To improve is to overcome something that impedes our way forward; an obstacle or hurdle that blocks us from becoming better people and leaders. But improvement is an inside game. Getting better at anything requires a personal confrontation. Learning how to get out of our own way is what defines our lifelong journey to self-improvement. And over time, the rewards of perseverance translate to much more than can be measured by a P & L statement or balance sheet.
The Hurdle of Self:
The law of change requires that we first adopt new levels of awareness. In fact, all change begins with awareness. Robert Greenleaf, in his excellent work “The Servant as Leader”, notes that leaders who do not have a sharp awareness of what is going on around them, outside of their spheres of inward thinking, are not leading at all. Instead, they are leaders in name only. Such leaders resort to reactionary measures, and thus lack precious time and energy to implement new and creative solutions. They and their organizations often take on the melodramatic mindset that their demise is the fault of problems “out there”.
My own journey has often been interrupted by this mindset. Looking back it’s frustrating to think that I could have made better decisions, especially when there was a lot to be gained (which was almost always). It’s clear in hindsight that I had never learned the discipline of confronting myself and questioning my assumptions. My mindset was capped and I was emotionally disabled. It took a lot of effort to get the right people into my life and begin reading and studying what great leaders do to break these cycles. Awareness takes practice. It is a discipline.
To overcome self and adopt higher and more productive levels of awareness, consider Greenleaf’s observations regarding the art of withdrawal: “The ability to withdraw and reorient oneself, if only for a moment, presumes that one has learned the art of systematic neglect, to sort out the more important for the less important – and the important from the urgent – and attend to the more important, even though there may be penalties and censure for the neglect of something else.”
This is timeless and priceless counsel for leaders committed to success! Getting out of our own way requires that we stop and reflect, regardless of what those around us have come to expect of us. Behaviors can often become a byproduct of others’ expectations when our awareness is overshadowed by habitual busyness. Quiet times of reflection are a leader’s refuge. It is perhaps, the only place we can gain the clarity and the ability to say NO to the many good choices that present themselves, so we can say YES to the few great ones that have the most impact.
The Hurdle of Fear:
Fear comes naturally to most of us. It is natural and acceptable as part of our humanity, but it can be paralyzing. Being “fear-less” is not realistic, but learning how to overcome fear is not! Of a leader’s two most important attributes (unconditional respect for those we lead being the first), steadfast resolve is the one most difficult to achieve, usually because of fear.
Steadfast resolve is ability and willingness to confront poor behavioral or performance issues with discretion and unwavering commitment. It is a skill developed by habitually focusing on the big-picture, the vision we have for the unrecognized potential of our organizations. When established standards have been compromised by poor performance or bad behavior, steadfast leaders know they must quickly and conclusively confront it, without hesitation. But here’s the catch, at the same time, these leaders work and practice at finding the middle ground between cold indifference and compassionate intervention. These are what author Jim Collins refers to as Level-5 leaders who “Build(s) enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.”
Fear almost always evolves out of the potential loss of something important to us – respect, privacy, friendships, relationships etc. It is a function of personal security and safety; an inward focus so natural and instinctive to human nature that it often leads to inaction. But, what if we purposefully shifted our mindset toward an outward view, beyond our fears? What happens in those defining moments determines a person’s ability to grow or stay stagnant. The same is true for their organizations,
Inward focus fosters selfish motives and reactionary behavior, such as the temptation to impose more stringent rules and regulations. Outward focus fosters selflessness and a perspective that values others as significant and worthy of our respect and support. Gaining such perspective takes discipline and time, but personal confrontations like this are a necessary step to growth and lasting improvement.
The Hurdle of Busyness:
Busyness goes with the territory of leadership. But uncontrolled busyness is a leader’s worst enemy. Busyness must have purpose and direction to be productive. As the philosopher Johann Goethe has so appropriately said, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” What matters most to you? Are your activities and your schedule reflective of those things?
A good exercise to help overcome the tyranny of busyness is to test your assumptions by gaining a clear understanding of what is most important to you. It is a question of having to do with core values, the non-negotiable principles we live our lives by and, presumably, will not compromise. There is irony here. Until we have done the necessary wrestling with this question, we cannot know what and where those boundaries are, and therefore, cannot make the best decisions when clarity and decisiveness are required – which is almost every moment of every day.
Without a clear picture of our unique ‘most important’, busyness hijacks our best intentions. While most leaders (especially in smaller organizations) must spend a significant amount of time managing, none of them can allow their leadership duties to be subordinated to those of their management role!
To gain new perspective and overcome your growth hurdles, take our 60 Core Values assessment here. You will likely find that this often ignored exercise will challenge you like few others, and upset your status-quo in the process. Knowing what you stand for could be the new beginning to lasting personal growth and leadership excellence that you and your organization have been looking for!
Legacy Business Leaders is a business coaching and leadership training firm that works globally with builders and remodelers to re-chart their goals, learn key business disciplines and capitalize on the Legacy Process for success and long-term profitability. They can be reached at the email above or by phone at 330.470.1300