One of biggest issues I hear from programme participants is that they are simply too busy to take time out of their schedule to develop themselves.
They get frustrated because they want to get better at some aspect of their leadership capabilities, or their management skills so that they can SAVE the time they currently don't have because they don't have enough time to get better and practice.
Their daily work lives are filled with meetings, travel, rushing from one meeting no another, rushing off to meet with clients and an overflowing inbox.
There's no time to chew food properly at lunch time let alone time to coach or read a book.
Of course, it depends on how motivated you are to develop. And that's another concern I hear: “My boss wants to put me on this training but, frankly, she should be doing this, not me.”
And variations on the themes:
- I learned how to lead teams when I was in school.
- I know how to lead teams, it's my team members who need to learn how to follow.
You think I'm kidding?
Not in the least. This is a direct quote and I have heard many variations on the same, prideful theme. I call this lack of motivation the “It's not me, it's them”. But what if “they” never develop as a leader? You'll just keep banging your head against their leadership lid and complaining.
Then there's the third excuse for not taking time out to develop, and this is the one that stings a little. It is that training and development programmes are “boring”.
And I have to agree. I've attended more boring programmes and presentations than entertaining and useful ones.
Sometimes it is the content that is simply dull, more often it is the method and Death by PowerPoint and “blah blah blah”
And these, I find, are the three top reasons that people don't develop and leverage their talents: It's Them Not Me, The Busyness dilemma, and “Blah blah blah”
It's not me, it's them!
Reluctantly, the group of young managers turned their phones over on the desk pretending that they had indeed turned them off and looked up to the workshop leader at the front of the room. Briefly, a questioning look in startled their eyes as they considered the absurdity of the question posed.
Finally, one brave soul “speaks for the whole group” explaining that the problem was not their own leadership ability, but that of their bosses. It is them, not us, who need to develop their leadership capability.
The ability to pass the buck for leadership is hardly confined to the current younger generation. “The fish rots from the head” is an ancient saying claimed to originate in many countries but if you don't develop and get better now, then won't you one day be the head that gets blamed for starting the rot?
John C. Maxwell uses the metaphor of the Leadership Lid – where your ability as a leader puts a lid firstly on your own effectiveness, and then the effectiveness of your team.
And that your performance is restrained by the leadership lid of your boss.
If your own leader has a low leadership lid, that is, they have poorly developed leadership skills and abilities, then your performance and effectiveness are constrained to their lid.
As you try to perform better and be a more effective leader, it's like banging your head against a low ceiling. After a while of banging your head, one of two things will happen.
- Either you will break through, or you'll just get a sore head. In the latter case, your lust to perform diminishes to the extent where you no longer keep bashing your head against your leaders lid.
- If you break through, your boss may resent you, they may even try to undermine you, but at least you are no longer allowing yourself to be constrained by their abilities.
The problem for many people is that they lack the necessary motivation to find the time to develop and grow. They seem content to wait for someone else to tell them that they need to do it.
The Busy-ness dilemma
I have no time to develop myself. I'm just too busy!
There was a time when I truly was too busy to learn. A time when the summers were long and friends were fun and all anybody wanted to do was be outside and playing. Life was full of promise and learning was, well dull basically.
Of course, I'm talking about school. Sure, nowsadays, those young people just want to sit in classrooms and absorb all the fountains of wisdom that might just come up on the test or one of the far too many exams they take these days.
Back then, I really was too busy to learn. Now, I can hardly get enough of it. Fortunately for me, one of the essential things about teaching and coaching for a living is that one has to learn a lot first. But most people are doing a job that they learned pretty well everything they needed some time ago. Now they spend their days doing and genuinely find it difficult to find time to learn.
And that's just the problem. Too busy to learn how to be less busy.
A dilemma that faces almost everybody I meet. And then there's the problem that most learning and development is a waste of your time.
Experience shows that most leadership or management development really is a waste of time
Time is precious. You have a lot to do in every minute of every day. It can feel as if your to-do list just gets longer and you laugh at notions of “Inbox Zero”. Sitting listening to some boring expert witter on about this or that whilst you nod sagely hanging on to every word is hardly more exciting than attending that management meeting where someone will no doubt witter on about something not very important at all.
Real and sustainable development simply takes too long.
The truth is, that real and sustainable development doesn't happen in a workshop. It happens when you consolidate the learning inside your brain with the real world actions that take place every day.
