In The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, prolific author and leadership expert John C. Maxwell begins with The Law of Intentionality: growth doesn't just happen.
He points out that setting goals isn't the same thing as creating a plan to become better. This means that if you want to become a better leader this year, you'll need something more than performance goals.
Of course, setting big goals will require you to stretch yourself, but those goals won't ensure you become a better leader.
In fact, in the pursuit of achieving a big goal you can be pulled to rely on old ways of working that can actually get in the way of your growth. After all, when the going gets tough, we all naturally depend on what we already know how to do.
If you truly want to become a better leader in 2014, here's a simple three-step plan for ensuring you grow by intention and design this year:
1. Craft a clear and compelling leadership development intention statement
Come up with a simple, yet compelling statement of who you want to become as a leader this year. Think of the difference you want to make with those you lead, and who you want to be in the process of making that difference.
Dana Theus of InPower Consulting, Inc. defines an intention as "a description of a desired future state that provides intuitive and meaningful guidance for living into them."
If you're having trouble getting started, try filling in the blank to complete this statement.
In 2014, I will _________________________________________________.
Consider the gaps in your leadership habits or capabilities that you already know you have and really want to close. Consider the leadership qualities or characteristics you admire in others and would like to develop yourself. Do you want to become a better listener? Do you want to more effectively empower others to do their best work ever?
Whatever your intention is for this year, make sure it's something you are very passionate about. Then post it in places you'll see it every day so you can read it over and over.
2. Enlist a committed listener
Choose someone who you trust to support you in becoming a better leader. Make sure it's not someone to whom you have anything to prove - which makes your boss a bad choice.
Tell them your intention and put a monthly appointment on the calendar so you can discuss what you've done, what has worked, what hasn't, how you've grown. Use these conversations as a way to observe your growth and solidify your learning.
3. Write down 3 things you'll do in the next 30 days to become a better leader, and DO THEM
Notice I did not suggest you come up with a plan. I suggest growth is one of those things that we can only navigate by seeing as "far as our headlights shine". You don't learn to walk or to ride a bike by having a plan. You see what you want to be able to do and you try things until you figure it out.
The point is to get started quickly with something you already know you can do, even if you don't yet know how.
If your intention is to become a better listener and you know you need serious help, get a coach or ask around and sign up for a training course. If there's someone in particular you have a hard time listening to, start thinking about what's in the way (keep in mind this is about discovering what you can change in yourself, not how you can change others!)
Then go do whatever you wrote down. Really do it, no matter how strong your resistance may be or how easy it will be to put it off.
Become the leader you imagine you can be
Believe it or not growth does not have to take a lot of time. It does, however, take intense focus and persistent attention. Complicated growth plans don't work because they mire you in activity and take your attention off who you want to become.
The best way to become the leader you are striving to be is to start being that leader today. You may do it badly at times. In fact, you probably will.
Yet continue living that intention every day despite the struggle and the setbacks, and you'll most certainly learn and grow. One day soon you'll realize the "future you" that you are striving to be is now the leader you've become.
Do the above three things and see what happens. Learn what there is to learn, and come up with your next list of "three things you can do."
Your turn: What's your plan for growing as a leader?