September: A Time to GROW

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I love September, because I always associate it with my days as a college professor. This was the time of year when everyone returned from summer vacation and we began again, refreshed and renewed.

When we’re students, the start of the school year gives us an opportunity to learn new things and grow. Yet as we move into adulthood, one year begins to blend into another. Confronted with daily demands, we tend to rely on past successes and past knowledge alone. Pretty soon we’re just going through the motions. We become stagnant; we don’t grow.

This trend is especially troublesome for leaders, because once you are stagnant—or even perceived as stagnant—your influence erodes. As my friend Norman Vincent Peale used to say, “Once you stop learning and growing, you might as well lie down and let them throw dirt on you, because you’re already dead!”

A Four-Part Plan to GROW

In our book Great Leaders GROW, Mark Miller and I contend that the best leaders make a conscious decision to grow throughout their careers and their lives. In the book, we outline four key practices that lead to the development of your highest potential, both on and off the job.

G Stands for Gaining Knowledge

Gaining knowledge isn’t something you do once and stop doing when you get a degree. It is a long-term decision—a habit, actually—to nurture and develop through the years. You can work on gaining knowledge in these areas: 

  • Self-knowledge – The better you know yourself, the better you’ll understand how you’re perceived and how you make decisions. To gain insight into your personality, check out assessments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the DiSC Profile, or StrengthsFinder.
  • Knowledge of others – The more you know about others, the easier it is to work with them to attain mutual goals. Go beyond superficial conversations and really get to know the people you work with.
  • Knowledge of your industry – Read up on the history of your industry. Research what’s happening in your field today. Who are the major players? What do they offer? Where is the industry headed?
  • Knowledge of the field of leadership – Keep reading business books, blogs, and newsletters to learn new leadership trends and best practices. What skills do other leaders have that you might need to work on?

R Stands for Reaching Out to Others

Reaching out to others and sharing what you’ve learned accelerates your own growth. You can do this formally by using your expertise to:

  • Lead a seminar.
  • Sit on a panel at a professional conference.
  • Become a mentor to someone in your field.

Or you can take an informal approach by making a conscious effort to:

  • Seize on teachable moments.
  • Share what you’re learning with others.
  • Tell stories that convey lessons you’ve learned.

O Stands for Opening Your World

Opening your world is a little tricky during a pandemic, but you won’t grow unless you expand your mind through new experiences that light a spark within you. Thanks to technology, many of the following examples can be done virtually.

Here are things you can do to open your world at work:

  • Attend training events to broaden your perspective.
  • Interview recent retirees and seek their counsel on current issues.
  • Have lunch with someone different every day to expand your network.
  • Lead any kind of a team or group. Leaders are learners!

You can do the following activities to open your world outside of work:

  • Travel—anywhere—when it’s safe to do so.
  • Volunteer regularly—anywhere.
  • Learn a foreign language.
  • Visit virtual museums or attend virtual plays or concerts.

A balance between stimulating work experiences and fulfilling personal experiences is essential if you are going to keep growing.

W Stands for Walking toward Wisdom

Wisdom can be defined as the application of accumulated knowledge and experience. Contrary to what you might think, wisdom has nothing to do with age. We all have known younger people who might be described as “wise beyond their years,” and many of us can say we know a few “old fools.”

The pursuit of wisdom never ends for those who aspire to leadership. Your journey toward wisdom should include the following elements:

  • Self Evaluation. Look in the mirror and be truthful with yourself.
  • Honest Feedback. Ask those around you for feedback on how you are doing.
  • Counsel from Others. Learn from others’ experiences as you move forward.
  • Time. Understand that acquiring wisdom is a lifelong process and can’t be rushed.

Your capacity to lead is determined by your capacity to grow—and the fastest way to grow is to learn. As we head into the fall, challenge yourself. Set new goals and sign up for training. Keep learning and keep growing. Make it a habit, and you’ll enjoy the benefits of becoming a leader for life.

Don’t Let Failure Stop You from Succeeding

We have all made mistakes in life, done things we regret, or had to deal with failure at one level or another. Some consequences are harder to get through than others. The big question is: how do you come back from the aftershocks of a bad performance, decision, or mistake?

My good friend and coauthor of Helping People Win at Work, WD-40 Company CEO Garry Ridge, knows how. When he took the reins of that organization many years ago, he knew he had to create a safe culture where people knew they wouldn’t be punished or fired if they made a mistake.

“What I needed to do was to help people realize that mistakes were inevitable but not necessarily fatal,” said Garry. “To do that, I had to redefine the concept of mistakes. I needed to teach people not to be afraid to fail. I had to earn their trust by showing that neither I nor any of our managers would take adverse action if someone tried something new and didn’t succeed. At WD-40 Company, when things go wrong, we don’t call them mistakes; we call them learning moments.”

