If you are leading in any way, no doubt you are faced with potential personal growth opportunities. These opportunities come in various forms. Some are easy to understand while others are more complex. Some learnings are easier to implement than others. Unfortunately, the most difficult aspect of personal growth isn’t identifying the growth opportunity, but rather dealing with our implementation attempts and setbacks.
Let me explain with a personal example:
I recently was able to take some time away from leading at Woodstock City Church. I spent the bulk of my time processing some interpersonal stuff that was directly impacting my ability to lead well in the long term. One key learning for me (among so many) was how easily I can allow what I do as a leader to define who I am as a person. When what I do is doing well, I’m doing well. When what I’m doing is struggling, I find myself personally struggling. When I fail, I begin to believe I am a failure. It’s identity 101, but none of us are immune to forgetting this Christian life principle. Especially in leadership, where progress and doing is the bulk of the work.
I re-engaged at our church with a desire to adjust my “being” and my “doing.” For a week or so, I was doing the “being” pretty well. But, like most attempts to grow, I faltered, and it hurt. “I thought I was past this?,” I mumbled to myself. “I thought I learned this basic lesson and was ready to face my leadership challenges from a new being/doing perspective.” “Just implement the new learning and move on to something else,” I thought.
Here’s what I’m being reminded of daily: When we discover a new personal leadership concept that has been holding us back, most leaders naturally embrace the learning and commit to moving forward in light of our new and improved self. We know personal growth isn’t that simple, but we are committed to change. We are committed to growth. But engrained behaviors don’t change overnight, no matter how profound or dedicated to change we may be. Maturation, in every single aspect of life, is a process. Leadership learning and implementation is a process of maturation just the same. Regrettably, a leader’s progress addiction causes several problems with the maturation process of a new learning.
To combat the learn something new, try hard, feel bad, and kick the dog cycle, try this:
1. Accept Every New Learning as a NEW Learning:
If a personal growth opportunity is identified, remember it’s a “growth” opportunity. Growing anything is difficult. I can’t grow grass, and it sort of grows itself! Growth takes time and cultivation, and there are bound to be some setbacks. It is a NEW learning, after all.
2. Set Some New Learning Goals:
In my personal example above, I am dedicated to allowing the evaluation of what I do (i.e. preach, write content, lead meetings, etc.) to remain tethered only to what I DO — not who I am. My new goal is to orchestrate and evaluate what I lead outside of who I am. I know, basic identity, but it’s my goal. When I lead or preach or create, I am conscious to embrace evaluation while holding on to my identification.
3. Realize You Will Not Get It Right:
And give yourself grace. More than once or twice, too. This cannot be over-stated. When working to adopt a personal change, we will get it wrong from time to time. Good grief, you’re trying to change something imprinted on your leadership. In these cases, failing to get it right is a reminder that change is a process, not an event. Getting it wrong creates the context to embrace the process of progress.
4. Invite Others into Your Learning:
This is going to take some vulnerability, but your inner circle stands to offer some much-needed encouragement during your change process. Engage your peers on the process. Engage your direct reports. Engage your boss. If you can’t do that, leave and find an organization where you can!
5. Don’t Tie a Bow Too Soon:
Maybe your new leadership learning can be mastered and you’ll never struggle with it again, but I doubt it. The areas of leadership where we struggle the most are often embedded deep within our lives. Anything buried deep doesn’t dislodge easily — or often permanently. So do number 3 again and again.
It’s funny — whenever I am able to help another leader process a new learning, this is exactly what I try to do for them: Realize it’s a new concept, a concept that will take some time to fully understand, help them set a goal to aid in their implementation, give them grace when they hit a bump in the learning road, encourage them to keep trying, and remind them change is a long process. I just fail to treat myself the way I try to treat those around me. I bet I’m not alone.
So give yourself a break. Leading is hard work. Growing as a leader is even harder. But the fruit is found in the process of trying and accepting personal grace along the way.