Looking Inward to See Outward: The 4 Keys to Personal Growth

Leadership is, by definition, a role that looks outward. It’s unique in that much effort is spent evaluating the performance of everyone except ourselves. Yet, what happens when the “leadership lens” with which we use to look outward becomes covered in a thick layer of dust? Would we be able to clearly evaluate the performance of our team and lead them to victory? When we’re so focused on the outward, that we lose touch with the inward, we create for ourselves just such a metaphorical distortion. For example, imagine the always-on CEO who eventually suffers burn out; or the micromanager who hovers rather than delegates; or the third-generation President who prefers status quo to innovation. Such stereotypes are not tuned into the mechanics of their own internal workings, and therefore overlook how their outward behavior may adversely impact their organization. A small dose of introspection goes a long way towards achieving personal growth that translates into better leadership.

The 4 Keys to Personal Growth

Of all the places to look within, the four items below are a great starting point, as they represent some of the largest personal growth areas.

1. Self-Awareness
2. Continuous Learning
3. Passion
4. Personal Time


Self-awareness means being tuned into your emotions, thoughts, strengths, and weaknesses. Solid self-awareness thinks critically about the impact of these aspects on an organization. Think of self-awareness as a garden, where you pick the weeds and prune the flowers. The weeds are things like fear, greed, stubbornness – anything that adversely affects your ability to achieve your leadership objectives. The flowers are those positive aspects that enhance your ability to achieve your objectives: focus, good time management, patience, etc.

Yet, it can be challenging to discern weeds from flowers. For example, it’s been argued that neuroticism is a trait common to the best leaders. Think of Steve Jobs, whose relentless perfectionism is now idolized. On the flip side, Mother Teresa and the likes may argue that an abundance of sensitivity is a trait worth developing. However, an overly sensitive or compassionate leader often is unable to see the forest for the trees. Keep in mind these points as you seek to gain self-awareness:

Know Yourself
If you haven’t already, take a free personality assessment. The DISC test is a highly used assessment that translates into your workplace strengths and weaknesses. This is a wonderful tool to discover things you probably did not know about yourself, along with a deeper understanding of your value system.

Embrace Feedback
Sometimes the best sources of self-knowledge come from others. Embrace the feedback your peers, family, friends, coworkers provide. The way you are perceived can reveal important growth areas.

Leverage Your Own Strengths
Rather than trying to be all things to all people, harness the power of your own unique strengths and build upon those.

Continuous Learning

In today’s world, lifelong learning is the equivalent of consuming “business nutrients”, while neglecting to learn is the equivalent of growing “business cancer”. For example, imagine an Accounting Manager who spends 20 years maintaining company ledgers using paper while the rest of the world transitions to QuickBooks. Now imagine that her firm is sold to a bigger, more modern firm. This new firm wants to ensure the Accounting Manager is working at maximum productivity, but because she doesn’t understand accounting software, they had to let her go. The real horror is that it will be difficult to get another job as well as it will be difficult to learn QuickBooks in a weekend class at the community college. A commitment to lifelong learning would have helped the Accounting Manager grow with the times into a productive and indispensable employee. In today’s ever-shifting workplace, lifelong learning helps one anticipate transitions before they’re imposed. Ensure that you are continuing to learn in the areas outlined below:

Technical Learning
Make sure that you stay up-to-date on your company’s own products. If your workplace sells automobiles, for instance, then make sure you learn about and test drive the latest models.

Industry Learning
Keep abreast of the industry. Do a Google Search for trade publications or websites with a focus on your industry so that you are aware of things like competition, industry growth/decline, industry advancements, and more.

Departmental Learning
The ability of a leader to speak the same language as their department heads will do wonders at being able to achieve objectives. Identify all the departments in your organization, and ensure that at least once per year, you read up on the latest issues facing those departments. For example, you may read an article on search engine optimization so you understand what your marketing department faces.

