Most of my coaching clients tell me that growth — sustainable growth — is their top priority; e.g., growing their businesses, developing talent and accelerating their own learning and growth as leaders. They want growth that contributes to the good of the whole and creates a platform for the next move upward.
And I say a big “Yes” to that. Helping leaders and their companies grow into their full potential and beyond what they thought possible fuels my growth as a leadership coach. It’s part of what keeps me exuberant.
There’s a dirty little secret when it comes to growth.
Learning and growing takes guts. Real courage. The moment you put your neck on the line for growth, resistance kicks in. I’m not even talking about the people outside your door; I’m talking about the voices of fear in your head. Fear of getting too far out of your comfort zone. Fear of risking the wrath of shareholders and the livelihood of employees and business partners. These little voices can make a compelling case for caution, protecting what we already have, hedging our bets, and not moving until we have “our ducks in a row”. Such sweet logic offers us a defensible way out from going to the “scary edge”. A path for dignified retreat but at the cost of stopping new learning and growth. That’s a high price to pay.
To learn and grow as a leader is a courageous act.
It requires loosening our attachment to old habits and previously successful ways of thinking. What worked for us before could now be what holds us back. It’s scary to let go of what has been our winning formula — our signature move. Like aging rock stars, we are tempted to keep playing our greatest hits. Cliches like “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and “do more of what you do best” can lock us in.
Consequently, we stop taking the chances we took when starting out. We start protecting our legacy and stop inventing the future. We become less and less relevant to the challenges of tomorrow. The energy in our company shifts toward “profit protection” and maintaining the legacy.
Bill Belichick is a much loved – and much resented by some – coach of the New England Patriots football team. He has established an extraordinary record of winning in the NFL over a long period of time. And his “signature strength” is always surprising everyone with his next move. His game plans are never repetitive. He finds new ways to exploit the rules to the constant exasperation of opposing coaches. Witness his innovative use of the “ineligible receiver” rule in his recent victory against the Baltimore Ravens in the 2015 Divisional playoff game. Witness his inexplicable trade of six-time Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay earlier in the same season. Does his every move pay off? Not by a long shot, but overall his record is stellar. And, his teams always believe in him. They trust him even when they can’t figure out why he does what he does.
Why? Because he is willing to put it all on the line again and again. No sacred cows. No one’s ego – especially his own – is bigger than the team. He’s just doing what it takes for the team to grow and win.
The way to win in a world where everyone can replay the video and dissect every move you’ve ever made is to constantly reinvent yourself. Never do the predictable thing. Choose surprise over the “tried and true”. Now that takes guts.
The resistance we encounter – both internal and external — is actually a sign that we are really doing something significant. The closer we get to the treasure; the more security systems we run into. Jack Welch, while leading GE, once said, “If you are taking flak, it means you are over the target”.
Stop waiting for the resistance to disappear before you make your move. That’s a loser’s gambit. The resistance only goes away if you pull back. Ask yourself, “will pulling back get me the learning and growth that I want?”
The key to growth is shifting your response to your internal resistance.
Take a deep breath. Thank your “internal voice” of resistance for letting you know that you are approaching the territory where the treasure is buried. Just keep showing up, doing your work, and inspiring others to push on with you.
Choose to grow.