One of my areas of passion is helping leaders grasp this reality: if you don’t pay attention to leading yourself first, you can’t effectively lead people, or lead a business. You need to invest in personal development and inspiring yourself if you are going to practice effective leadership and do the same for others. It’s an inside out job.

Personal development is at the core of being a great leader

Part of my journey as a coach, leader and business founder has been the ongoing revelation of just how important personal development is. 

In essence, your business is a reflection of you as a leader. The patterns and potential that you see in your business, whether positive or challenging, are a reflection of your leadership style — and of what you are, or are not, doing as a leader.

If, for example, you’re concerned that the level of accountability in your team members is inconsistent, it’s vital to reflect on how well you are empowering others and building trust. If your customer conversations are not working as you’d expect them to, changing that can only begin when you reflect on the standards you’ve set and the communication skills you’ve built. 

You are the architect of your business, department or team, and owning the results comes with a leadership role. It’s not about fault or blame, it’s about the responsibility you take as a good leader through honest personal reflection. 

Overcoming obstacles of personal development

When was the last time you learnt something new? Or challenged yourself in an area in which you have no prior experience or knowledge? It’s quite uncomfortable. Growth can be quite uncomfortable.

Most of us like to be experts. We like to be good at things fast. We want immediate feedback and responses that demonstrate levels of mastery, but the reality of learning new things is that it takes time and effort. Learning is a long term process. It can be easier to quit, rather than persevere.

When you’re learning something new you will often fail or run into challenges and this will make you feel uncomfortable. Most of us think at this juncture that we are on the wrong track, that feeling uncomfortable is an indication that the path is not right. We want to look good and feel good. Our desire to stay in our comfort “safe” zone is itself a barrier to growth. 

Here’s the thing, that uncomfortable feeling is the signal that you’re in a growth stage, and that’s a good thing for career development and personal development. This is when you need to lean into that feeling and be at peace with the fact that you’re going through a process. You’ve got to experiment, explore your mindset, trial new behaviours and build up your new skills. Growth will happen over time provided you’re prepared to open yourself up to the process, and, of course, practice, practice, practice is what eventually leads to mastery.

Measuring personal growth for effective leadership

As with any undertaking, success comes with ownership and accountability. Organisational issues must be addressed too, but there’s no point looking everywhere else — it’s better to look at yourself first and ask ‘how is my behaviour contributing to this result?’ That is one of the hallmarks of strategic leadership. Once you’ve acknowledged that, then you’re able to implement change over the aspects only you can control before you move to the other parts of the system. 

Developing references and benchmarks for personal growth can be a great first step for strategic leaders. A task-oriented approach, or a framework, can be a good way of making personal growth an experience to work through rather than something to avoid. I highly recommend creating a roadmap based around these four key elements:

  • Mindset shift: change your point of view from being an expert to being an expert learner.
  • Behaviour shift: Be curious, ask questions, be open to change. Select a behaviour you want to demonstrate better.
  • Capabilities/skills: Focus on one core skill at a time to improve. 
  • Process: What structure will you put in place to invest time and effort and make it happen?

There are also some common, and positive, measures that can be signs that the process is working for you. The four touchpoints of successful growth are:

  • Your role/career is expanding in line with your personal growth.
  • You start to feel more fulfilled in your role.
  • Your levels of awareness and understanding increase
  • Your achievement levels are increasing, with improved productivity.

Moving through these stages is a reflection of the effort that you are putting in. They’re the mirror looking back at you. When you start to see progress in any of these areas, it’s a sign that you’re on the right path. They’re the reward for leaning into the hard bits and doing the right thing, not the easy thing.

a photograph of a compass on a paper napkin with the words “Do what is right, not what is easy” written on the napkin
A compass shows you the direction you should go in, not the one you want to.

Understanding your value

To take your business to the next level, first you need to get yourself there. Investing in your personal development is an important way of investing in your value, both to your business, your customers and to your future ambitions. 

Jim Collins says, we should change every “what?” question to a “who?” question. This is the art of delegation and resourcing the right activities to the right level of capability, from senior leadership on down. Delivering the best value in your role, means focusing on things that are “next level” for you (taking things from your boss’s plate), which means continual elevation of your own growth.  

“What has got you here will not necessarily get you to where you want to be.” When you commit to growing your own capabilities, you’re leading by example and demonstrating the changes you want to see permeate the business. This is how successful leaders collectively achieve strategies and create greater value. 

Ultimately, it’s about knowing what your value is, what it could be and investing the time and effort required to achieve it. Personal growth is the key to enabling leaders to move from solving the problems of the past to focusing on building a more successful future. That is why Leadership Development is important.

Lighthouse Group