Business owners hit some point early in the process of building their business where they lament being unable to replicate themselves. This is even more so when the business owner has some innate skill that helped propel the business forward.
Executives hit the same point, many because they struggle to control their control freakishness. “Give me that, I’ll do it myself.” I never said they had learned leadership, but most of us have had to learn the art of coaching, mentoring, and delegating because we realize we can’t do it ALL.
Sometimes we enjoy using the phrase to illustrate why we’re so important and how nobody else can do it as well as we can (which isn’t the point really). I mean, when our kids are growing up learning to talk and walk, we’re certainly able to talk and walk better than they can (I hope), but it’s not about us. It’s about them learning to do those things for themselves. It’s about their growth. So it goes with our role as leaders – to help influence others to develop more fully.
But today, we’re talking about personal growth. Personal improvement. Personal change for the better. Today, it’s all about YOU, not others. It’s about your commitment to yourself.
Poll people – I have – and you’ll likely not find a single person willing to admit they’re not devoted to self-improvement. We all say, “Yes, I’m committed.”
Now ask the bigger question, “What do you do that would illustrate your devotion?”
Some of the answers I get have included:
- “I read books.” (or “I listen to books” or “I read online articles”)
- “I watch videos” (or “I listen to podcasts” or “I take online courses”)
- “I’m taking a class” (sometimes college courses, sometimes some online professional development course)
- “I’m earning my MBA” (or some other professional advanced degree)
Most often I get stammering. Or a puzzled look. As quickly as everybody confirms their devotion to their own growth, they just as quickly hit a brick wall in their brain to articulate what they’re doing to grow or improve.
Now, the third question is the acid test. “Other than the time or homework involved, describe the challenge you’re presented to grow.”
That one almost always gets a stall for time, “What do you mean?”
“I mean, how are you challenged by the activity to make changes.”
More stammering and yammering. Most often followed by something generic, but professional-sounding like, “It pressure tests my thinking.” Deeper dives don’t often reveal very much.
In my completely unscientific survey, I’d estimate that 70% of the people eventually admit that the activity isn’t serving them very well at all. Sometimes they admit they entered the activity with high hopes it might provide some benefit, but mostly, it doesn’t.
Doing The Work Versus Checking The Box
My clients usually lament when our time together is coming to an end. Try as I might to prepare them for life beyond our coaching session, many of them know the experience is so unique it may never be replicated. My objective is to provide a framework – a process of thinking – where they’ll be able to fly solo or be more intentional in the organic relationships they have by finding people with whom they can be safe. And people who are safe around them.
Coaching clients who maximize our time together – and that’s almost 100% of them – never approach this work with a “check the box” mentality. But we always begin with me telling them our journey won’t go from step 1, to step 2 all the way to step 30, after which I’ll print off some framable certificate of completion. I jokingly tell everybody, “There won’t be any certificates after our time together.” I meet people right where they are and work hard to quickly help them figure out their ideal outcome. The rest of our time together is spent helping them figure out how to do the work to make that ideal outcome a reality. The clients always do the heavy lifting. Or not.
I walk into the office. It’s an enormous office of a CEO of a manufacturing company. There are two large bookcases filled with books. After we greet each other, I’m like a moth to a flame heading toward the bookcases. I comment about one title, inquiring what the CEO feels about that book. “I haven’t read that one yet,” he says. I scan the shelf and grab another title, holding it up, I say, “This one is really good.” He says, “Yeah, I need to read that one, too.” I quit while I’m only behind 2-0. My conclusion? This CEO wants the books on the shelf but is much less interested in reading them. So it goes with some people and their dedication to their own self-improvement.
Maybe It’ll Just Happen
No, it won’t. Your life won’t just get better. There are forces required and those forces are mostly influenced by your efforts. What evidence do you have that you’re actually doing the work? Your feelings don’t count. Sorry.
High-performance cultures and anything else labeled “high performance” aren’t restricted to collective professional pursuits. In fact, it starts with individuals. You could say, it begins at home with each one of us accepting responsibility for ourselves. If we’re going to have the biggest impact to serve others, we must take on the job of improving ourselves, which starts with increasing and improving our accountability to ourselves.
High impact influence doesn’t just happen. It results from dedicated daily work. But the work must be work that pays off – work that moves the needle in the right direction. Otherwise, it’s just motion. Or effort without any indicators if it’s effective or not.