Believe it or not, lots of leaders who encourage innovation in their people feel the same way. High performing organizations like WD-40 Company treat mistakes and failures as important data, recognizing that they often can lead to breakthroughs.

My personal physician, Dr. Lee Rice of the LifeWellness Institute, has this to say about learning from failure: “I like to encourage people to dream big, envision the meaning of success in their effort, and wholeheartedly go for it. Announce the goal, put a stake in the ground, and be committed. Remove the obstacles that have been the seeds to past failures. Pave the way for success and don’t be afraid to make the critical choices and changes that will ensure success. Let go of fear. Expect problems and don’t become paralyzed by temporary setbacks or failures. Learn from past mistakes and use them as a means to learn and grow. Be grateful for the lessons, enjoy the path, and embrace love.”

San Diego’s own Phil Mickelson recently made an amazing comeback with a PGA Tournament victory. At age 50, he is now the oldest major champion in golf history. He had experienced some tough times on the tour for a number of years—so, as a well loved player, walking to the 18th hole with victory in hand was quite a thrill.

A tweet he sent out, which immediately went viral, is worth sharing:

“I’ve failed many times in my life and career and because of this I’ve learned a lot. Instead of feeling defeated countless times, I’ve used it as fuel to drive me to work harder. So today, join me in accepting our failures. Let’s use them to motivate us to work even harder.” – Phil Mickelson

What a wonderful perspective on life.

If you still have pangs of negative feelings about something that didn’t go quite right in your life, remember this: We all come from unconditional love. God didn’t make any junk. And we all can learn to feel that unconditional love for ourselves. No matter what you do, you can’t control enough, win enough, have enough, or do enough to get any more love. You have all the love there is. So don’t feel so bad about yourself that you start believing other people are better than you are. And be careful not to let your ego go too far the other way, where you start believing you’re better than other people. You ought to feel just fine about yourself. You’re not any better or worse than anybody. You are beautiful. And when you have that kind of balanced self-esteem, you can get through anything.

So try not to get down when things don’t go the way you want initially. Hang in there. The future is still in your hands if you tough it out, work hard, and have a positive mindset.

2021 Trends: Learning and Development in a COVID World

After a year like the one we had in 2020, wouldn’t it be nice to have a crystal ball to see where things are headed? While no one can accurately predict random events like pandemics, we can study the impact of those events on people’s thinking.

Recently, The Ken Blanchard Companies® surveyed over 1,000 leadership, learning, and talent development professionals to better understand how they are responding to the challenges brought on by COVID-19 and how they plan to move forward in 2021. The results might reflect your own L&D challenges and give you some ideas about the future.

When asked to identify the single largest problem their learning and development team is facing in 2021 due to COVID-19, respondents revealed three main concerns.

Concern #1: Successfully Making the Shift to Virtual and Online Learning

When people gather in a physical classroom to learn, interacting with others plays a big role in learner engagement. People responding to our survey expressed concern about losing this human element and worry about how much people are staying engaged and particpating in the new virtual classroom. Many said that they are coping with feelings of loss from the absence of in-person training.

Others feel pressured by their rapidly evolving roles and the new expectations placed on them. They expressed concerns about skills gaps in design expertise, virtual facilitation, and the skillful leveraging of new tools and platforms.

They also identified ongoing logistical and technical challenges, such as session scheduling, clunky platforms, and connectivity issues. I think we can all relate to that!

Concern #2: Helping a Struggling Workforce

The impact of COVID-19 on the workforce cannot be denied or ignored. People have lost jobs and loved ones. Those fortunate enough to be working remotely have been emotionally impacted as well.

The respondents of our survey identified isolation and a loss of connection as two major concerns, reporting that these have led to increased stress, exhaustion, overwhelm, and burnout.

People also expressed concerns about the overriding uncertainty in the current work environment and the sense that too much change is occurring too fast. Many acknowledged feelings of lowered morale and virtual fatigue.

Concern #3: Anxiety about Losing Their L&D Jobs

Budget cuts, layoffs, furloughs, and questions of management support were at the top of our respondents’ minds as they closed out 2020 and looked ahead to 2021.

People shared their concern that 2021 would usher in a difficult period of high expectations for converting to digital and virtual delivery, but without the resources and support necessary to be successful. This was often expressed as “too much to do, not enough resources.”

Having the resources to hold people accountable, addressing quality issues, and improving the digital skills of their trainers were cited as solutions to these problems.

