Nearly all top performers seek to enhance the skills and strengths they have already got or are dedicated to self improvement. How can I get better? is a consistent question in their minds. Skill development is one of the forces of getting better. What are you focusing on to do it? How much time per week are you carving out to increase your skill set in ways that matter for your long-term growth? Do you know what will matter for your long-term growth?
What’s great about skill development is it requires us to get out of our comfort zone and push farther than normal. Clearly, our regular work schedules can keep us comfortable, rarely making us take a chance with a creative project. Only there should always be something to push us creatively or else we stagnate. These minor creative stressors are what help keep us sharp and develop new skills.
What is something that scares you? What is something that makes you shudder a bit when you think about doing it? What gives you anxiety about doing? This may be the thing for you to pursue further. These are the activities, the creative fears, that when faced, force us to push harder. We feel the fear and then perform anyway because this is what is required to be of service here. Note the discomfort. Feel it. Work your way through it. The discomfort is temporary.
One of the keys to charisma certain people possess is finding comfort in uncomfortable situations. Putting yourself into discomfort and staying there, sitting with it, and being able to tolerate, grit, and bear it is an uncommon character trait. They get so much practice at discomfort that they begin to seek it out as a challenge. We naturally seek to avoid discomfort and favor what’s easy. But it is only in the discomfort that we grow personally and professionally. What are the hard things? Who’s doing them? Why? Try being OK with discomfort. It will be hard at first. Try it in small doses. Just sit with it, feel it, acknowledge it, and try to breathe through it. You will be OK. You will emerge stronger for having done this. And it will get easier the more you choose to embrace the discomfort.
Something that scares all of us is the pain of not knowing or looking foolish in the eyes of others. We get anxiety about this, of being called out, of being stumped publicly on our expertise. This is so common that nearly all of us possess this feeling. Nobody likes to be asked a question they do not have an answer to. If we’re considered experts, we get paid for having the answers, right? Yet experts are always students first — that’s how they eventually arrived at their current level of expertise. How do we get over the fact that somebody may stump us?
Have the humility to admit you don’t have all the answers and that you, too, continue on your educational quest. With expertise, there is no real arrival some day, especially if you’re a dedicated, life-long learner. There’s nothing wrong with telling someone you don’t know and that you’ll get back to them. Or, you’ll work on solving the problem together. This takes honesty and forthrightness — and it is far better than bullshitting people. Besides, nobody likes a know-it-all. It’s OK to be wrong or to not know every now and then even though it is uncomfortable. It takes an embracing of the unknown, and the humility to admit you might be wrong.
Should you work on your weaknesses or ignore them and only focus on your strengths? The common sense of the day is to ignore your weaknesses and only focus on your strengths. This is fine if you’re strong where it matters the most. But think about being a one person company. Say you’re strong in content development and marketing, but not so strong in sales. As everybody knows, sales are the lifeblood of the company. Without sales, there is no company. As Brendon says, “No money, no message.” You have to have the money in order to sustain the message. So, if you’re weak at sales and it isn’t s strong suit of yours, you may soon find yourself in peril if you’re a one person show. In this case, only focusing on your strengths is a bad idea.
Try challenging yourself to work on an area of weaknesses. Typically where we are weak, we find discomfort there. That’s OK. Pick something to focus on each month that you’d like to get better at. It can be a tangible quality like improve my video editing skills or something intangible like patience. Challenge yourself to improve — something personal (and professional). Each week, score yourself on this weaknesses. It’s a great start to gauge improvement. How else will you know? After a few months, ask others for feedback on your progress. Ask those closest to you what they think about the new you. Do they see improvement? Assessments such as the 360 degree feedback are great for gathering these data points for organizational development purposes as well as for personal growth.
Who drives growth — the coach or the person being coached?
People have to desire change. If they do not, there can be no change to stick. The best coaches in the world cannot help someone who is not willing to change a bad habit. The person has to be willing to change and make it happen with the guidance of a coach for accountability and social support.
Executive Coach Marshall Goldsmith likes to use the example of the American Airlines flight attendants. He says usually you get attendants who are happy, engaged, and enthusiastic. But you do occasionally get FAs who are grumpy and gruff and disengaged. What’s the difference? The work is the same. The pay is approximately the same. Same benefits. Is that American’s fault? Is it the pilot’s fault? The difference is simply in the person and their perspective / attitude.
It is similar in the executive suite. People are already great at what they do by the time they get to the executive suite. They don’t really need help in what they do in their job description. Where they need the help is the emotional aspects of the job. Treatment of self, of others, handling people problems as they arise. This is the training that is elusive. As they say in the SEAL Teams, you default to your highest level of training. And if your highest level of training isn’t very high, you’ll struggle because you lack the tools to attack problems at that angle. Executive Coaches such as Goldsmith provide insight into where these executives struggle and help facilitate change. But they can only do it if the person being coached wants the change in their life. No desire to change? Then, no change occurs.