Here is the premise I would ask you to accept: The most impactful thing you can do to improve as a leader is to work directly on your own skills and understanding of leadership. It is not working on the people on your team, not tracking goals and targets, not prioritizing and optimizing…it is working on your own skills as an influencer and leader.
If there is one secret to exceptional leadership, this is it. Exceptional leaders consider constant self-improvement to be a top priority. It is really as simple as that. Average leaders say the right things, buy the right books, use the current clichés, maybe even go to a seminar every once in a while; but they don’t actually get better over time.
Look around your organization. You will see supposed leaders who are exactly the same as they were five or ten years ago. They don’t have new skills, they don’t have improved ways of doing things, and they don’t realize it is part of their job to get better over time. Do they have seven years of experience or just one year repeated seven times?
Working on yourself means purposely doing and learning things that will make you a better leader/manager/person. Most of the classic leadership books are intensely focused on this idea but, regrettably, self-improvement has, for the most part, left the business section of the bookstore and re-rooted itself in the pop psychology isle.
Why has this shift happened? There are probably many reasons. One is that we, as managers, simply prefer to think that big improvements will come from other people changing rather than thinking that we can (and should) grow ourselves to earn these business gains. Another reason may be that we forget that we are the constants in our business. There is going to be considerable change and churn in most of today’s organizations. When managing in this environment, you will usually do best by managing the constants, and that starts with you.
Perhaps a valuable core belief would be that we could all expect bigger outcomes, bigger opportunities, bigger leverage points, and bigger possibilities if we focused on becoming bigger people. This belief says that over time I can actually increase my capacity to lead. Capacity is important in leadership and it is not changed easily; but when it is successfully increased, a leader has every right to confidently expect more success for him/herself and their team.
Most of the prevailing ideas we all have about management and leadership are rooted in the concept that good managers and leaders are effective because they know how to get people to do the things that they need to do for the company, division, department, district, etc. to succeed.
While I do agree it is certainly true a manager who can effectively organize and measure people’s efforts and activities will be seen as a successful manager, I would also argue not continuing to stay relevant will make for a short shelf life for any leader.
Because of that, the impact of “working on yourself” is often lost or under-emphasized. I believe most of the current information and training on management misses this most powerful and reliable way to improve your results. The idea of working on yourself as a growth strategy isn’t often leveraged. At least not for average leaders.
Take a few minutes right now. Close the door, mute the phone, put the computer in sleep mode. What are the 3 things you need to be better at to be more effective in your role? Where are you coasting? What is the upside to consistent self-improvement? Whatever you come up with, I know this…the upside can be life-changing.