Don’t Change…Grow!

People hate to be told to “change.” Think back to a situation where you were told you needed to change. Most likely you felt defensive and resentful, and for good reason!

Most leadership development coaches believe that facilitating change is their core responsibility. But the notion of changing behavior implies that improvement requires looking externally to imitate someone or some ideal. After coaching many top performers, we’ve discovered that change is an illusion.

Our simple counsel – don’t change…grow!

The difference between “change” and “growth” is monumental. Change means to become or make different, substitute or replace. Growth means to advance, progress, and evolve. Which one sounds more natural?

Our extensive experience in leadership coaching reveals a major yet little appreciated truth. Strong leaders don’t follow the pack or imitate others; they originate. They understand their personality strengths, even if they can’t fully verbalize and articulate them. And, they seek out the right platform to exploit those strengths. The secret to career success is not through imitation but by becoming more of who you are when you’re performing at your best. Bottom line, this is what growth is all about.

Take a moment and recall your greatest career achievement. Possibly, good timing and a little luck were present. But once you remove any attenuating variables, what remains? We’re confident that if this achievement felt remarkably natural and intuitive, it’s because you were maturely employing your unique personality strengths. This is what created the positive dynamic that enabled your highest self to emerge.

Let’s look at an example to further establish the difference between the mindset of change versus growth. Assume you’re an operations executive who manages 500 people. You receive a call that the head of Human Resources wants to meet. You’re told that complaints are being filed because you’re viewed as too aggressive; the work environment is considered “hostile.” A performance improvement plan is initiated. You’re told you need to change, to improve communication, stop bullying, and being overly forceful or dramatic. If only to keep your job, you defensively agree to try. You hunker down in your office and in fact, watch your behavior. But you become quieter, more sullen. Your behavior has changed. You aren’t as aggressive as you once were, but now you’re less authentic and more guarded. The position has lost its enjoyment and in your frustration, you resolve to entertain recruiter calls (but unbeknownst to you, your lack of growth and maturity will now follow you to your next position).

Let’s look at the same dynamic from a growth mindset – one that our firm advocates. To begin, don’t buy into the premise that you need to change; and no, you’re not inherently flawed. There are no “weaknesses;” there’s only the immaturity of your strongest personality trait. When you focus on progressively maturing your strongest personality trait, your energy is now directed toward becoming more of who you are when you are peak performing. Growth is actually much easier because it’s more natural than trying to change.

The first growth step is to ask the following two questions: 1. What is the dominant personality trait I have exhibited since I was a young child? 2. How has my behavior associated with this trait both contributed to and diminished my success?

The answers to these two questions requires you to look back to uncover the real reason behind much of your behavior, both positive and negative. This primal, strong energy can derail you because it may not be as mature as it needs to be. But, this is also the energy that will define your value and take you to the top.

In our example, what if you discovered that your overly aggressive extroverted style is really the need to feel superior because as a child you were bullied and felt inferior. Or, what if you understood that early success in your peer group was achieved through dominance; and you never moved beyond this mentality. By objectively identifying the early life experiences that created and reinforced the immature behavior that is holding you back, you can begin to look at yourself more dispassionately. What follows is the realization that while your forceful communication style was validated in the past, this behavior, which is driven by your strongest trait, doesn’t serve you well any longer. You now understand that your strongest trait can be channeled in a more positive and productive way.

To grow means breaking down your ego defense barriers. It can be a difficult journey to admit your own immaturity and understand the root cause. But it’s not change that you seek; it’s recognizing and harnessing the power of maturing your strongest personality trait. The great news is that by becoming more of the person you already are, you never really need to change!

So, the next time you’re told you need to change, simply smile. Not for the advice, but for your ability to know the real difference between change and growth!

If you like this article, we encourage you to read our newly released book on Amazon, “Becoming a Strategic Leader.” In the book, we explore how to exploit your personality strengths to add strategic value. Or visit our website at www.toplinetalent.com for information on our leadership development and consultative selling skills training.

Dr. George Watts

Laurie Blazek

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TRAINING LEADERS TO THINK STRATEGICALLY—WHAT’S MISSING? Advances in personality and strength psychology need to be integrated into strategic thinking training.

How is “strategic thinking” being taught today? Top business schools are substantially different in their approach—each has their preferred curriculum. In the corporate world, companies spend millions on training with the hope of developing strategic thinkers. But present day training is surprisingly similar to what took place 2,500 years ago in ancient Greece. An instructor presents; everyone listens to and studies the same material. This one-size-fits-all training approach is the fatal flaw.

