“Nothing on this earth is standing still. It’s either growing, or it’s dying. No matter if it’s a tree or a human being.”—Lou Holtz
There’s something quite inspiring about seeing a leader rise to the occasion and take her organization through a significant growing moment. Perhaps they were faced with a crisis that required decisive, strategic action. Maybe it was a fantastic opportunity, and the leader challenged his leadership team to seize it. They did, and as a result, the organization moved to the proverbial next level.
I call it leading with excellence. How does one do that? I’ve talked about growth before, but I believe leading with excellence will not happen unless you and I are continually growing.
“The key to success is to keep growing in all areas of life – mental, emotional, spiritual, as well as physical.” —Julius Erving
There are three crucial keys to ensure that you, me, and our fellow leaders are doing just that.
1. Make Sure You Are Growing
There’s one sure way to make sure your leadership ability dries up and fails to rise to the occasions and obstacles that stand in front of you: stop growing. How do you stop growing? You don’t read—you don’t read books, trade journals, articles, current literature. You don’t understand the classic tomes in your field.
You stop listening to those smarter than you and more experienced than you whether it’s at conferences or on podcasts.
You cease to explore new ideas and possibilities curiously.
You stop growing.
One of my mentors was fond of saying that “Leaders are learners.” Also, “The moment you stop learning, you stop leading.” What is the proof of that? He is. He has built one of the largest organizations of its kind in his industry.
Another lifelong mentor suggested to me, at a very young age, that I begin some organized “growth program” to ensure that I was continually growing. It included books and cassette tapes (yes, it was a long time ago) and then CDs. Today we would add podcasts. Also, reading—lots and lots of reading.
He developed a program thousands of leaders would eventually subscribe to where he taught the latest in leadership principles every month. It came with notes and suggestions for further learning on our own. I participated in it for years; in fact, I was one of the charter subscribers.
Was I the perfect example of growing like this? No. I would get busy or distracted; sometimes I was just lazy.
As I look back across my career, however, I notice two realities. First, during those busy, distracted, or lazy times, my leadership suffered. When it did, my organizations did not operate at their highest levels of effectiveness.
However, when I was on my game when I was growing and developing, that’s when my leadership was at its best, my organizations were growing and developing and reaching new heights.
2. Make Sure Those Closest to You Are Growing
“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” —Jack Welch
My brother-in-law, an engineer by trade, is a voracious learner. So is my other brother-in-law, a pastor, professor, and author. Both have been incredibly successful.
We don’t live near each other, but whenever we’re together, invariably we talk about the books we’re reading and the things we’re learning. When I know we’re going to be together. I’ve learned to go prepared; I know Mark will ask sometime during the visit, “What have you been reading?” Then our discussions will take off.
I love those discussions.
I love them when they take place among my closest staff as well. At times, it was somewhat forced. What do I mean by that? There are times I made my senior team read. We’d meet for lunch followed by a staff meeting. Included in the agenda was a discussion of the latest section of the book assigned for that day.
Some of you are thinking, “I’m glad I never worked for him.” But here’s the thing: out of those discussions came ideas and questions. “I really like…” someone would say. “I wonder if we could do that,” someone would chime in. Eventually, another would ask, “What if we…?” And we were off.
Those were fun times. It’s incredibly exciting to see light bulbs go off and ideas spark, and motivation take over. Did everything we tried work? No. However, a lot of them did. And it was fun. Also, our organization grew and became even more successful.
I like to think that’s excellence in action. It’s leading with excellence. However, there’s one more way to lead with excellence.
3. Make Sure Those Closest to Them Are Growing
Hopefully, there’s a trickle-down effect. If I’m growing, and I’m helping my senior leadership staff grow, then they will help their direct reports grow as well. It is a beautiful thing to watch.
Several years ago, I interviewed a candidate for one of our senior positions. He had finished graduate school a few months earlier and was searching for a job to begin his chosen career.
Our company always conducted a pretty in-depth interview process. One of the steps was a group interview with the Board of Directors. The idea of personal growth had rubbed off on others in the organization because one of the members of the board asked this candidate what he had been reading. I’ll never forget his response.
“I’ve been reading for the last several years,” he said. “I’m taking a break from reading for a while.”
I was not alone in the decision to not hire him. There were several areas throughout the process where his inadequacies glaringly evidenced themselves in the minds of many. Indeed, though, his answer to the reading question impacted me.
Because this is how it works: if I am growing, and if my people (those closest to me) are growing, and if their people are growing, the organization is growing. It’s just a fact of life.
Another line from another mentor: “Everybody wins when the leader gets better.”
Think about it. Everybody.
“Together, we have the power to inspire, connect, and deliver on new opportunities and rich experiences that can open doors to innovation and progress while growing global economies and increasing well-being.” —Tae Yoo
So what? Now what?
What do you do to make sure you are growing and developing?
In what kinds of growth programs do you, or have you participated?
How are you helping your people grow?
I would love to hear some of your ideas and experiences.
Please share them with me.
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