Leadership Learning
This type of learning should, of course, be given the most weight if you are a leader. Leadership and management resources abound. Becoming well-rounded on solid leadership principles is recommended. Crestcomtraining.com is a great resource for you, with constantly updated material that is grounded in solid principles.


Passion is that special something that makes us want to do what we do. It’s going the extra mile. It’s that hard-to-put-a-finger-on-it “oomph”. Like romantic love, passion can rarely be manufactured. What is in our control however, is finding it and nurturing it.

Find Your Passion at the Workplace
Passion can be found by uncovering a few different stones:

Industry: At the highest level, consider the industry you are interested in. What industry would you like you mold or otherwise be connected to?
Company: Another place to uncover your passion is to consider the mission statements of those companies that you love. Does the company’s mission statement align with your values?
Job Description: Often, it is not necessary for employees to be too heavily stirred up by the industry or company, but rather the job description itself provides plenty of fuel for the fire. If finding passion can be found within your own job role, consider yourself lucky, because this likely provides more chance to sustain the fires of passion than the other methods.
Combination: Any one of the above sources of passion can keep us going for a very long time. However, if you are lucky enough to be in a job, company, and industry that you feel passionate about, then you are poised to make a real difference.

Keep Your Passion Alive
Finding passion is great. Keeping it requires self-awareness (see section above). To keep your passion alive, follow these helpful steps:

Pace Yourself: It is true that the time window it takes to strategize, plan, and execute a project is being reduced every year. With advances in technology and ever-increasing workforce efficiencies, projects can be up and running in no time. Yet you must keep a close check on the pace with which you expect your projects to be completed or you will likely experience burnout. Imagine the cheetah. He runs short sprints but not every second of every day.
Monitor Your Own Ambition: Reading books and blogs and brainstorming with your leadership team is enough to excite anyone. Leaders must be doers, and if you’re a good leader, you are trying to figure out how execute all of the amazing ideas in your head. To keep your passion alive, ensure that you have the ability to execute with excellence. Focus on making an impact for your organization as a way to keep your own personal momentum going.
Avoid Overstimulation: Overstimulation is an imbalance between incoming thoughts and the time it takes to process them. When you’re reading so many leadership blogs that you don’t have time to think about them, then ironically, you hamper true innovation. Some of the best breakthroughs in the business (and scientific) world happen when their inventors turn off the incoming information and simply relax and digest what they have consumed up to that point.

Personal Time

Time management has the potential to be one of the greatest catalysts for personal growth, because with it, you can manage everything else, including the other three areas we have discussed. Review these tips to keep your personal time in check:

Set Boundaries For Your Day: It’s easy to get sucked into being busy doing nothing. Sometimes we just like to check the easy items off of our to-do list, and other times we have people pulling us in different directions. Either way, determining your most important activities, and doing those first, will change not only your workplace, but your life. Watch this video on completing “Big Rocks” first before anything else.
Discern What Is Really Important: Identifying your big rocks may be easier said than done. For leaders and managers, it can sometimes feel that everything is a big rock. Upon closer examination, however, that is not that case. Utilize the 80/20 rule to help identify your big rocks. The 80/20 rule says that 80 percent of your impact will me had with 20 percent of your actions. Therefore, identify those actions that lead to the greatest impact and put your focus there.
Overcome Perfectionism: There is a saying that perfection is the enemy of done. This has never been truer than it is in today’s fast-paced world. Perfectionism is craftsmanship at its finest. The world’s greatest pieces of art, music, theater, food etc are wonderful examples of craftsmanship. The problem is, you most likely are not hired to be a craftsman. Therefore, you must find an off-the-job outlet for your craftsmanship, while not letting it interfere with your ability to complete important projects. On the job, a helpful trick can be to set a time budget. Before you embark on a project, ask yourself what a reasonable time would be to complete the project. Then literally set a timer and work to get done within the bounds of the clock.

For a more detailed look at personal growth as it relates to the workplace, read The Leadership Habit. 

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