Knowing something does not, on its own, help you unless you use that knowledge. And you will only sustain any improvements if this new understanding pays you dividends.
Busyness – Why nobody has time to pause and develop themselves
Your schedule is already full. And any gaps are quickly filled with actually doing your job, or they get stolen by somebody “happening” by your desk and needing “just a minute of your time” to help them with their job.
So, if you are struggling to find time to develop yourself: You will only find time to develop if you schedule it.
If you truly want to get better so that you can do things quicker, more effortlessly, be more productive and maybe earn more (money, respect, trust), you will have to pay up front and steal enough time from yourself now.
How to prioritise your development time
I have advised enough people now to know that something has to give when you choose to develop yourself in any way.
C. Northcote Parkinson noted this 60 plus years ago: Your work expands to fill the time available.
So start stealing time from yourself. Ten minutes borrowed from your morning shortens the time available for work, which means, for most people, that you simply finish your work faster because you imposed a deadline.
- Finish your meeting ten minutes earlier (no-one will complain)
- or start ten minutes later in the morning.
But my boss won't accept this!
Said one of my clients. “Will they notice?” I asked. “If you want to leave your boss in charge of your future, then carry on as you have been. By the way, how has that been working out for you?”
Just take a moment to identify 3 tiny slots of 10 minutes that could be used
- Walking to or from work, or lunch.
- Commute to or from work
- Toilet time
- Coffee break
Get yourself an audio book or an audio abstract of a book and listen to it during thes10-minutete slots.
I expect my coaching clients to find 2 or 3 hours a week for their coaching sessions and their homework (aka Learning in Action) when they deliberately and purposefully use something from our session on the job with their team or someone else.
But we start with 10 minutes a day in the first week and gradually build until they find maybe half an hour every day.
Find just 3 ten minute slots in your daily schedule and buy yourself an audio book
Blah, Blah, Blah
You sit and watch in horror as another slideful of bulletpoints and charts fills the screen. The presenter begins another long monologue and you glance eagerly at the clock wishing lunchtime to arrive. Flicking ever so subtly to email every few minutes to check in case anything really important requires your attention.
What the iPhone can teach us about motivation to grow and develop
Many years ago, a lot of my work was teaching people how to use word processing and spreadsheets. I was very adept at using Ctrl key combinations on WordPerfect and how to use .dif files in Visicalc to access more data. And if these terms are surreal to you, then you missed some fun times in the early days of personal computing. What was terrific for me, was that there was so much functionality hidden in these software programmes that people new to them were utterly overwhelmed. The manuals were written by techies and who reads manuals anyway?
What new users needed was a real simple and incredibly easy way to do basic things.
So I created training modules to do just that. Real easy, tiny step by tiny step progressive exercises to quickly master the essentials. No overwhelm, just progress towards a goal.
And this is where the iPhone is incredible. It has been designed for consumption. It's so easy to use that a two-year-old can use an iPhone without being shown how!
With an iPhone, you get to switch it on with one button and then everything you could ever want is an icon touch away. With a few touches, you achieve a goal and your brain receives a satisfying dose of dopamine, the happy chemical.
Apple, in designing the iPhone, leverages your brain's motivational secrets.
That secret is that we are most motivated as we progress towards achieving a goal. Extra effort and confusion and overwhelm with too many options and too many steps increases stress which undermines motivation.
Word processing software with its thousands of menu options and numerous steps to achieve the desired result overwhelms and stresses the newcomer's brain, making that dopaminal motivation rush a distant possibility. But if I take you one tiny and easy step at a time, I can increase your satisfaction in achieving progress towards your desired result and guide you to the end with ease.
You can do this, in the same way, to increase your own motivation and satisfaction in growing and developing in leadership (or any field).
Identify just one small improvement that you want to make this week. One new technique of influencing for example, or one thing that you can do easily to improve a relationship. One activity such as writing your journal every day for this week. Reaching out to one person each day to tell them how awesome they are. Read one chapter of one book and choose to take away one thing to try that day.
What do you do when you can't find the time or motivation to grow and develop?
If you can't find the time, you'll just have to steal it from something less deserving and deliberately schedule small ten minute blocks through your day for you to develop, with tiny little increments, remembering that whilst it may be true that your boss should be doing this, you are not in charge of their development, but you are in charge of your own and you'll be saving yourself hours of wondering “if only”, later in life.