“The best of all things is to learn. Money can be lost or stolen, health and strength may fail, but what you have committed to your mind is yours forever.” — Louis L’amour

  • Develop or join a network of colleagues who are as interested in personal learning and development as you are. This can be a powerful source of learning from other people’s experiences. It’s also a great place for you to reflect on your own experiences and articulate your improvement plans. For the past few years I’ve run ongoing executive development sessions with groups of managers in each one. They’ve proven to be powerful sources of learning and personal development for all of us involved in them.

    A group that meets regularly is an excellent forum for making public declarations or even “contracts” of your personal improvement plans. Since I am so concerned about not being hypocritical, I’ve always found this approach makes it much harder to back away from forming the tough, new habits you know you need to develop. 

  • Don’t succumb to the Victimitis Virus by allowing senior managers to disempower you. Leadership is action, not position. Be a leader. Make things happen. If you know it’s right for your team and the organization, learn how to play the system to get what needs to be done, done. Remember the Jesuit’s Rule — It’s always easier to get forgiveness than permission. 
  • Build your discipline by keeping your commitments. Call back when you promised. Meet your deadlines. Show up on time. 
  • Use Benjamin Franklin’s “method for progressing.” He identified 13 virtues he wanted to develop. Each week he worked on one of the virtues for a total of “four courses (cycles) in a year.” Each night before retiring Franklin reflected on and recorded his progress on that week’s virtue. 
  • Put quotes, goals, reminders, vision or purpose statements, and affirmations where you will see them a few times a day. Keep changing them and moving them around so that you don’t start to look past them. 
  • Use a personal improvement plan. There are dozens of learning styles and pathways to personal development. Keep searching, experimenting, and trying out those that fit you best. Schedule time for your improvement as if your career and ability to master change depended on it. It does. 
  • Gather perceptions of your current performance levels from members of the team you lead, your peers, your customers/partners, and the person you report to (this is especially important if you’re not a reflective person). Get both open-ended (blank sheet approach) and specific, structured feedback. Your structured feedback should ask for performance perceptions across the areas you’ll be covering in your personal improvement plan.

If we can’t manage our time and discipline ourselves to devote at least 10 percent of our time to personal improvement, we won’t grow into ever-stronger leaders. We could easily become a victim of the changes swirling around us. We need to get control of our time, priorities, and destiny. We need do it soon. Tomorrow is arriving much quicker than it used to.