This is one one in a series of 4 articles about Toyota’s Stages of Leader Development
Being a leader means that you’ll be responsible for driving the company forward or at least some part of it and helping those below you grow. However, a critical component of leadership (that often gets ignored by those comfortable in their positions) is the need to develop your own skills.
This is a critical component of Toyota’s kaizen as well, and it should be one of your top priorities when pushing the organization towards constant improvement. Just remember that this improvement starts with you.
Streamlining your own work
One of the best ways to ensure that you’re always on the right track to self-development is to avoid cluttering your workflow with unnecessary details. Ideally, you should have a completely standardized working environment, where you always know exactly where everything is. That way, you can occupy your mind with only what’s truly important, attaining new skills and distributing them down the chain.
Another way to look at this is that you should always strive to apply lean principles in your own work. Look for waste and remove it. Is there some process that you keep repeating on a daily basis, but can be automated or where waste can be removed? Are you wasting any time on daily communication that can be summarized in weekly or even monthly e-mails? It might only take a minute or less each day, but those little struggles can stack up incredibly fast and leave you cluttered with senseless details, never able to look up to the big picture.
Learn from others
If you’re not at the highest position in the organization, there is someone above you who can teach, coach and mentor you. It’s important for you to show an active interest in those coaching sessions, and take as much as you can from them. Ideally, you’ll want to establish a mentor-like relationship with one specific person.
Even if you’re the top leader of the organization, you can still find someone to guide you through the mess ahead of you, and to coach you how you can do something truly good with your current potential.
Don’t forget that those useful tips don’t necessarily have to come from someone above you either. Sometimes, an employee sitting below you in the hierarchy can give you some surprising insights. Don’t disregard them, and make sure that you always take as much useful information from the world around you as you can.
Last but not least, it’s important to remember that you’ll never be able to truly grow without challenging yourself constantly. If you never get out of your comfort zone, you won’t learn anything significantly different from what you already know, and you’ll stagnate. And with you, the organization will suffer as well.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should take unnecessary risks, or put yourself in a position where you can’t complete a task because you “bit off more than you can chew.” But by adding onto your work in appropriate increments (like training at the gym), you should see some noticeable results in your ability to grow and learn.
Another way to challenge yourself is to ask others to rate your performance, and actually take their feedback into consideration. Many leaders let these comments slide past their ears unless they’re positive. Often the negative remarks from people who report to you can open your eyes to something critical about your way of working that you might have missed before. Never underestimate what you can learn from those below you, as we pointed out above, and always show them that you respect their input and value it.
As long as you’re willing to sweat and struggle along with everyone else in your organization, you’re going to see obvious results in your self-development. And as each individual makes improvements, the whole organization is going to grow and move in a positive direction.
Don’t ever fall into the trap of thinking that you’re in a position where you can’t improve anything else about your way of working. That’s a surefire way to limit your career. When you’re in a place where an entire organization depends on your thoughts and decisions, it’s a completely irresponsible attitude to have.