Personal Development: Lifelong Improvement

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“I want to be a great leader. How do I do it?”

Today, most of the people who ask that question are looking for a magic answer. They won’t say it out loud, but they want a “hack,” something that will make everything happen quickly and painlessly. There ain’t no such thing.

So put away the idea of a quick fix or a magic leadership development pill. Set your mind on the goal and get ready for the long haul.

Ground Rules

Nobody starts out great. Every one of us who has the privilege of leading others starts out with a lot to learn. You start out where you are. You learn as much as you can.

The art of leadership development is finding out what works for you. When I was considering different treatments for my cancer, a doctor at Duke said to me, “Remember, you’re a data point of one.”

He meant that no matter what I read or what other people’s experience was or what any physician told me, my case was unique. No one else in the history of the world had my peculiar mix of history, biochemistry, habits, and options. That’s good advice when you’re considering how to treat your cancer. It’s also good advice for leadership development.

Where to get ideas about what to do

As you move through your career, you must become a curator of ideas about how you should lead. Some things just seem to work for everybody. You’ll pick up others from observing your peers. You’ll get some from reading and classes.

Learn all you can, just remember that understanding is not enough. Knowing isn’t doing and leadership is a doing discipline.

Try stuff

If you’re a data point of one and if leadership is a doing discipline, you must master what works specifically for you in your situation. So, decide what you’re going to try. Write down what you think will work and why. Write down what you expect will happen.

Then try it. Keep records of what works and what doesn’t. You’ll be able to reject some ideas right away. Others will be promising. But almost everything you adopt will need to be modified before it works for you.

The rule is “try and tweak.”

You’re never done

Once you commit to leadership, you’re never done with this development plan. You will grow and change. The skills and behaviors that serve you well in one situation won’t work in every situation. And your situation will change as you move through life.

Art Jones was a sergeant in the San Leandro, California police department and the best supervisor I have ever seen up close. All kinds of leaders wanted Art’s advice. So, he always ate lunch at the same place at the same time so people would know where to find him.

I had joined him one day when a young sergeant from another department showed up to get some of Art’s wisdom. The young man asked the question I think many people had but didn’t voice. “How did you get to be so good?” Art’s answer was short. “One day at a time.”


Nobody starts out great.

You start where you are.

You must figure out what works for you in your unique situation.

Get ideas from others and from reading.

Experiment to find what works best for you.

Try and tweak.

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