"We have met the enemy, and he is us!"

A recent article in Forbes by leadership consultant Joseph Folkman recently caught my attention. Folkman observed that the vast majority of the thousands of leaders he’s worked with over the years do not value self-development. “Practicing self-development is the gateway for improving every competency, and it should not be ignored,” he writes. “Why do leaders avoid it? And why do they fail?”

His observation – which mirrors my own, albeit less experienced, take – that too many people (and not just leaders) too often put their own professional and personal development on the back burner is disconcerting. And not just because my business relies on people investing in themselves. 

Folkman identifies several reasons why people fail at self-development – they don’t know how to listen; they aren’t open to the ideas of others; they aren’t honest with themselves; they don’t take time to develop others; they don’t take the initiative.

I’ve seen all of these in action. I’ve probably exhibited each of them countless times in my own leadership journey. But I’ve also seen, and experienced, a deeper problem – leaders who simply lack the awareness that they represent the tip of a bigger development opportunity.

In our work at Floricane, we’re often brought into organizations with the best of intentions. Our clients see a real developmental need in the organization, and want us to work with senior leadership to make adjustments. Those adjustments usually involve other people.

Too often, I am reminded of Walt Kelly’s pointed cartoon strip Pogo of long ago – “We have met the enemy, and he is us!”

It’s sometimes painfully amusing to listen to leaders who talk a great talk about the importance of self-awareness and leadership development – for everyone below them. They believe that the fact that they’ve brought us into the organization for a serious engagement, that they’re making an investment in their people, is evidence that they’re good leaders. A mirror is one leadership tool remarkably absent from their professional toolkit.

“We’ve worked with dozens of consultants over the years,” groused one leader we met, “and nothing’s ever changed. Why should we think that you’ll be any different? 

My immediate thought was that he should expect exactly the same results. After all, he and his fellow leadership team members were the only common denominator across all of those engagements.

Before you can truly fail at self-development, you’ve got to engage in self-development. Once you engage in self-development, you can apply Folkman’s key behaviors:

·      Active listening for content, meaning and emotion in every conversation.

·      Being open to others’ ideas, and soliciting their input and feedback regularly.

·      Being honest with yourself, and regularly looking in the mirror for opportunities to improve.

·      Develop others, and model self-development through your own actions.

·      Take the initiative and get started.