By its very nature, improvement means overcoming something that impedes our way forward; an obstacle or hurdle that blocks us from becoming better people and leaders. Improvement is an inside game, which means getting better at anything, personally or professionally first requires a confrontation with oneself. It is a journey; one that never ends. And along the way its rewards translate to much more than can be measured by a P & L statement or balance sheet. It is our legacy that is at stake and most often blocked by one of three common hurdles:
The Hurdle of Self:
The law of change requires that we first to 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 foresight, that is, 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 been thwarted by this type of mindset many times. Though it is not something I’m proud of, over time I have gained awareness of its insidious and self-limiting power to hijack my best intentions. 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 first, regardless of what our environment tends to demand of us. habitually giving in to those demands confines us to mediocrity. Withdrawal is the only refuge we have from the daily grind, and perhaps the only place we can gain the clarity and the ability to say NO to the many good choices that present themselves, while carefully looking for, and saying YES to, the few great ones that have the most long-term impact on our lives and organizations.
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. 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 knowing when and where to say NO. It is learning and practicing the skill of standing in the gap and confronting poor performance and bad behavior quickly and conclusively. Practicing steadfast resolve can seem like an unscalable mountain. Getting on the other side of it means facing conquering our fear; fear of confrontation, fear of rejection, of failure, of loss. Conquering fear though does not mean being without fear. It does mean learning how to respond to it by looking outward vs inward.
Our fears are usually about ourselves and what we have to lose. Considering this natural tendency, what if we shifted our mindset to what other people – those we lead for example – or our organizations, have to lose as a result of our lack of action based on fear? 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. Gaining such perspective takes discipline and time, but it is the first step to personal 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 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 business is to test our assumptions by gaining a clear understanding of what is most important to us. That can be a struggle since most of us go through life without ever confronting and answering the question. 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. The irony though lies in the fact that until we have done the necessary wrestling with this question, we cannot know where those boundaries are, and therefore, cannot make the best decisions when clarity and decisiveness are required of us. Presumptuousness doesn’t cut it if we are committed to outgrow old and unproductive behaviors.
To gain new perspective and overcome your growth hurdles, take our 60 Core Values assessment here, and begin or renew your journey to lasting personal growth and leadership excellence. You and your organization deserve it!
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. We can be reached at the email above or by phone at 330.470.1300.