Leadership Skills: A Discipline of Continual Improvement

Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound.James Allen

Personal DevelopmentThe business buzz words and miracle programs get overused, trite, and annoying, especially when they compromise the quality of the work output that they claim to support. You know the programs. These programs have names like Six Sigma, Kaizen, Lean, Agile, and others. Some have buzzwords or phrases like Think Outside the Box, At the End of the Day, Game Plan, Quality-Driven, Results-Driven, Stretch the Envelope, Strategic Fit, Bandwidth, or Total Quality among others. There’s a game called BS Bingo in which participants get to call “bingo” once they hear so many of those words in one meeting. It’s funny and sad at the same time.

We confuse a continuing improvement of ourselves with the trendy programs called “Continuous Improvement.” More times than not, the amount of money and focus given to learning a program distracts from increasing human potential and learning to access common sense. I guess common sense is not very common anymore.

As you might determine, I’m not a fan of these programs or the standard instruments such as Myers-Briggs or DISC. They are used by many, and many organizations and consultants make a living teaching with these tools. I applaud their efforts. Those programs don’t work for me. I’ve been a part of staff projects with 5 of those instruments taught by consummate professionals. Ultimately, there was no change in the culture because of the training, or awareness of our personal preferences or the preferences of other colleagues. Many times, people use their profile results to justify their unprofessional, unproductive behavior.

Now, after this rant, let’s focus on continual improvement as a personal discipline.

Here are 6 personal improvement strategies that actually provide leadership growth:

  1. Continuing Education: Access your company’s budget for continuing education and study leadership methodology. For the last five years, my wife and I have been in a study program together on Bowen Family Systems with Roberta Gilbert at the Center for the Study of Human Systems. This program has enhanced our relationship, our work, our family relationships, and my leadership coaching. I have learned more in the past 5 years than I learned in my first 64 years of life. It’s invaluable to my personal growth and effectiveness. Find a program, methodology, or leadership style to focus on for a season.
  2. Reading: There are many, many valuable resources including books, articles, blogs, and online programs that challenge and stretch leaders. Choose a leadership style. Focus on a track for a period of time. Define desired results. Commit to a season of study and application. Take action with what you learn.
  3. Mastermind Group: Gather a group of successful people you consider to be better than you and create a support group. Napoleon Hill determined that the successful people he interviewed all had a group they belonged to that challenged and supported them. Don’t pick a group of “yes” people. Choose people who will ask hard questions and allow you to do the same. Going to the outside of our comfort space is where we grow.
  4. Attend Valuable Events: I regularly attend a Business Growth Conference called CEO Space.  When I was active in conducting, I attended events for musical conductors. As Stephen Covey writes, it’s about sharpening the saw – keeping current with skills, knowledge and best practices. Events are opportunities to learn from experts in other fields, network with other professionals of like mind, and to create opportunities for business and personal growth.
  5. Write a Blog: There’s no better way to grow than writing about how you want to grow, how you have grown, what’s wrong with your process, or searches for excellence. Writing is a way to define and clarify thoughts and to actually clarify what you already know. This is similar to teaching. The teacher learns more than the students. When I write a blog post, I research the topic, outline the post, and then write it. My focus is within my discipline of Transformational Leadership. I don’t leave it where Burns and Bass created it in the ’90s, I continue to push the envelope with my principles and my paradigm of the musical conductor as transformational leader.
  6. Always Have a Coach: Every year I have a coach, I save about 5 years of making mistakes and not knowing what to do next. I serve as strategy, leadership, and team coach for other professional business and nonprofit leaders. I can’t do for myself what I do for others. It’s not possible. Only those willing to grow personally will benefit from a coach, so I make myself vulnerable, transparent, and willing to open my mind to different paradigms. A personal coach provides an accountability partner, content counselor, neutral responder, advocate, encourager, and reality advisor.

Staying ahead means being responsible for one’s own initiatives for growing. We choose our pathway.

Over the next several months, I will be writing about these resources and others that help me get ahead and stay ahead. The Tuesdays theme will be Leadership Resources.


Hugh Ballou

The Transformational Leadership Strategist TM

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  • Ronald M. Kyamagero

    So powerful!

  • Hugh Ballou

    Thanks Ronald. Let’s talk soon.