Why Personal Development is Vital to Leadership Success

Just as the body responds to exercise, so the mind will improve through deliberate use and regular activity. The development of new skills, and the maintenance of old ones, is dependent on focused effort on an ongoing basis. This understanding is critical and demonstrates that leadership and professional development are inextricably linked.

09th March 2011 published by

 

Just as the body responds to exercise, so the mind will improve through deliberate use and regular activity. The development of new skills, and the maintenance of old ones, is dependent on focused effort on an ongoing basis. Even as we age, provided there is an absence of disease, it is lack of mental activity which is the most important factor in loss of capability.

 

This awareness is highly relevant throughout our careers. It demonstrates that leadership and professional development are inextricably linked. Once you make a decision to develop your leadership style or skills, or to instil new behaviours in your life, you will need to practice until they become habitual. This is the only route to lasting improvement. Habits are typically installed over long periods of time, so persistence is required to change them, but with determination this process brings assured results.

 

Examples of people who demonstrate the potential to keep the mind sharp are Ronald Reagan (voted one of the best presidents of all time) who was almost 78 when he left office, Warren Buffet who continues to run Berkshire Hathaway late in his seventies, Sumner Redstone who continues to run multi-billion dollar Viacom and CBS in his mid-eighties.

 

 

Change Usually Takes Time and Practice...

 

The challenge is that development of more effective behaviours must be underpinned by changes at the subconscious level. This explains why it is difficult to introduce changes of behaviour in the classroom: instruction primarily addresses the conscious mind. Although we may be able to understand a book from a single reading, perhaps even explain parts of it to someone else, the subconscious needs a great deal of practice before we will begin to "walk the new talk". Hence, in most learning environments it is difficult to effect the necessary changes to make progress permanent. This exposes one of the greatest flaws in leadership development courses: the time frames involved in most of them are simply inadequate to effect a lasting transformation.

 

The more often that a new behaviour is exercised the more strongly the new neural circuits will develop and the more automatic it will become (science is now discovering that it is actually Myelin that does the work - but that will need to be the subject of a separate article). Like cutting a new path through the jungle, where the first person has a very tough job but it becomes progressively easier with each successive trip, so new behaviours become more automatic each time we exercise them.

 

 

...But we Can Speed the Process

 

One way to speed up this process tremendously is through the use of visualisation techniques. It has been proven that the subconscious mind experiences things we visualise in almost exactly the same way as if they were actually happening. I find it amazing that research has shown that we can even build muscle mass in this way! So each time you visualise the attainment of a new behaviour or goal the subconscious mind experiences it as done and changes accordingly.

 

Athletes understand this. They spend a lot of time practicing and very little time actually performing. This allows them to be their best. Unfortunately most executives attempt to be successful whilst approaching their role the other way around - they find it very difficult to allocate time to study and practice because they are too busy performing.

 

 

Leadership Requires Practice Too

 

Just as very few people ever really learn how to read well, because they stop learning once they are adequate at it, very often executives learn most of what they know about leading others early in their first leadership role. Their leadership style, which becomes progressively more important to their success, is rarely the subject of focused development.

 

What tends to have happened is that initially they watched their peers or other leaders work out what to do. However, once they had learnt enough to reach an acceptable level the pressure of the job became a more urgent priority and they no longer found the time to consciously think about the kind of leader they wanted to be. Their recently learnt behaviour patterns became habitual and thus were no longer examined. From that point most people gain little conscious awareness of their weaknesses or opportunities for development without external support from a highly functioning boss, coach or mentor. And they rarely, if ever, take the focused approach to practice that is essential in developing the skills necessary to become more effective.

 

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