Today’s behavioral science research has conclusively shown that people have unique core personality traits. These traits underlie and drive creative thinking. Think of great artists and writers. While they all have weighty subject matter expertise, each artist is unique. Each exhibits his or her proficiency differently. These artistic differences are because each artist or writer has a different personality, so they bring forth their creativity through that personality. Why should leadership training to think creatively and strategically be any different? It shouldn’t!

Research and best practice reveals that skills training needs to be developed around the innate characteristics of the individual and not modeled on an “ideal.” If it’s true that people perform best from their strength, a vanilla, conventional program that doesn’t individualize the curriculum to each personality type is meaningless. Unless the concepts taught align with and to your individual core strength, there will be no permanent change in behavior. Creativity springs from the unconscious. You create the highest abstract and intuitive connections through your dominant personality trait. Training must account for the fact that individual personalities drive how leaders add strategic value.

Cases in Point

Let’s consider two business legends to demonstrate our point.

Sam Walton is revered for reinventing retail strategy. Sam’s subject matter expertise was merchandising and partner management. But it was his No. 1, dominant personality trait that created the Walmart magic.

Sam Walton’s No. 1 personality trait was “emotional stability.” When a person’s No. 1 trait is highly evolved and mature, it leads to greatness. The distinctive behaviors from Sam’s principal trait of “emotional stability” were honesty, composure, subtle humor, and congenially. He had a fatherly wisdom and sense of fairness. His promise was that you will be treated with respect and live a better life by virtue of being a customer.

Sam Walton’s strategy was really selling trust. It was not his subject matter expertise that created this strategy. Rather, it was the activation and evolved maturity of his No. 1 personality trait, emotional stability, that guided Walmart to remarkable success.

Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, has a mythological story. Sergey’s parents left Russia because being Jewish inhibited his mother and father’s academic freedom. At an early age, he witnessed prejudice against his parents; this irrevocably shaped his personality. Sergey’s core competency/expertise is mathematics. In business, he is a philosophical visionary.

Sergey’s No. 1 personality trait is “open mindedness.” His individual expression of the open-minded trait is equality. This personality trait drove Google’s strategic vision. Google evens out the playing field by providing universal access to knowledge. The company’s mission is to make data accessible for everyone in a useful way. Again, we observe that it was Sergey’s No. 1 personality trait, open mindedness, that was the foundation for Google’s strategy of equality of knowledge. If Sergey had a different personality structure, there would never have been a Google.

These are two very different examples of how leaders thought strategically. The key is that both strategic visions aligned with the natural core strength and dominant personality trait of each leader.

What Can You Do?

So how do you become a more strategic thinker? First, know your personality-driven strength. This isn’t your subject matter expertise. Your strength is genetically embedded and was observed at an early age. It is your core personality trait’s behavioral expression.

Ask yourself three questions and connect the dots between them.

  1. What were you good at as a child?
  2. What skill came easily and naturally to you?
  3. What activity do you enjoy so much that you’d do it for free?

If you thoughtfully answer these, you will better understand who you are and how you naturally think strategically.

Sam Walton loved selling and establishing trust as a youngster. He learned instinctively how to lower defense barriers to authentically connect. He enjoyed customers so much that there was no difference between a customer and a friend. Sergey Brin loved math. Math provided self-esteem and self-definition. He is an open-minded mathematical philosopher.

On the surface, it seems that Sam Walton and Sergey Brin have little in common. Upon closer analysis, it is clear that the corporate strategy for both of their mega-companies was driven by each leader’s dominant personality trait. Our point is that this is when the magic can happen for you. When you tap into your core strength, you add the ultimate strategic value.

The fact that only 7 percent of executives are viewed as strategic demonstrates how our education and training in this space has missed the mark. These numbers can improve but only if advances in personality and strength psychology are integrated into strategic thinking training. Otherwise, we will keep doing the same thing we have been doing for 2,500 years, and hoping for different results!

Dr. George Watts is chairman, and Laurie Blazek is president and CEO of Top Line Talent, a sales and leadership coaching firm that fuses brain science, positivity, and strength psychology into training that transforms careers. The company combines intimate consulting with scalable training. Visit www.TopLineTalent.com and watch the 14-minute Test Drive.

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