If you're a leader, you need to be continually growing. But do you have what it takes to do so?
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.
- Acts 20:24 (NIV)
In Western society, we always seem to be in a rush to go to the next level or to get promoted or gain more status, fame, or fortune. Going to the next level is not necessarily a negative as long as we are also growing to the next level of excellence in the process and as part of God’s plan and purpose for our lives and businesses. Don’t just go, but grow to the next level.
We’ve all heard the saying that someone has “arrived” or reached a certain pinnacle of success. But the truth is that we never really ever “arrive.” As Christians, we’re always on a constant dynamic and progressive journey as God completes His sovereign work in us. He is always working in our lives and businesses. We should always be growing in Him and keep growing until our last breath (1 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 3:18). In order for our organizations to grow, we must grow as individuals. As the former chairman of the ServiceMaster Company, C. William Pollard, states in The Soul of the Firm: “If growth is to sustain itself, the people of the firm must also grow.”
“The Station” is a poignant essay by the late Robert J. Hastings. The premise of this provocative piece of work is that as adults we rush through life with this idyllic vision of a final destination or station. The notion is that that on a certain day or at a certain hour, we’ll pull into the station, and once we get there, all of our dreams will come true and all the pieces of our lives will fit together perfectly like a completed jigsaw puzzle. But until then, we continue to rush through life in eager search of our utopian station.
“When we reach the station that will be it!” we cry. The station of “When I buy a new 450SL Mercedes-Benz…!” “When I put the last kid through college…” “When I have paid off the mortgage…” “When I get a promotion…” “When I sell the business…” “When I retire…” “…then I shall live happily ever after.” But as Mr. Hastings, so eloquently points out, “sooner or later, we must realize there is no station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip. The station is only a dream. It constantly outdistances us.”
I share Mr. Hastings’ commentary to make the point that we should not be in a rush to arrive at a particular station in life or at a certain milestone in the commercial arena. Don’t rush God. Enjoy the present and enjoy the journey.
Grow with the Process
As a child, I remember hearing the lyrics of an old spiritual hymn that said, “I’ll believe I’ll run on and see what the end will be.” It’s important to keep growing in life and in business, but you shouldn’t run on without God and try to rush the process. And you certainly can’t see what the end will be by staying stagnate or complacent and refusing to be obedient to God after He has shown you that it is time to exit one season and transition to another.
Don’t try to rush the process. And don’t try to slow it. Grow with the process. And don’t be afraid to grow on to the next milestone in your divine exit plan. Example: It may be time for your business to expand internationally, be sold, increase the number of employees, merge with another company, or just chart a new strategic course.
God’s timing for our commercial growth, like His timing for every aspect of our lives, is always perfect. When growing from one business venture to another, ideally, you should grow into it. The Lord knows exactly when you are ready for a new season (Ecclesiastes 3:1). As you mature and make positive contributions where you are planted in the business world, He will often move you into a new season of professional growth and commercial opportunity.
The Bible tells us: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, NIV). We are never really done with God’s work. As the title of Nell Mohney’s book implores: “Don’t Put a Period Where God Put a Comma.” So “keep on growing in knowledge and understanding” (Philippians 1:9, NLT). Keep growing personally and professionally, and be open to exiting one season and transitioning into the new, exciting, rich, and rewarding one He has for you. The best is always yet to come. Embrace your new season and grow on!
There’s so many more, but here’s three reasons for pursuing leadership development (not leadership training….but that’s another blog): 1) People are looking for a guide, not a map
It is so hard to take people where you’ve never been. And it’s hard to venture into unknown territory. What if you could make the path easier through a developmental assignment that got someone ready for the next part of the journey? Could they lead a company project with others before becoming a supervisor? Could every new employee work in the manufacturing plant their first week on the job, so they know how things get made? And for you - will you better be able to lead the company or your area into new territory if you’ve invested in learning something new? Could you find a mentor or a coach to help you develop your skills? What about being on a board of another company or a non-profit?
2) I want to be like you, dad…
Yeah – that “Cat’s In The Cradle” song still gets me. When your son or daughter says that yes – mom – I want to be like you, where does that come from? We all look up to someone. I bet that others look up to you. What are you teaching those around you? If you keep developing yourself, you’ll always have something new to pass on to others. And if you encourage those you work with to develop, just think about the multiplication!
3) Let’s not always do what we’ve always done
It happens to the best of us. When we’re no longer new at what we do, we’re…well…no longer new. That means some good things – we know what’s worked and what didn’t work – and we also can run on autopilot in so many areas. When the world shifts in IT, marketing, sales, operations, engineering, new distribution methods, new business models, how do we question things again? By putting ourselves, and those around us, into new situations, pairing that with permission to question, and expecting ourselves and others to explain, brings amazing clarity. There’s nothing like a production teammate working in marketing and asking “what causes us to talk about our products like that when they do so much more?” to make you realize how you missed a few things along the way.
