I met with a friend recently who just finished reading Radical Inclusion, by GEN (Ret.) Martin Dempsey and Ori Brafman, which he particularly enjoyed. During our conversation, he shared with much exasperation, “there is so much from that book that I want to start doing, I don’t even know where to begin.”
I think we have all been there in some capacity. I felt the same way when I finished David Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around! which was one of my first leadership-focused books I ever read. Personally, with all of the books and other content I routinely engage in, it is easy for me to get overwhelmed with the new ideas for needed development. I often feel compelled to do it all now, though I know it won’t be effective or sustainable. Even all of the 3×5 Leadership blog posts, when considered collectively, can easily send unintentional messages of “do all of it now!”
So, I want to offer a simple model of personal leader development and a strategy to focus on the most important improvements to develop as a leader. The model, below, is broken down into four steps that I recommend you follow, where each step encourages you to write out a statement or a list. You’ll end with an identified leader behavior to improve on, the purpose of it, an actionable strategy, and timeline to work in it.
Step 1: Identify Your “One Big Thing”
In terms of your personal development as a leader, think about your current limitations and things you know you struggle with and could get better at. We all likely can easily think of several things we wish we were better at. However, I challenge you to keep it to one thing. This one thing is a singular behavior that you can improve on now that will have the biggest impact on improving your leadership.
This is called your leadership One Big Thing (OBT). I encourage you to make your behavior as specific and measurable as possible. For example, it will be easier to work on improving an OBT of “read one book per month, one podcast every two weeks, and one blog or article a week all focused on leader development,” versus a vague one of “learn more about how to be a better leader.”
Physically write out the behavior on a piece of paper.
Step 2: Define Your OBT’s Purpose
Change is hard. Building a new personal habit is hard. It requires continuous commitment and discipline on your behalf. Giving meaning to why you need to improve on your OBT can inspire that commitment to the change and the value you place on it.
On your piece of paper, below your OBT statement, write out why you chose this OBT and why it is the most important behavior for you to get better at it. This can address purely personal motives, desires for performance improvement from your people and organization, or a combination of both. Use this step to make your OBT meaningful and inspiring.
Step 3: Create Your OBT Strategy
Identifying your OBT is rather simple; the challenging part is creating a cohesive and effective strategy to build your leadership habit and make it a natural routine for you. Below your OBT statement and your purpose statement list out 3-5 things that you will commit to in order to make your OBT a habit. Obviously, every OBT is different, as will each strategy. Here are a few helpful considerations when making your OBT strategy:
- Routine reminders: what methods can you leverage to give you reminders in critical moments or times? Consider options like phone alarms, making the statement your smart phone lock screen, carrying a 3×5 card in your pocket throughout the day with a specific note on it.
- Key event reminders: does your OBT involve how you interact with others? Think of ways you can keep your OBT on your mind during those interactions. For example, I write key reminders on the top of my note-taking paper during meetings, feedback sessions with others, and related events to ensure I behave in those desired ways during those planned events.
- Accountability: can you leverage a professional peer to help you be accountable in your commitment to change? Consider enlisting a peer coach. You can also share your OBT with the people on your team and use your feedback sessions to allow them the opportunity to provide their input on how they think you are doing on your OBT. Your spouse may be a helpful source of accountability and support also; I consider my wife my #1 peer coach.
- Daily reflective journaling: write out how you feel you did toward your OBT each day and why you think did or did not do well on it. Deliberate daily reflection can help you start to identify common friction points that are hindering your OBT progress.
Step 4: Determine Your OBT Timeline
Finally, determine a feasible timeline that you plan to fulfill your OBT and when you expect to make your OBT a natural habit. This is just like any runner’s training plan for a race – step 1 is to sign up for the race. Tying your OBT to a timeline and/or completion date attaches urgency to the behavior.
Write the date or timeline at the end of your OBT document. This can be a “no later than” date for the habit or a “within ___ weeks or months, I will…”
My Personal Example
To help others conceptualize this process, below is the statement of my current OBT that I am working on.
OBT: Coach direct reports through organizational decisions at their level through questions and require them to make the decision. I should not make all the decisions; refrain from making them if feasible and prevent offering recommendations as much as possible.
Purpose: Develop direct reports’ comfort and competence with making quality organizational decisions. Encourage them to take ownership of leadership decisions and help them make well-informed decisions tocreate effective decision-making processes.
- Aim to ask twice as many questions as recommendations in every interaction with a team member.
- Keep a 3×5 card in my pocket each day with “WAIT: why am I talking” on it.
- Write “WAIT: why am I talking” and “2x questions” on the top of my notes paper for every meeting and one-on-one with direct reports.
- Daily journal on how I did committing to my questions-recommendation ratio and write out why I feel I did well or poorly.
Timeline: Achieve a self-perceived level of natural coaching style by the end of the year.
This is not a singular process or experience. Once you’ve made your first OBT a habit, it is time to start over and re-engage in step 1 and identify a new OBT. The ultimate goal is continuous leadership growth and development.
Finally, just imagine what your organization or team would look like if every member had an OBT and was genuinely committed to improving in that behavior. This simple process can have such incredible returns on collective performance, professionalism, and learning.
If you find this post helpful, subscribe to receive weekly email notifications of new content!