Inspiring Your Own Personal Transformation

It's hard to be an open-door leader if your mental door is closed. Transformation, personally and organizationally, needs to start with you. Here are some ways to bring about your own transformation.

• Get a mentor inside the organization and hire a coach outside the organization.

• Go through a 360-degree feedback process.

• Devise and recite a daily mantra, like “calm confidence,” “be courageous,” or “discomfort equals growth.”

• Write a gratitude list at the start of each day.

• Sign up to do regular service work, such as joining Big Brothers Big Sisters or building a house with Habitat for Humanity.

• Start each day with five minutes of silent meditation.

• Take a yearly retreat at a transformational learning center, like the Esalen Institute at Big Sur, California.

• Change your insides by first changing your outside— this could include geting an image makeover, changing your clothes, or trying out new hairstyle.

• Experience the world by taking a solo trip abroad.

• Get a personal trainer and/or sign up for a rigorous fitness program.

• Take a three-month sabbatical and get reacquainted with who you always wanted to be.

Holding the Door Open

Sometimes opening the door for transformation is simply a matter of pointing a person in the direction of their potential and holding steady until they reach it. Steve, a project manager in a large commercial building company, is a great example. Steve had a enjoyed a successful career and was poised for a bright future—until he suffered a crisis of confidence when a project he had led tanked and lost millions of dollars. There were a host of reasons why the project went south, including misestimating the cost of the work, underbidding the project, performing in an entirely new market, and a fickle and unreasonable client. If anything, Steve's leadership had prevented the project from being an even bigger loss. But he didn't view it that way. He personalized the failure. As a result, he started to doubt himself and became much more hesitant and much less confident.

Fortunately, Steve worked for a seasoned open-door leader. His boss, Wayne, had experienced a similar crisis earlier in his career, so he knew what Steve was going through. He could tell that Steve wanted to scale back his career a bit, become less visible, and maybe take on smaller projects for a while. Wayne knew, from his own experience, that what Steve really needed was to take on another large and complex project. Why? For two reasons. First, if Steve allowed himself to shrink, he might get comfortable with a lower standard of achievement. Second, Wayne knew that
Steve was capable of so much more than he had shown thus far. Wayne believed in Steve's potential even more than he did. If there's one thing gray-haired leaders develop a keen eye for, it's talent. Despite the recent setback, Wayne knew that Steve was a really talented guy.

So what did Wayne do? He put Steve in charge of a large, complex project the company had just landed. It was one of the largest in the company's history, and a lot of money was at stake. If that weren't enough, the project was a joint venture with a partner that had no prior history with Steve's company. Oh yeah, and the project was on the opposite side of the country.

Notice that what made Steve the right choice for the new opportunity wasn't that he had been successful before. It was the opposite. He was suited for the opportunity because of his recent failure and his need to overcome it.

Steve pleaded with Wayne to pick someone else. Wayne listened patiently and then said, “No.” Steve protested that he might lose the company money. Wayne said, “You'd better not.” Steve said the move would be tough on his family. Wayne said, “Bring 'em.” Steve said, “I'm afraid.” Wayne said, “You should be.”

Once you open a door of opportunity for somebody, you may need to stop them from closing it. Wayne knew that what Steve truly needed was redemption; in the eyes of his company, yes, but more importantly, in his view of himself. Steve would never hold himself accountable to who he was capable of becoming as a professional if Wayne
let him settle for becoming a smaller self. Leaders fail. It comes with the territory. If anything, Wayne believed, Steve had earned a stripe that he hadn't yet claimed. Leading a big, hairy, complex job would be just what Steve needed to capitalize on the lessons he had learned from his prior failure. So Wayne refused to let Steve close the door. He kept Steve accountable to his own potential.

It's important to understand that Wayne didn't just dump the opportunity in Steve's lap and then cut and run—he was deeply involved every step of the way. Steve didn't take over the leadership helm instantaneously, some baton passing had to happen fi Wayne and Steve worked closely to shape the relationship with the new venture partner. They sifted through the project contract and estimates; attended client meetings; and traveled to, and presented at, the quarterly division meetings back at the company headquarters. They were in it together. Steve's opportunity to reclaim his confidence was Wayne's opportunity to leave a positive and lasting imprint on future leader.

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