Guest Post - Growth Principles for Leadership Skills: Stay in the Zone
Guest Post by Ali Schwanke
Growth is a constant topic of conversation these days. Executives want to grow their leadership skills. Health conscious folks want to grow their own food. Bodybuilders want to increase the size of their muscles. Companies desire to exponentially grow their sales numbers.
But, in our fast paced society, do we really understand what it takes to grow?
When I was in high school my family moved to a small town in southeastern Nebraska. The school I attended was quite small (our football team played 6 man!) - which meant we didn't have a track to practice on. Instead, we did our workouts by running around a block in the middle of the town. In typical teenage fashion, we thought it was rather sneaky to cut corners on the back side of the block where our coach couldn't see us. This allowed us to run slower - we could hit the times we needed since we were taking a few short cuts through lawns and alleys in order to gain a few seconds.
Challenge = Growth
By cutting corners and running with less effort we cheated ourselves. What we didn't realize (or better yet, appreciate) is that we would only become better runners when we were challenged.
Why do 8 x 200 repeats at 90% effort? So that your body adapts, and grows, thereby making you a better runner, able to run faster and farther with less effort.
As student athletes, we wanted to remain in the comfort zone. Our coach wanted us in the growth zone. What's the difference?
A. Comfort Zone - A familiar place. Things in this zone are easy. You don't try harder to make things better, they're fine as is. You seek to understand but only if it benefits you and isn't too hard. You prefer to sit on the sidelines as a spectator rather than a player.
B. Growth Zone - There's a sense of familiarity but not much. It's a tough road but you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It's challenging - you know that you can do it, but it's going to take some time and effort, maybe even some blood, sweat and tears.
C. Shutdown Zone - Just like it sounds, it's too much. Similar to marathoners when they've reached "the wall", you simply cannot go on; there are too many burdens, too much unfamilarity, lack of support, tunnel vision.
In order to remain challenged, you must become familiar with the five characteristics of the growth zone:
1. Effort: The growth zone is not a walk in the park. There will be effort on your part to make sure that you're moving forward. Intentional effort.
2. Transparency: We can't be everything to everyone. To grow, we have to be willing to admit our weaknesses and failures.
3. Understanding: In order to grow, you have to know what makes you tick and what makes you come alive. What types of experiences have shaped your behaviors and thinking styles? The better you understand yourself, the better you will be at knowing your limits. By doing this you can avoid pushing yourself into the shutdown zone.
4. Risk: Growing requires risk. Being truthful with other people. Taking a step of faith, knowing that if you fail, it's ok. Learn from it. Ask for bold feedback from your co-workers, supervisors, mentors and friends. Learn to embrace risk.
5. Vision: Ultimately, you have to know where you're headed in order to arrive at that destination. What are your professional aspirations? What skills do you need to develop? Keep a running list of things you want to work on that support your ultimate goal.
Growth isn't easy, but it's worth it. I've come a long way since cutting corners through lawns. As an adult, I now train for marathons and have come to enjoy the challenging workouts needed to perform at that level. It can be painful, but the feeling I get when crossing the finish line with other runners who have done the same makes it all worthwhile.
Successful leaders make an effort to move from comfort to challenge. How do you challenge yourself to grow on a daily basis?
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Ali Schwanke is the Director of Marketing and Product Development at Leadership Resources, a partner of Profiles International. She brings a wealth of resources to her team and on the public speaking circuit, she frequently provides keynotes and interactive presentations to companies, professional organizations and college groups.