Leading Others and Developing Ourselves

By: Michael Burcham

We can’t lead others if we aren’t committed to our own personal growth.

How can we be trusted to help cultivate the potential of others when we aren’t living up to our own? It’s one of the biggest reasons people ultimately fail at developing their team – their people simply outgrow them.

If we are to develop others, we must constantly be improving our own performance. We must be enhancing our own market knowledge. As leaders, we must create environments of opportunity and work that is meaningful. A healthy curiosity of market trends and new business models opens doors of opportunity – both for the leader and the team. But that isn’t the most important part of our own personal growth.

The most important work we do to develop ourselves as leaders can be found in this Chinese proverb:

“Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character. Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.”

What we think often comes out of our mouth and into someone else’s ears – especially when we are stressed. Our words impact how others think and feel. Words are symbols that communicate what’s going on inside our heads. We share much of ourselves and our leadership readiness with our words. And once they are heard, we don’t get to “undo” the damage.

Our words create action. Our words can inspire and build the team or they can separate and place blame. Our words can help our team achieve things they never thought they could do, and our words can also destroy the light in the eyes of others – killing their intrinsic motivation and their desire to even try.

So, as a leader – watch what you think and be aware of the words that come from your thoughts, and the actions that follow your words. They can build up or destroy your team.

A habit is an action we do regularly, often without thinking. It’s just what we do. Some habits are beneficial and some can be detrimental. Our day is full of small little “habits” that we do unconsciously. Some of us are habitually tidy, or messy, or early, or late, or rude, or courteous, or happy, or angry. Some leaders repeat habitual phrases that define them in ways that always keep their team on edge and never fully buying into the leader’s vision of success. These are all habitual ways of being. So, our habits become who we are, or they become our character.

Others know us by our character. It’s our stamp of individuality. It’s all of our distinctive qualities. When we describe someone, we are describing the person’s character. Here are a few examples I heard this week that framed a leader’s character:

  • He’s always looking for someone to blame.
  • When I want something to be done right, I give it to her!
  • He always has to have the last word.
  • When I’m around him, I watch my pockets, he’s always trying to get me to buy into a scheme.
  • She really cares about our customers – not just about making money.
  • He’s berating that team member in front of us – next week I will likely be his target.

Our character comes from the thoughts and actions we do habitually through time. The thoughts and actions we do habitually through time determines our destiny.

If I dwell on negative thoughts and if I am filled with judgments towards others, my actions will follow my thoughts and I will get what I focus on. Most people will not want to be around me, because they don’t like being judged and they don’t like hearing me judge others. I will feel lonely and victimized, which will cycle around and around and in time my destiny will be that I am simply alone.

If I take positive actions toward my goals and the goals of my team, my destiny can be one of a leader that attracts talent. My destiny will be one of success. People will want to be around me because I seek solutions rather than someone to blame. The team will find renewed energy because they feel they are part of a winning strategy.

As leaders – we must develop ourselves first: our thoughts, our words, our actions and our habits. They define how others see us – and ultimately, our impact.