Effort, Habit and the Timetable of Transformation

Instant gratification is widely prized today, not the least in business circles. The number of leadership books promising tips, tricks, and secrets to achieve quick and painless change — of ones’ employees, ones’ organization, ones’ self — testifies to the number of leaders seeking the silver bullet solution.

Of course many leaders realize that things which seem too good to be true usually are. But repeated exposure to claims, even those we reject as unrealistic or fantastic, can gradually distort our perceptions of what is normal and realistic.

When it comes to leadership development, then, it is worth considering the extent that such eat-more-and-still-lose-weight promises might have led us to underestimate the time and effort needed to achieve lasting personal change.

In an article exploring collaboration and participatory leadership, well-known consultant, trainer, and author Peter Grazier offered an arresting depiction of the determination walking such a path of transformation can require.

“Although I was observing this phenomenon almost daily in my work, it took almost four years before my own decision making process became more naturally collaborative,” he writes.

Now, four years is not the timeline on which most of us chart a course of personal improvement. Not only does it seem more than a little daunting , it seems downright unnecessary. We assume that a few weeks, a few months at most, of dedicated attention should be enough to tackle most any managerial shortcoming.

And yet Grazier echoes what many other thoughtful leaders have suggested: that personal growth is valuable precisely because it is so hard-won. “As I have looked back on my own transition,” he writes, “I have gained a greater awareness and appreciation of the difficulty of changing ourselves, let alone others.”

Change, in short, is worthwhile in large part because it is so challenging.

Moreover, change requires dedication not just to act at a tactical level, but also to be vulnerable at a personal one. “It took a series of significant emotional events to have me seriously reconsider how to contemplate, explore, and make decisions differently,” Grazier writes, describing what could be termed a below-the-linechange in thinking and outlook.

Leaders—all people, really—improve not by turning away from challenges but by grappling with them head-on. They improve by hanging the mirror and asking tough questions about who they really are, what they really believe, what they value, and what m0tivates their action.

Facing these questions can be challenging. It requires effort, time, dedication, and perseverance. And in many ways, it is less a task to be completed than a far-stretching path to be traversed little by little, day by day.

But only by hanging the mirror and taking a good look at how we view the human beings around us can we create an environment that fosters truly excellent performance. Only by looking first at ourselves can we hope to develop others.

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