Sunday, August 30, 2009

Growing to the Top

In his book, The 360° Leader, John Maxwell shares a humorous story of a turkey that was chatting with a bull. “I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree,” sighed the turkey, “but I haven’t got the energy.”

“Well,” replied the bull, “why don’t you nibble on some of my droppings? They’re packed with nutrients.”

The turkey pecked at a lump of dung and found that it actually gave him enough strength to reach the lowest branch of the tree. The next day, after eating some more dung, he reached the second branch. Finally, after a fourth night, there he was proudly perched at the top of the tree. But he was promptly spotted by a hunter, who shot him out of the tree.

The moral of the story: BS might get you to the top, but it won’t keep you there.

Maxwell wisely states,” …my life began changing when I stopped setting goals for where I wanted to be and started setting the course who I wanted to be. I have discovered for others and me that the key to personal development is being more growth oriented than goal oriented.”

Growing to the top is not about positional leadership placement. Growing to the top is about reaching your full potential as a person regardless of where you are within the organizational structure. Allow me to share a few thoughts on growing to the top.

Bloom where you are planted. While aspiration is a great motivator, be careful not to fall into the trap of looking beyond what destiny requires of you today.

Whether you are at mid-level position or on the bottom rung of the ladder, there is something to be said for establishing roots of personal growth where you are. What you are learning today is preparing you for the next level and the responsibilities of tomorrow.

When Pablo Casals reached 95, a young reporter asked him, “Mr. Casals, you are 95 years old and the greatest cellist that ever lived. Why do you still practice six hours a day?” Casals replied, “Because I think I am making progress.” Progress as a leader is made when you bloom where you are planted and remain faithful in the small things.

Learn all you can. A wise leader is one who has enough sense to understand that he doesn’t know it all and commits to doing something about it. It’s one thing to have degree’s hanging on the wall, but I still haven’t found a University yet where you can get a degree in common sense or experience.

I’m reminded of the story I read of a father and his small son. They were out walking one day when he asked how electricity could go through the wires stretched between the telephone poles. “I don’t know,” said his father. “I never knew much about electricity.”
A few blocks farther on, the boy asked what caused lightning and thunder. “That too has puzzled me,” came the reply. The youngster continued to inquire about many things, none of which the father could explain.

Finally, as they were nearing home, the boy said, “Pop, I hope you didn’t mind all those questions.” “Not at all,” replied his father. “How else are you going to learn?”

Growing to the top is a learning experience that we all must embrace as leaders. It’s not something you can bluff your way through as the father did with his son. Learn through books, learn through mentors, learn through colleagues, learn through competition; learn all you can.

Make yourself useful to others. One cannot grow as a leader without investing in the lives of others. The thinking of bygone days is that of success by any means necessary, regardless of who you hurt or step on.

Growing to the top as a leader today is about serving and adding value to others. The mark of a true leader is not in what he takes but in what he gives. Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” A true leader is known by what he gives, in serving others. A leader grows when he helps others grow.

Set high expectations. No one would argue that Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer in the world today. In an interview he said, “One of the things that my parents have taught me is to never listen to other people’s expectations. You should live your own life and live up to your own expectations, and those are the only things I really care about.”

High expectations as a leader are realized when you focus on who you want to become. Langston Hughes said, “I have discovered in life that there are ways of getting almost anywhere you want to go, if you really want to go.” When you set high expectations as a leader you are committing yourself to growing beyond where you are today to become who you want to be tomorrow.

Personal growth as a leader is lifelong quest. Befriend the journey.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

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