Equally effective for exercise regimes and breakfast cereals, the axiom ‘you only get out what you put in’ insists that self-improvement is a solid gold recipe for success.
That’s the way it is for businesses. The more you invest in your enterprise, the stronger your return. A stagnant business is a dead one.
It’s the same with your finances. Wise investments pay greater dividends than a shoebox under your mattress.
David Jepson, CEO of The CEO Magazine, believes it should be no different for leaders. “A business is a living organism, as are you as a leader,” Jepson says.
“We’re always learning, always evolving. But it’s easy to get pulled into the day-to-day of everything going on, so you have to make sure you step back and take the time to grow so the organization can continue to do the same under your leadership.”
“A business is a living organism, as are you as a leader.” – David Jepson
There’s always room for improvement in any role on any rung of the corporate ladder, but adding to your skillset and being open to growth as a management figure can help bring the job’s demands down to size, says leadership coach and Third Space People Founder Hareta McMullin.
“Adopting a growth mindset and accepting that self-development never ends can remove any sense of overwhelm,” she says. “Start small, choose two to three areas to work on per year and enjoy the process.”
That process has become big business. In the United States alone, US$166 billion is spent each year on leadership development, a figure that more than doubles globally.
The reason for such expenditure is simple: leadership training gets results. A 2017 study revealed that learning capacity among those undergoing training improved by 25 percent, while performance improved 20 percent.
Beyond these mammoth figures, Jepson says the immediate benefits of any investment in one’s own leadership are most apparent to yourself.
“It’s about making sure you’re at the forefront of what’s going on in your industry,” he says. “You’re aware of any major trends that are impacting your business. You have to have enough awareness to ask the right questions.”
McMullin adds that intentional, considered investment ensures the best return. “Trends, new technologies or socioeconomic advancements are external opportunities of self-improvement,” she says.
“As a generalization, people are drawn to leaders who inspire, educate, support and challenge.” – Hareta McMullin
“Internal opportunities are the soft skills you need to develop such as conflict management, change management or communicating as a magnetic leader. Identifying what you may need to invest in can be achieved through 360-degree feedback and self-reflection.”
Beyond the personal advantages, any growth means knock-on effects for your team.
“As a generalization, people are drawn to leaders who inspire, educate, support and challenge,” McMullin says. “To do this well long-term, you must stay relevant. Understanding your value and consistently adding to it shows your team what’s possible. It improves your capability and adds to your sense of leadership confidence, which influences how impactful you are as a leader.”
Continuing to learn
The addition of value varies from person to person, but education is a universal accelerant of success.
For starters, any education puts you ahead of the pack at this moment – a time when less than five percent of companies have a leadership development program in place. Even then, only a minority of those believe those programs are effective.
This has led to a crisis of confidence in leadership across the board, with an overwhelming majority of organizations reporting that leadership is lacking.
“[Leaders] need to be able to articulate a clear vision, take people along on the journey, and have a baseline level of technical understanding.” – Hareta McMullin
According to McMullin, this stems from historic precedents and preconceptions about leadership that must be broken in order to advance.
“The traditional definition of leadership implies that the leader must know all and is always right,” she says. “Then there’s a lack of education and support from the business (especially in the early years) coupled with the top-down and bottom-up pressure leaders face, and our own innate social drivers and the natural human ego.”
Great leaders don’t need to be the smartest people in the room, she says. “Their primary role is to hire, nurture and lead the best (often smarter) people, who can work together to achieve the business’ vision,’ she says.
“For that they need to be able to articulate a clear vision, take people along on the journey, and have a baseline level of technical understanding.”
Taking leadership to new heights
Jepson says that taking the time to broaden your perspectives, particularly by reading, is a great use of a CEO’s limited time.
“Yes, you do need to run a company. You do need to be able to answer the right questions. You have to be humble in terms of where your expertise are and where they aren’t,” he says.
But leaders don’t have to be experts in every area of the business, he counters. “You need a base level of knowledge that allows you to ask the right questions and get an understanding of your own expertise, so read about what’s going on in your industry, stay humble and remove any ego,” he says.
Further education builds on that concept and can potentially take your leadership to new heights. An MBA is an ideal way to do so, no matter what stage of your career you’re at.
“Mentorship is another fantastic option for leaders to share their knowledge and keep their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in their industry from their mentees.” – Hareta McMullin
Even those who have hit a career ceiling can break through and expand their career paths while absorbing real world experience from ‘pracademics’, who combine academic excellence with professional expertise.
“Mentorship is another fantastic option for leaders to share their knowledge and keep their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in their industry from their mentees,” McMullin says.
Investments are all about starting with a little and building to a lot. For leaders, any level of self-investment or improvement has the potential to change their business for the better, whereas those that do nothing will pay a price.
“To ‘set and forget’ as a leader is to set yourself up for failure,” McMullin says. “Peoples’ needs change and different challenges emerge that require a new way of thinking. If you’re not consistently investing in yourself, you risk becoming irrelevant and losing touch with the people you lead, thus risking your very position as a leader.
“As the world evolves, so must we.”