grow and improve because of internal rewards (satisfaction) over external ones like prizes or recognition.

Leadership teacher, coach, and author John C. Maxwell,  among his many books, has written two that have been helpful to me on this topic. First is , The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, and the other is called Intentional Living: Choosing a Life that Matters. I highly recommend them both and if you were to read them you would recognize their influence in my writing during this quarter.

The First Law

The first of John’s invaluable laws of growth is the law of “Intentionality.” It’s also what the entire second book is about, living on purpose. The Law of Intentionality says, “Growth Doesn’t Just Happen.” You have to plan for it and work on it … on purpose.

My youngest two graduated from High School a year ago (wow! already). Our lives have changed in the evenings since that happened. While they were in school the evenings were filled with homework and preparation. That’s because the school had a curriculum and each course in that curriculum had a syllabus and each day had a lesson plan which included learning objectives. The school district was intentional about their learning and development (growth).

Once we graduate and the structured learning environment of school is gone, most of us are set adrift when it comes to personal growth. We find jobs or start businesses that may or may not have anything to do with our formal education. Then life is all about the daily tasks related to that job or business. But, as many experts will tell you, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” If that’s true, then in the scenario I just described, we’re dying.

Be Your own Board of Education

Because we no longer have others structuring our learning and growth for us, we need to develop our own personal growth plan.

Start with work. If you love your job (if you don’t, that’s another conversation) or aspire to a certain position, there are most likely job related certifications you can pursue. Research those and decide which ones you want and how to get them. There may even be organizations you can join that provide curriculum for your job development. In many cases an employer will pay for job related education and memberships. LinkedIn Premium has training available on a wide variety of topics as well.

How about Hobbies and personal interests? Set a goal. What do you want to be able to do by the end of the year? Find Youtube videos or online communities or local clubs that deal with that and start learning. Or go old school, like me, and buy books. Invest some time and money in yourself.

Finally, set a time and place to “study.” I get up at 5:15 every morning. After feeding the cat and letting the dog out, I pour a cup of coffee and sit down on the couch in the living room. I read for half an hour. I read a selection from two books. First, I read a chapter from the Bible progressing through a book. Then I read from whichever book is current on my list. It could be on a variety of subjects. After that, I write for half an hour. That’s when I work on these posts. I also have a couple of e-books on my phone that I read whenever I’m in line or waiting for my wife in a store.

There are other things I do and other things you could do. The main thing, though, is to start. Growth doesn’t just happen.