Four Simple, Yet Challenging Steps To Personal Growth

I am so fortunate to spend my days developing transformational leadership in others.  Doing so is a privilege and it causes me to face the many things that I can improve in my own leadership along the way.  Often, my work requires that I discuss difficult performance challenges with others.  My desire is always the same – to inspire those I’m coaching to change their mindset and generate a breakthrough in new behavior that enables them to overcome their challenges.

I have been thinking a lot lately about what I am really asking these leaders to do.  In this blog, I want to share my thoughts on four simple, yet challenging steps that lead to real performance improvement and growth.

Step One:  Facing and Owning It

“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”   - James Arthur Baldwin

The first step to driving real personal growth is to openly assess your “current state” and face your areas for improvement.  You can do this by taking a personal inventory, conducting a personal SWOT analysis, or asking for the input of others.  Some questions to ask include:

  • What are my top three leadership strengths?
  • What are three specific things you would like to see me improve or change in my leadership?
  • What more can I do to contribute to our team?
  • What more can I do to contribute to you?

If you’re in a position of authority, or have a “commanding presence,” you may be too scary for others to give you feedback directly.  In that case, you may need to have an outside party facilitate the input process and allow the feedback to be delivered anonymously to ensure that you get the “full story” related to your performance.

Once you’ve gathered this input, including your self assessment, look for:

  • Themes where the feedback is consistent
  • Areas for improvement that appear to disappoint, upset or alienate others
  • Places where your own self concept differs from the feedback of others – where there is an obvious gap in your view of yourself as compared to others

From this, choose no more than three areas you plan to improve over the course of the next year

Step Two:  Sharing It

“There is one elementary truth … that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.” -W.H. Murray

The next step to personal improvement is to openly discuss the insights you’ve gained about your leadership performance with your supervisor (if applicable), peers, subordinates and at-home supporters.  When you do, avoid rationalizing, minimizing or blaming others.  Instead, take responsibility and acknowledge that something you’ve been doing, or not doing, has caused these perceptions and impacts to others.

When you share your areas for improvement, also share what your commitment is to improve.  Leave space for others to share their views and make suggestions.  Some may try to let you off the hook.  Others will acknowledge how your areas for improvement have impacted them or what they’d like to see change.  When you share openly, you’ll experience several leadership breakthroughs, including:

  • Opening up honest, vulnerable communication – which can inspire hope and respect in others.
  • Eliminating any “back room” talk that may exist about your areas for improvement – they are no longer a secret.
  • Enrolling others in supporting you in the changes you commit to.
  • Developing an expectation that you will change which will help propel you to do so.
  • Giving others permission to speak up about your areas for improvement again in the future if they experience them again.

Step Three: Improving It 

“The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you're willing to pay the price.”  -Vince Lombardi

When you’ve identified your primary areas for improvement and have shared your insights and plans to improve with others, then have to undertake the hard work to break old habits and shift your mindset to your new and desired way of thinking and behaving.  This is much easier said than done and the effort and specific steps you’ll take will vary significantly depending on the areas you’ve committed to develop and improve.

During this phase, it is best to identify small steps you can take with specific milestone dates or checkpoints you can use to measure your progress.  Ask an internal or external coach to meet with you on the milestone dates to share your progress or discuss roadblocks and ways to overcome them.

It may also help to stagger your change efforts across your three areas for improvement so that you do not take on too many change commitments at once, which can cause overwhelm and frustration.

Step Four: Re-Assessing It

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” -Ken Blanchard

Establish a date six months to a year from your self-improvement start date to formally re-assess.  Offer those who provided the initial feedback an opportunity to honestly evaluate your progress.  Assess what you’ve accomplished and what still needs to be improved in your three focal areas.  Identify new areas where you can improve and begin the four-step process again.

Great leaders commit to continual improvement – to always get better.  When you do, you’ll engender respect and admiration and inspire others to follow a similar path.   So, what’s holding you back?  What do you find most challenging about the self-improvement process?  What are your tips for managing change and improvement?  We’re interested!