The four steps to professional and personal self-development

Known for his Dale Carnegie training expertise, Terry Siebert is writing to inspire leaders to reach their greatest potential. Leadership, today more than ever, may mean the difference between closing the doors or opening new markets. Every month, he'll post help with mindset, business tools and more. Read Full Bio

Recently I was golfing with a friend who is very good. As I was struggling to break 100, he commented more than once that he felt I had “a solid swing, but had quite a slice.” What he was pointing out was not a surprise to me. I do not play as often as I once did and, just as importantly, really do not have the desire to practice, take lessons, or play on a regular basis. Golf for me is about being with friends, getting some exercise, and having a good time. In fact, if my golf game has any hope of changing for the better, the first step I would have to make is to change my attitude about improving.

Step one – attitude

Whether it is golf, bowling, sailing, or technical, sales, and leadership training, the critical first step in positive development is to have the desire to improve. One must move beyond just having a need to improve and move toward a real “show me how to do it” attitude. It is only when that perspective is there that the most effective atmosphere for improvement is in place. Without it, results may be short term at best.

Step two – knowledge

The next step is one that most people have taken numerous times. This is the point where we go out and read the books, listen to the CDs, watch the videos, and go to seminars and classes. The goal of this phase is to become versed in the fundamentals, principles, concepts, and ideas that are applicable to the particular area that we are trying to learn. Some people firmly believe that they have completed their learning at this stage. However, this belief – this roadblock to genuine improvement – can sometimes turn out to be an illusion.

The roadblock

No matter how well a student has understood the fundamentals of golf or any other skill, no matter how many written tests he/she could pass, it is not until the individual actually starts to play the game or apply the skill that the real test begins.

A business example: Dale Carnegie Training was working with one of our client organizations on enhancing the effectiveness of its leadership team. One of the key people in this group was superb at handling extremely difficult, external customer issues and had a well-earned reputation for being the troubleshooter for the company. The other half of the story is that this same individual ran the highest turnover rate in the entire company!

When we began to research this situation in more depth, we discovered that this manager was on the leading edge of knowledge as far as leadership books, CDs, videos, and the like. She was convinced that she knew it all and saw no real need to work on her leadership skills. The critical factor, however, was that this same concept-laden manager was a consummate autocrat when dealing with her people. The turning point in her development only took place when she became acutely aware of the real roadblock (highest turnover rate) and began working at being a better leader. She moved past the roadblock and began the real work of building her skill.

She did this by getting involved in a time-spaced leadership training program that gave her the opportunity to build her real-world-application skill over a period of several weeks. In addition, she had the commitment of her organization that it would be part of the process as well. This system, with both an internal mentor and external trainer, helped guide her to the result both she and her company desired. Without getting past her personal roadblock and without the internal support of her organization, the positive end result that took place with her would have been difficult, at best.

Step three – practice

We have all heard that “practice makes perfect.” In reality, practice does not necessarily make perfect – it does make permanent. In other words, if I were to go out and practice my golf swing with “quite a slice” and no coach, I could very well perfect my slice. If the manager above were to continue her management practices (which she thought were very good) without a coach, she probably would have continued the high turnover rate in her department. Practice does not make perfect – “Perfect practice makes perfect.”

And if one is to be involved in a more “perfect practice” environment, a good coach/mentor is vital to the formula. Whether it is in athletics or business, it is usually the professionals who readily admit the need for coaching. Professional athlete, professional salesperson, CEO, administrator – whatever the title, those who are at the top of their field usually have advisors, mentors, or coaches. That is why they are professionals. They are always trying to get better than they are; they are open to suggestions for improvement; they are willing to try new approaches. And finally, they realize that a coach is an integral part of their growth.

Step four – skills

This step is usually the result of the first three being done well. New skills are formed by continuous application – doing the right things right, in an atmosphere of positive reinforcement and accountability.

Starting all over again – the real professionals

In a world where almost everyone is being asked to do more, better, faster, with fewer resources, a critical attitude for individuals who are going to thrive, not just survive, is one of personal, continuous self-development. The cycle never stops. As soon as improvement is made in one area, the professional is seeking betterment in the next – always polishing, always refining.

It is this critical attitude of the real professionals that can serve as the cornerstone of the vibrant, growing learning organizations of the future.

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