How will you know you’re growing if you don’t measure? If you’re not keeping some kind of score?
I have an annual physical. The first thing is measuring height (to see how much I’m shrinking as I get older) ;), then weight (to see how much weight I need to lose) ;), then blood pressure (always good), and heart rate (also, always good). Then comes the deeper dive – donating vials of blood so the full blood panel workup can be performed. Within 24 hours I’ve got more numbers than I’m able to count. Thankfully, my doctor gives me a summary, and the numbers of my results are always put alongside the acceptable range so I know if some number is out of whack.
Until these things are measured – and then compared to what is healthy and what the past results were – there’s no way to know if physically things are about the same, better or worse. And more seriously, there’s no way to know if I might be having problems I’m unaware of or problems that might be on the horizon.
Fearful there may be something wrong, too many people shy away from such medical procedures. “What I don’t know won’t hurt me” too often gives way to “What I didn’t know may now kill me.” Don’t be foolish with your physical health. Or your mental health. Or your spiritual health. Or with your life in general. Be courageous enough to figure out the score so you can know – with some degree of certainty – that you’re improving. Or at the worst, that you’re not sliding backward.
Some of you may be spreadsheet freaks. When I was responsible for the daily operations of businesses (other than my current coaching practice), I’d live in Excel. Looking at the daily, weekly, monthly, and annual numbers was just a way of life so I could spot patterns and trends. My goal was to quickly spot opportunities and challenges. The faster I could see a trend that I could take advantage of, the greater the success of the organization. The faster I could spot trouble, the more quickly I could steer away from potential losses.
I don’t spend my days doing that these days, but I still measure things. Things that are meaningful in my current work. Mostly, for me, it’s in the form of notes. Lots of notes. Notes on dates and times of meetings with clients. How much time we spent together. The challenges they’re facing. What actions they’re taking to tackle those challenges. The opportunities they now see and what they’re doing to take full advantage of them. Notes about what may be happening with them personally. A lot of information to help me be a better guide for them as together we try to figure these things out. The overreaching goal is their ideal outcome. Together, we must determine if we’re moving closer to that outcome or further away from it. Some days it feels like we may not know so we visit about how we might be able to better measure it. When you’re working on improving yourself not everything is so easily quantifiable. But still, we try.
If you thought executive coaching was simply a bunch of conversations, then you should know the truth. It’s hard work. I’d argue some of the most profitable work you can do because it’s YOUR life, professionally and personally. There are sessions where clients (and me, too) are drained due to the strain of what’s happening in their life. There are sessions where there’s an abundance of pondering as together we ask questions for which we have no answers. But we want to go find the answers. There are sessions where there’s an epiphany – big answers that come flying to the forefront. None of that happens without a client who is willing to be vulnerable, connected, highly engaged and accepting the challenge to work hard. Those aren’t difficult when clients understand THEY benefit most from the work. It’s all about them. Their life. Their career. Their leadership. Their growth. If we’re unwilling to put in the work for ourselves, then I’d argue we’re unfit for leadership because we’re certainly not going to serve others if we’re unwilling to serve ourselves.
In the Bible, there’s a passage directed to husbands to love their wives as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for her. Ephesians 5:28-30 “Even so ought husbands also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his own wife loveth himself: for no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as Christ also the church; because we are members of his body.”
The principle is true and accurate. A man who beats his wife is despicable. On every level. Husbands should love their wives as they love their own body. Righteous or good men don’t hate themselves or their wives. Good leaders don’t neglect their own growth thinking they can help their people grow while they neglect themselves. It never works that way.
Show me a leader unwilling to work on themselves and I’ll show you a boss, not a leader. And their effectiveness as a boss won’t likely be very high-performing either.
High impact influence isn’t about perfection, but growth. It’s about showing up at the doctor’s office on your annual physical in better shape than you were before. It’s about making the numbers trend in all the right directions. And when they’re not, it’s about accepting responsibility to do everything your power to improve them. Otherwise, improvement and growth will never happen. You’ll remain stuck and not for too long because the world will notice your lack of positive influence. The void you leave in serving others will be filled by somebody better than you. Somebody willing to accept the responsibilities you’re not yet willing to accept. Somebody unwilling to blame others. Somebody who refuses to be a victim.
Today, I’m challenging you to be that somebody. Why not? What’s stopping you? Nothing. It’s just up to you to make your mind.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!