The results we love often come from the processes we hate. Fall in love with the process and the results will come. – Unknown
Exceptional leadership is a daily act, not a position or title we hold. In fact our leadership is merely the measure of the influence and impact our cumulative actions have had on the world; some positive, some not. Taking this into consideration, it should bring us great hope. Because leadership is not a one-time act, each day we have an opportunity to either grow forward or drift backwards. Each day is a clean slate!
So then, how do we go about improving our actions to increase our influence and impact? The answer is far from straight forward; however, a good place to start is by unpacking our understanding of the cycle of growth. To begin, we all have a set of beliefs that fuel our thoughts. Those thoughts fuel our feelings, which fuel our actions. Our actions then fuel our results – namely, in the case of leadership, our influence and impact on our families, workplaces, communities, and the broader world.
Therefore, if we examine and solidify our beliefs, become aware of our thoughts and their impact, and apply what we learn from the process, we can gain great momentum in improving our leadership.
Despite the fact that many have an inner sense of such a process, why do we not see more positive change in our world? Once again the factors are numerous, but let’s take a look at three.
- IT TAKES CONSISTENT EFFORT OVER SUFFICIENT TIME
Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle. – Napolean Hill
With a current modern day culture dominated by a “fast food, convenience store, and microwave mentality,” we have come to expect food deliveries in “10 minutes or less or your money back.” If we can’t get free overnight shipping, we search elsewhere for the products we desire. Sometimes I even find myself contemplating finding an alternative gas station when I have to wait behind one car to get to the pump!
Growth does not happen this way despite our attempts to cram it into this box. We often think, “read the right book or get the right mentor – the foremost expert in a certain area” and growth is guaranteed! Unfortunately, growth does not come with our expected “30 day money back guarantee.” As is said about success, “it is dressed up in overalls and disguised as hard work.”
The reality of personal leadership growth is that it is a process not a destination. In fact, our growth mirrors much of the growth process of a plant. First, we plant a seed — a new idea or belief. Then we frequently add water, nutrients, and sunlight — evaluation, research, and contemplation. Weeds will show up that we need to pluck — old habits and previously held beliefs. Finally, after sufficient time, along with the pain of working up through the soil, a plant blooms and produces fruit — new actions that drive improved results. In most agricultural regions of the world you get one, sometimes two, of these cycles in a year; yet we often try to take on 30 changes in a day. Unfortunately, this opposes our underlying biological wiring for growth. Our brains require similar “growing seasons” to eliminate old neural (thinking) pathways and create new ones which allow us to integrate new habits of success.
Without being fully aware, we may slowly become conditioned to avoid anything that takes time, allowing our desire for the quick and easy to usurp the focus and commitment it will take to accomplish our greatest aspirations.
What does this look like? Checking our email for the urgent, before taking time to plan and prioritize our days. Making decisions before doing sufficient research and proper thinking; therefore making decisions based on unfiltered emotions shaped more by culture than internal conviction. Canceling our personal growth sessions, whether they be an hour of personal process time, seeking wise counsel, or groups such as this. We commit to these things knowing their importance when nothing is pressing in on us, but then allow the perceived chaos of the day to day to break our commitment. The irony is that we put off the only thing that can affect the chaos, and so remain exhausted. We experience life as if we are on a hamster wheel. Isn’t it time to push the stop button and back away slowly?
- IT TAKES FAILURE, WHICH REQUIRES TRANSPARENCY
Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be. – John Wooden
One of the greatest inhibitors of growth is our perception of failure. There are many assumptions we often accept about failure that are simply untrue. These assumptions birth feelings of fear, grief, disappointment, and frustration. In avoidance, we put on a facade, never really embracing the truth transparently and therefore handicap ourselves from our creativity and innovation to solve what’s at hand. Let’s look at some key assumptions and their consequences.
- We believe we are only as good as our ideas. Often times we are unaware of the fact that we tie the failure of an idea or action to the thought that we ourselves are failures. This “judgement of self” vs. “judgement of the action” binds us to feelings of worry, frustration, shame, and confusion that restrict us from moving forward.
- We believe we are inadequate. We bear a heavy burden of being enough: smart enough, professional enough, strong enough, and the list goes on. These internal sabotages first keep us from being transparent with ourselves and
owning “real” issues. They next keep us from seeking input from others, feeling we may be judged as less than. We rationalize that we can figure this out on our own! If we do seek input, we often leave out key details in an attempt to “not look so bad.” This limits the effectiveness of our input, ultimately keeping us stuck.
- We believe pain is bad and to be avoided. Failure always brings discomfort, often to the point of true pain. Whether it be emotional, as in embarrassment, or something more tangible, such as loss of promotion or meeting quarterly targets, failure is never pleasant. We realize that to grow from the failure will often require us to move into new and uncharted territory. It takes great courage and self-control to be uncomfortable without yielding to negative reaction.
All three of these assumptions cause us to avoid taking action outside our current comfort zone in an attempt to prevent failure. We become limited by our current level of thinking, which brought us into the current challenge we face. What would happen if we could lay these assumptions aside and adopt the phrase John Maxwell recently used to describe growth: “Healthy Hypocrisy”? Can we stand in a place of grace and acceptance of our own humanity, knowing that our knowledge of what to do will not always match our actions? Can we humbly accept that our current level of understanding will often not match what is necessary to solve a challenge? This freedom will spawn the courage to take our focus off what others may think and adopt the tenacity of Thomas Edison when he proclaimed, “I have not failed. I have simply found 10,000 ways that did not work.” This will allow us to embrace the joy of discussion around our perceived failures so as to discover the answers we need, all while enjoying the journey and connection along the way. What would need to shift in your current thinking to embrace “Healthy Hypocrisy”?
- IT TAKES A PROPERLY MOTIVATED CHOICE
Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.- John F. Kennedy
Have you ever heard someone in your life say, “Stop trying to change me!”? Unfortunately, I have heard this one too many times from my precious husband when I have projected my frustration of a current situation solely on him to “fix.” Although there is validity in some of my suggestions on how change could potentially bless our life, just as there is validity in much leadership literature, the truth is I can’t change my husband, nor can leadership literature change us. For true growth to happen we must consistently choose to embrace the process and repeatedly take “next action steps.”
It is true that no one else can change us; only we can change ourselves. It must be a willful choice. Choosing to change however is only half the equation. Choosing to change for the right reasons is the other! For every possible change in our life we face two motivations in which to approach it. The first is from of a place of “supposed to”, which is influenced by cultural and external expectations. The second is “want to”, which is influenced by an internal desire to live in alignment with our core values and reach our potential.