Professional Growth Is Personal

This post discusses the role our personal strengths, weaknesses, and insecurities play in the workplace and why personal development is intimately related to professional success.

Nearly 30 years ago Stephen Covey released his best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In the book he makes the case that as human beings we are incapable of achieving meaningful, sustained public victories such as a successful business, family, etc. without first achieving private victory over ourselves.

In short, our outward behavior flows from our inner selves.

The best leaders I have worked with in my life share a few key character traits:

1. Significant and demonstrable skill in their field.

2. They trust and empower the people around them.

3. A high capacity for empathy and grace. When someone beneath them behaves in a difficult manner they can empathize and give the person space without judging them.**

Leaders who possess these characteristics inspire deep loyalty in their teams. Furthermore these teams can execute well due to the high-trust environment these qualities create.

However, these principles are incredibly hard to act out. I have worked with spoken to many leaders who know and believe in the value of these principles yet struggle to implement them on a daily basis.

In fact, I am writing this article because I struggle with them on a daily basis.

This is because public victories cannot be sustained unless a private victory preceeds them.

Let’s briefly break down how we can obtain these three things:

1. Significant and demonstrable skill in their field:

I believe that, given the right tools, environment, and coaching, anyone can learn and become skilled at just about anything. To me this is the simplest of three traits because it is simply a matter of learning and practice.

I like to think of technical skills as your ticket through the door. What happens after depends largely on how you interact with your fellow humans.

2. They trust and empower the people around them.

Honing the ability to communicate trust and empower people is, to me, much more complicated than becoming an expert. It involves learning how to coach and teach people and ultimately knowing when to step away and let them stand on their own.

I do not presume to have any meaningful insight into how to achieve this right now.

3. A high capacity for empathy and grace.

I think this trait is very difficult to master.

If we fail to empathize and show grace to ourselves, we foster a habit of judgment.

No matter how hard we try to stifle it, when we interact with others this habit will come out.

Rather than empathizing and showing grace, we judge those around us just like we judge ourselves.

We can only solve the problem by changing ourselves.

This is a side of the technology industry, and business culture more broadly, that we discuss far too little.

If we want to be great team members, engineers, and leaders, we need to start by looking at the scripts running in our head and – if unhealthy – begin the process of changing them.

As we iteratively achieve larger and larger private victories, we will find ourselves able to capture and sustain public victories to match.

Professional growth is always personal.

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