Looking Ahead to 2021

Has COVID spelled the end of face-to-face training? Decidedly not. But the future will be different. A majority of respondents—57 percent—see face-to-face training as having a role, but as a part of a blended learning experience. In looking ahead to the time when face-to-face options become available again, respondents expect to use in-person and virtual instructor-led training equally.

So, when do people think they’ll be able to get back into the classroom? In our survey, July 2021 was the most oft-cited date.

The Upside of 2020

In many ways, 2020 forced us to dig deep into our own resourcefulness and find ways to navigate an uncertain future.  Blanchard senior vice president Jay Campbell put it really well when he said that “COVID-19 created a discontinuity in the normal evolutionary path toward digital and virtual. It has accelerated the shift—possibly by as much as a decade.”

As a college professor, I love the magic that happens in a classroom. Yet there’s no question that both classroom and online training create a smarter, more skilled workforce. In other words, it’s a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” proposition. I’m excited about the future of training and development. As my son, our company president Scott Blanchard, says, “There has never been a more demanding time to be in L&D—but it is also a time of great opportunity for those ready to step into this new future.”

What Businesspeople Can Learn From the Back to School Mentality

Around this time of year, young people are experiencing the deep joy of a fresh start. It’s back to school season and possibility is everywhere! And I’ve got some good news: this sense of possibility isn’t just for students. Anyone can experience the benefits of a fresh start.

I once went on a cruise with a lot of older folks and noticed a big difference between those who saw opportunity everywhere and those who didn’t. The folks who saw opportunity in all the activities on the cruise expressed excitement about the future and were enjoying their lives more. Plus, they looked and acted 20 years younger than they were! The folks who didn’t take advantage of the ship’s activities were withdrawn and didn’t really come alive until mealtime.

The insights I gained on that cruise inspired my book Refire, Don’t Retire. One of the powerful ideas in this book is the Nothing Ordinary Rule, which challenges you to create new possibilities. For example, instead of ordering the same old thing at a restaurant, order a dish you’ve never tried. Go to an event you ordinarily wouldn’t go to. Listen to a new kind of music. Applying the Nothing Ordinary Rule increases your mental acuity and infuses your world with possibility. Pretty soon you’ll start to feel like an excited student all over again.

When you see opportunities all around you, you can’t help but generate good work. People often express astonishment that I’ve written more than 60 books. But I see each book as a new opportunity to learn about something new and share my excitement about that subject.

Aldous Huxley once said that the secret of genius is to carry the spirit of a child into old age. He was right! So take some inspiration from all the students going back to school this month—embrace the new opportunities around you.

What Great Leaders Know and Do: The Importance of Reinventing Continuously

My last couple of blogs were lifelong learning online adult education and knowledge building,dedicated to the first two elements of the SERVE model from The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do, the first book Mark Miller and I coauthored, which was just released as a 10th Anniversary Edition.

For a quick review, the S in the model stands for See the Future and points out the importance of having a compelling vision for the future. The first E in the SERVE model stands for Engage and Develop Others. As a leader, you must be able to put the right people in the right roles, and you must invest in their development.

Now I want to tell you about the R in the SERVE model, which stands for Reinvent Continuously. This is a very big concept so I’ve broken it down into three components: Personal reinvention, systems and processes reinvention, and structural reinvention.

First, if you want to be a great leader, you must reinvent continuously on a personal level. Simply knowing how to do your job today doesn’t secure your success tomorrow. Read, watch videos, listen to audio books or podcasts, talk to colleagues, work with a mentor, or join associations or special interest groups. It’s important to keep up with this ever-changing world so that you can be innovative and bring new ideas that will respond to future challenges. In fact, Mark and I believe if you stop learning, you stop leading.

The second component applies to reinventing systems and processes. It’s critical to keep looking for ways to improve how your business is conducted. A key point to always remember, whether you are looking for ways to cut costs, reduce errors, increase speed to market, or simplify processes, is to talk to your people. Because they are in the trenches with your products, services, and customers, they often generate ideas executive leaders wouldn’t come up with. Getting input from people at all levels in your workplace also increases buy-in.

The third part is all about structural reinvention. Sometimes the way an organization is structured just doesn’t make sense for future growth. The best leaders recognize this and are willing to be flexible when it comes to restructuring teams, departments, and sometimes entire functions.

Continuous reinvention is a long-term quest. To get started on your reinvention journey, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who are my mentors?
  • What am I learning?
  • What systems or processes need to be changed to improve how we do business?
  • Do any teams, departments, or functions need restructuring to enhance future performance?

I’d love to hear from you. In what ways have you reinvented yourself, your workplace systems and processes, or your organization?