This past year, I have been blessed to serve as a coach in our Transformational Leadership Program (TLP). Once again, I have experienced the fact that the teacher learns right alongside his or her students, and often learns even more.

When our third class of TLP participants started the program June 1, 2014, the “finish line” seemed too far away to even imagine, that somehow, by May 31, 2015, lives would be transformed and changed for the better. Yet here we are approaching the finish line in just a few days. But is it a finish line? More on that later.

As a TLP participant, the journey involved four key phases or steps: evaluation and assessment, identification of areas for growth and improvement, development of goals and plans, and executing or working on the goals and plans. There is also a fifth key phase or step. But again, more on that later.

First step: Learn about yourself. To identify possible areas for improvement, each participant engaged in two assessments. The Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) which is useful for understanding natural preferences for focusing your attention, taking in data and information, making decisions, and dealing with the outer world. The Leadership Attributes Evaluation (LAE) is a 360 degree assessment of 20 key leadership attributes or behaviors ranked on a scale of 1 (rarely exhibits) to 4 (almost always exhibits). The most “surprising” leadership attribute for most participants is “vulnerability” which is willingness to admit when you’re wrong, or do not know an answer, or are concerned or afraid, or need help. And to honestly engage in these assessments and accept the self-insight offered required participants to be vulnerable indeed.

Second step: Identify areas for growth and improvement. As the coach, my role has been to help TLP participants identify the areas in their lives in which they both needed and wanted to get better. Most participants identified the need to become more “visible” as leaders, and more consistently engaged day-to-day in business development and people development. But notice I didn’t say “professional lives” as if our lives are neatly organized into “silos” of professional, personal, family, etc. Improvement in one aspect of your life will positively impact every aspect of your life. For example, implementing a regular exercise program will provide increased positive mental and physical energy needed to take on the challenges of business and people development.

Third step: Set goals and plans. There is much to say about the importance of goal setting, but three key words or phrases apply: prioritize and focus, get specific, and tell others. Participants were urged not to work on everything at the same time. Having too many goals is “self-sabotage” and setting yourself up for failure. Priority and focus is achieved by setting no more than three goals. The goals were put in writing and were “honed” and made more specific by objectively defining “what” success looks like, “who” will be alongside watching performance and progress, and “by when” the goals will be accomplished. Finally, participants were encouraged to tell others about their goals. Telling others has a two-fold purpose: It makes the goals “real” – they’re “out there” and somebody may ask how it’s going, and you don’t want to say “not good.” And it inspires others around you to set goals and get to work on their areas for betterment and improvement.

Fourth step: Get to work. Once the goal setting is in place, the only thing left is “goal achievement.” Two key areas were addressed during the TLP: building skills and getting to work on the goals. Through various webinars and two on-site workshops, participants learned about change management, ownership, goal setting, communication, successfully handling conflict, business development, people development and CPA firm economics. In addition to knowledge and skill building, the coaching process provided ongoing feedback, and helped participants break their goals down into smaller, more “achievable” steps, and establish shorter, more intermediate “by when” dates. “Scary” first steps were taken. Fears were faced. Difficult conversations that needed to take place happened. As work progressed, goals were “refined” and made more specific, by when dates adjusted, and expectations reset. And telling others caused the goals to stay in focus and not fall through the cracks.

But let’s get real: Step 4 is hard and only gets harder. Habits and lifetime patterns are hard to break, and our natural preferences are a challenge to overcome. On top of that, the unexpected happens. And if that’s not enough, spring busy season comes along at the “worst” time during TLP just when “real” progress is starting to happen.

Getting to April 15th takes its toll, as things that don’t have an April 15th deadline are deferred or extended or not done at all. Then the little negative internal voice goes to work and it’s not very kind, saying something like: “You thought you were becoming a better delegator and business developer, a regular exerciser and more visible leader. But you folded under the pressure of tax season. You thought you had it “going on” but you didn’t. Give up. It’s just not happening for you. Not now. Not ever…”

Step 5: Try, try again. Don’t listen to that rubbish. It’s OK to stop for a while, as long as you start over. Getting better, growing, and learning are life time pursuits. You do get “credit” for what you were doing and accomplishing before tax season. That progress and success was real. Pick yourself up, start over and in the familiar words of American educator, T.H. Palmer:

    'Tis a lesson you should heed,
    If at first you don't succeed, try, try again;

    Then your courage should appear, for if you will persevere,
    You will conquer, never fear, try, try again;

In a few days, the May 31st TLP finish line will be crossed, and the next leg of the journey will begin. For me as the coach, the end of TLP 2014-2015 is bittersweet. I will miss the opportunity for regular interaction with my assigned TLP participants, whom I now call life-time friends. But I am so happy and proud of each one of them, and admire their courage and vulnerability as leaders.

I have been blessed by our time together. I hope and trust that I was able to encourage, inspire and teach each one of them. But I know for a fact that each one of them did that for me! If you have ideas or experiences to share on the process of coaching, getting better, and starting over again, please post them so others can benefit.

Best regards,