The Door to Personal Transformation

When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.

Joseph Campbell

Some executives think that leadership is only about momentum and results. But even a slave master can crack the whip hard enough to get people working harder and faster. The best leaders do more than move us forward. They also help us rise above who we are so that we can move closer to the person we can become. Open-door leaders lift us up. They elevate our standards, ethics, and performance by creating opportunities for us to transform ourselves.

Human growth and development requires constantly advancing from who you are to who you want to become. In order to do that, you first must discover who you truly
are, and this is a big challenge for most people. Without knowing who you are, how can you ever know what to transform about yourself? Open-door leaders promote personal transformation by helping us know ourselves better, by holding us accountable to our own potential, and sometimes, by hitting us upside the head with the left hook of reality. The most powerful means of promoting personal transformation, though, is through the examples they set for us as role models.

Role Modeling Personal Transformation

There is no more powerful influencer on the culture of a workplace than the behavior of its leaders. Leaders set the behavioral tone of the organization, so it's important that they keep evolving and growing. This means purposefully doing things that are uncomfortable that create opportunities for their own development. It's much easier to follow people who embody the values they are asking us to live up to.

Consider Cal, who inherited a multimillion dollar business upon the sudden death of his father. Being only in his late 20s, and under intense pressure not to let the business fail, Cal overcompensated for his lack of leadership experience through heavy-handed and authoritarian leader behavior. Hundreds of people's livelihoods, he thought, were depending on his not failing. He was full of fear and he transmitted that fear to others in the form of harsh leadership. It's hard to get through to a hardhead, but it can be done. In Cal's case, it came in the form of a 360-degree leadership-feedback survey. Exhausted from his work pressures and perplexed by the frustrations of leading the company, Cal signed up to attend a 7 Habits class at the Sundance Resort. The class would be led by Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the most influential leadership books of all time.

As part of the Covey program, Cal received a 360-degree feedback assessment, whereby his direct reports gave candid and anonymous feedback about his leadership style. The feedback Cal got was startling, especially the raw, qualitative comments at the end. Words like “dominating,” “obnoxious,” and “offensive” jumped off the page. Curiously, one word came up over and over: afraid. That word, in particular, stung because Cal knew that it was true. He was afraid of failing and letting everyone down. He had tried to cloak his fear with his commanding presence. Clearly, it hadn't worked and the 360 provided the proof.

Sometimes the best thing that can happen to a leader is for them to experience humiliation, because humiliation is the birthplace of humility. The embarrassment and shame that Cal felt after seeing the results of the survey tenderized his hardness. He was now ready to accept that he needed help, that he couldn't just will success into being. He was failing alright. Not because he wasn't working hard enough, but because he wasn't bringing people with him. Cal set out to be a better leader. After attending the Covey program, he became a certified Covey instructor and brought the concepts back to his company. Some of the company's senior executives also got certified and, along with Cal, led workshops for the entire workforce. Based on the success of the workshops, Cal dramatically increased the training budget, which allowed for other training opportunities. Finally, after conducting a series of focus groups to get the input of the workforce, the company created its first-ever mission statement.

Cal had changed for the better, and people could see it. He dictated less and asked for input more. He spent time talking about the company's strategy and the opportunities the strategy was focused on creating. He walked the halls and dropped in on people, just to see how things were going. He also said “thank you” . . . a lot.

As Cal changed, so did the climate of the workplace. Work was still work, and the work still had to get done. But now it was getting done with enthusiasm and positive energy, not foot dragging and bellyaching. Cal's optimism gave way to a general workplace optimism. The company simply became a more positive place to be.

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