What’s your reasons for encouraging leadership development? What has made it effective for you?
How many of you were enthralled by watching the Summer Olympics in 2012? I know I am. It was thrilling to watch the Fab Five win the gold in gymnastics, Michael Phelps winning gold and then losing gold by centiseconds in two of his individual events, and who didn’t fall in love with Missy Franklin, the swimming sensation and sweetheart from Colorado? Despite all of their natural ability they worked hard to hone their craft. I wonder what kind of leaders we would be, if we devoted as much time and energy to grow as these Olympians did?
As I prepared to attend a recent leadership summit, I thought about why I carve out time to hone my craft. Growing as a leader does the following:
- It raises my game. There is nothing like the stress of working hard to break through a plateau and reaching a higher level of performance. Several years ago I could barely bike 20 miles at any one time. Today I’ve completed several century rides and think nothing of going out for a 50-mile bike ride. Certainly part of this improvement was achieved by practicing, but I also needed to learn more about pedal stroke efficiency, interval training, heart rate training and the things I needed to do off the bike to become a stronger and better rider. The same is true of leadership – we practice every day, but what are we doing to improve our game?
- It motivates others to follow me. People are not interested in following leaders who are stagnant. They are much more interested in following leaders who are energized and have great ideas and vision that expands over time. Certainly character and competence are prerequisites if we expect others to follow us, but if we’re not growing, the people we lead will soon become disinterested in following.
- It helps me identify my blind spots. We all have blind spots. The other day I was talking to my coach about an area of improvement I saw in someone else. As we processed the issue, it became clear that I had a blind spot that was preventing me from addressing the issue in a timely manner. It reminded me again that leadership is not a solo sport; we need other people to help us identify what we can’t see in ourselves. Input from others helps me see things from a different perspective.
- It helps me reach my God-given potential. Don’t we all long to be all that God created us to be? Part of this includes being intentional about our growth and seek opportunities for growth. There is a 2012 60-Minutes interview with Michael Phelps. After the 2008 Olympics, he spent little time in the pool. He didn’t practice to to point where his coach didn’t know if he was going to make it to the Olympics despite his natural talent. Michael’s challenge was to learn to grow beyond the accolades and medals he previously won.
Being a great leader takes discipline and diligence, even in the face of success. You can be good at what you do, but you can never be all that God intended until you cooperate with His purposes and are intentional about your growth and development.
Share Your Thoughts: What types of things do you do to develop your leadership and your character?
I own my second Passat in three years. I believed in the "clean diesel" bill of goods sold to consumers by Volkswagen, now exposed to be a major hoax and sure to result in a series of federal and international criminal indictments and consumer lawsuits. Volkswagen got itself into this major mess out of its oft-stated goal to be the globe's largest auto manufacturer.
It is hard for a Christian business person to argue against growth. Neither do they wish to argue against the sacrifice of integrity. And yet, they seem to regularly clash against each other as they have done with Volkswagen and so many other case studies in the history of enterprise. Enter the prayers of Jabez and Agur.
The Jabez Prayer received new life and a lot of conversation a few years ago.
"Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain." - Chronicles 4:10
Less known, and perhaps more provocative, is the prayer of Agur.
"Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die. Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God." -Proverbs 30:7-9
In effect, Jabez prays for an increase in his efforts and a cessation of all difficulty, while Agur prays for ethical groundedness even if he must struggle. Those who engage in business like the Jabez orientation, and yet the prayer of Agur speaks at the soul level, reminding the business person of the need for carefully cultivated integrity and a God-centered perspective of all things.
--Some seem to respond to these prayers as if one must make a choice between them. If so, which would you prefer? Which one calls to you the most?
--Others conclude that these prayers are not in conflict, rather that they reflect a progression. In effect, as Jabez lives longer and becomes more wise, his prayer shifts to something more like Agur prays. Does this reflect your pilgrimage as you have moved from the amibitious intern to the CEO who views her or his role as a steward of God's gifts?
--I think about these prayers a bit differently. For me, these prayers are not in conflict. Neither is it a progresssion a person goes through from Jabez's immaturity to Agur's wisdom. Instead I think the Agur prayer is the foundation for anyone who holds a Christian orientation. Then and only then, with the commitment to live in integrity, to be detached from material possessions, and a God-centered orientation firmly in place, can one move to pray that God would enlarge such a territory and to reduce the pain of the journey (and there will be pain).
Comparing and contrasting these prayers makes for a good exercise among a leadership team -- even if they are not people of faith. They are Jewish prayers first and foremost. And they reflect heart cries that people of all stripes tend to have. What other prayers or heart cries might be uttered that would embellish or edit what Jabez and Agur have said? What next steps are called out of those who serve your customers beside you? How does your firm reconcile the impulse to grow with the need for integrity?