The End is the Beginning
The end of ANY book, seminar, or educational endeavor is the start of your journey to fulfill your purpose for that endeavor. In other words, the most important part of education is what happens after you obtain it.
Let’s assume you just finished reading a book on leadership. Why did you read it? To become a better leader, of course. But will you actually become a better leader? Haven't you read other non-fiction books that failed to help you to take the action required to improve your skills? We don't want that to happen to you, do we? Knowledge is not power, applied knowledge is power. You spent your money, and more importantly your precious time, reading the book. (FYI, the expenditures for training and development services in North America exceeds $120B. Training Magazine, Oct., 2003.) You need to see the pay off! Otherwise, it’s like shoveling cash and small pieces of your life into a burning potbelly stove.
How To Use It and Not Lose It
The process outlined below will help you apply the ideas you learn from any meeting, seminar, book... It is a system that shows leaders how to invest, not spend, their time and money on education.
1. Brainstorm challenges and strategy. Ask yourself: What major challenges am I facing at work? Let your ideas flow and keep your pen moving as you brainstorm the answers to the question. In addition, reflect on your professional goals and your organization's strategy.
2. Write a S.M.A.R.T. goal. Based on your business challenges, professional goals, and your organization's strategic imperatives, write a S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Responsible, and Timed) goal for your leadership development. What do you want to do better or differently because of the book? For example, one executive at our recent leadership course said her goal was: Improve my coaching skills by… (insert date) to help my direct reports develop professionally.
3. Meet with your manager. Meet with your manager for a few minutes to discuss your goal. Access your commanding skills and tell your boss what you’re planning to work on. Ask for input, especially regarding how well you have aligned your goal with his or her overall strategy.
4. Review your insights, ideas, and behaviors page. Write a list of 7 to 10 insights, ideas, or behaviors (IIB's) on a sheet of paper. (I do this as I read a book or take a class.) For example, listed below are several ideas that leaders from my leadership classes identified as most effective:
- Use the XLM for my and my team’s development. Ask team members to assess their XLM at www.xlmassessment.com. Then develop ways to leverage our talents and hold each other accountable for stretching. Meet every two weeks to measure progress and celebrate our success.
- Map a paradox. Conduct a mapping session on issues affecting our team. This will help them understand the tension they feel and increase buy-in to managing the two issues simultaneously.
- Eliminate internal silos using systems thinking principles. Think systemically by increasing cross-functional teamwork, inviting other departments to our meetings occasionally, and using the S.T.A.T. model.
- Focus on what’s important to team members. Meet 1-on-1 with one team member every day for five minutes to discuss individual concerns, clarify expectations, and applaud small successes.
- Increase two-way communication. Speak last at meetings, ask more questions, listen better, and remember that broadcasting is not communicating.
- Conduct after action reviews. Coach others by delegating small portions of my job, and then ask these questions after completion: What happened? Why? What lessons were learned? Who else might benefit from these lessons?
- Make better decisions with the XLM. Access all four orientations of the XLM when making decisions. This will help ensure I have all the facts (R), consider the big picture (V), assess the impact on others (E), and take action (C).
- Manage anxiety. When stressed, ask the team "how can we view the differently?" Also, remind them that anxiety is the essence of growth and that great companies approach downturns as a chance to beat their competitors.
- Understand concerns and focus on influence. Use Stephen Covey's circle of concern and influence to encourage me (and others) to take personal responsibility, exercise their free will, and be expansive.
5. Review your favorites with a partner. Review your insights, ideas, and behaviors with a colleague. Focus your discussion on the few IIB's that you feel will help you best reach your goal. Tell your partner how you're going to use these few IIB's.
6. Create a list of four behaviors. Translate your few, insights, ideas and behaviors into four specific behaviors you will implement when you get back to work. Write these four behaviors in the left-hand column on a blank sheet of paper. A well-written behavioral action helps you adapt an IIB into a behavior that you can actually see yourself applying. Here's an example: I will write the XLM on a Post-it note, and place it on my computer screen during my direct reports' performance reviews.
7. Link the new behavior with an old habit. One of the best ways to remind yourself to practice your new behaviors is to link those new behaviors to old habits or current systems (old habit + new behavior = new habit). In the previous step, the old habit (i.e., current system) was conducting performance reviews. Linking the performance review with the XLM on a Post-it note will help create the new habit of using the XLM to develop direct reports.
8. Review and celebrate progress. When you are back at work, solicit feedback from a colleague or your manager regarding your implementation of these behaviors. Ask them to help you monitor your progress. Once a week, report the progress and challenges you are experiencing as you use your new behaviors. Make sure you also celebrate your small successes. Don't worry too much about your goal, concentrate on behaviors. Research tells us that you will accomplish your big goal by focusing on small steps.
The most important part of education is what happens after you obtain it. Which of these steps do you use to help you Use It and Not Lose it? Are there others you find helpful?
P.S. Click on the link below (or paste it into your browser) to read about my research on 171,000 leaders: