The Cycle of Self-Improvement requires changes to our paradigms. We cannot persist with what we had; we must evolve to find the new. This evolution is a process of self-education, but simple book-based learning is not enough to truly know something. For that, you have to put the work in, but it has to be the right work at the right time.
A Model Of Educational Development
Although there are many different ways of learning any individual skill or knowledge, the path we take from learning to mastery of a topic always follows the same three simple steps: instruction -> coaching -> collaboration.
- We start off by being told what to do, and how to do it – and then we do it, repeating the tasks over and over. At this stage, to quote from a popular television series from the 1990′s, “understanding is not required, only obedience.” When we are learning something new, we may think we understand it immediately, but that is simply because we’re not aware of how ignorant we truly are. “I don’t know” is often the hardest phrase to say, especially if you have to mean it. Explicit instruction and task repetition together help us begin to form models in our heads of the work itself and the environment in which it exists.
- Once we have evolved a model – once the penny has dropped, if you like – then the learning experience shifts from instruction to coaching. At this stage, we are making decisions for ourselves, and through being asked to find the answers to the right questions we are learning to improve both our decision-making and technical skills.
- Finally, once our model is mature and we can consistently use it to deliver results, we make the shift to being able to work on this task with others in a collaborative manner. This is our ultimate goal.
This model applies to our education as managers, and to the education we need to provide the teams and organisations that we manage. Today, we’re focusing squarely on our own improvement; we’ll come back to using this model with those we manage another time.
Do Not Think Outside The Box Too Soon
One of the popular mantras of the last upteen years has been the dreaded phrase “thinking outside the box.” Whilst the sentiment of being able to see a problem from new and interesting angles is worthy, there’s a good reason why this phrase is a regular occurrence on what are politely called buzzword bingo cards. Why? Because people don’t understand anymore that there ever was a box in the first place, because they’ve never worked inside it.
This is not a good thing. The box represents the traditional, tried and trusted ways of doing things, handed down and refined from one generation to the next through what were traditionally called apprenticeships. It earned a bad name through the global stagnation of the 1970′s, where the energy and creativity of the 1960′s ran out. During this time, what was traditionally a means of getting a solid grounding in the fundamentals of a craft or skill solidified into a slavish jobsworthian inflexibility, and since then we’ve been coping with a succession of backlashes as newer generations turn their backs on the skills and approaches of the past.
A lot of innovation has come out of this renewal, but a lot of self-inflicted failures too. A lack of understanding and appreciation of the fundamentals undermines any efforts for sustainability.
There Are No Shortcuts
Instructing new staff – literally telling people exactly how to do their jobs – is something many managers of all levels of experience do not enjoy doing. It is extremely time-consuming, and is difficult to do without upsetting the members of staff being instructed; the manager has to know how to teach adults. The manager also has to know how to do the job that their staff have been hired to do; some managers do not know this either.
Many managers therefore either choose (or are forced) to bypass the instruction step altogether, and jump straight to coaching. And, as coaching is also an all-to-rare skill, some managers go immediately to collaboration, or attempt an approach that is neither coaching nor collaboration.
The result is inevitable: staff who do not know their jobs well enough to do them consistently, and a company that is constantly struggling with the quantity of work required and the quality and applicability of work produced. Without consistency, the business becomes non-determinstic, and impossible to optimise over time.
You can avoid this by having a layer of junior management (e.g. team leaders) below you who do know the job well enough to handle the instructional phase, provided they understand that is their role and they are trained and suited to the task.
You Have To Start With Yourself
If you want to develop and improve your own mental models, you have to work within the box. It cultivates a certain discipline that is very healthy for you, and it tempers you mentally for future experiences.
Your own long-term maturity in a role relies heavily on your improved decision-making. The process of instruction -> coaching -> collaboration allows you to develop more mature models that are fundamental to improving your maturity. We’ll look at maturity in the next article.
1 comment »
The Cycle of Self-Improvement continues with changes to our paradigms. This is where we start to gain an understanding. By changing our behaviours, and learning what works and what doesn t, we start to change the way we think about ourselves and our work. If we make a conscious effort to study whatever we are trying to improve at, we will create new models in our heads of how this particular area works.
Behaviours Alone Are Not Enough
In his audiobook on Principle-Centered Leadership, Dr. Stephen R. Covey gives a classic example of why great behaviour alone isn’t sufficient to perform well, using the metaphor of a map. Imagine you’re in a city you’ve never visited before, and you’re trying to find your hotel using a map. Unfortunately you have the wrong map. If you’ve cultivated a level of industriousness, you might persevere, charging up and down each street until eventually you might stumble across the hotel. If you’ve cultivated enthusiasm or (heaven forbid) positive thinking, you might not mind that you can’t find the hotel. But the problem stopping you from finding the hotel isn’t your behaviour – it’s that you have the wrong map.
The hotel in the example represents your goal, and the map represents your current understanding of whatever environment or context that your goal exists within. With an incomplete or faulty understanding (the wrong map), you cannot find your way to your goal (the hotel) except by luck and chance. Success based on luck and chance isn’t sustainable, and it isn’t repeatable or reproducible in the future.
Our behaviours – the way we act – create our own personal learning environment. To consciously learn from this environment, we have to attend to our thoughts and understandings, and evolve our paradigms to be both broader and deeper.
A paradigm is a view of the world, a mental model that we construct in our heads in order to understand the world around us, and in order to interact with it. We build these models all the time subconsciously, and our society teaches its own models to us throughout our childhoods. They are often described as our programs – the underlying rules of an individual’s thought that guide our behaviours in life.
Our paradigms are the causes of our problems, and they also where the solutions lie.
Your Paradigms Must Evolve
Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve our problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Our problems are caused by faulty paradigms – mental models that fall a little short when put to the test. But what causes more problems – faulty paradigms themselves, or the inability to evolve better paradigms in the face of fresh evidence? According to Einstein, it’s the inability to evolve better paradigms. But why is this true?
There are always things that we don’t fully understand, perhaps because it is a new subject that we are still learning, or our learning is incomplete or misdirected, or because we’ve had unusual experiences arising from extreme circumstances. As a result, many (if not most) of our paradigms will be incomplete or inaccurate. It’s not just our own paradigms that are incomplete, it’s also the paradigms of everyone else too. It’s self-evident that incomplete paradigms aren’t a major problem, because life goes on and we continue to make progress despite (or because of!) them.
A faulty paradigm can also be a mental model that was accurate or complete, but is now out of date. It may have been effective once, but it sure isn’t effective any more. The people we manage and the work we manage never stands still; it is always changing. The world in which we live and work is also changing all the time. Our own place in the world is also changing all the time. What happens when life moves on, but people can’t move with it? What happens when new paradigms are required, but people continue to apply the same paradigm even though it is no longer effective?
Every bad manager I have observed all shared the same characteristic: they were unable to evolve their paradigms. They were stuck in the past, trying the same actions time and time again. They would persist with this behaviour long after it became clear that these actions were no longer effective or appropriate. In the worst cases, the managers were trying time and time again to apply the same paradigms even though they had never worked in the first place!
By their inability to change and adapt, they weighed everyone down.
The Cost Of Persistently Faulty Paradigms
People who cannot evolve their paradigms become larger and larger sea anchors for their organisations, slowing down the whole ship and stopping everyone else getting to where they are trying to get to. Your good people – the people you need to build a successful business around – can see through this behaviour every single time. They have an almost natural aversion to managers who are stuck in a rut; managers who cannot evolve their paradigms. And the results – friction, conflict, insecurity and a breakdown in basic trust and respect – are completely unhealthy, both to you, your staff, and your organisation.
You owe it to yourself, and to everyone around you, to learn to evolve your paradigms, to elevate your thinking above wherever it currently is. You also owe it to everyone to deal decisively with subordinates (especially managers and leaders) who cannot.
But how exactly can we evolve our paradigms? I will answer that in the next article.
1 comment »
The Cycle of Self-Improvement starts with your behaviour. We start by doing our best to act in the same way that we d imagine a great manager would act. We research, and we apply what we ve learned to what we do and how we do it. Or, to put it another way, we fake it until we make it. This is difficult at first, because we re trying to be something that we don t necessarily understand The good news is that this is something you used to do all the time. You’ve just forgotten how to do it.
How Children Start To Learn
When we were small children, starting at pre-school age, we all played a lot. We used our imaginations to play games like Cops and Robbers, Cowboys and Indians, and many others. We sure had a lot of fun, and we also learned a lot from it. Children play games as a way to explore new ideas and roles. The more they explore, the more sophisticated their ideas in this area become. Eventually, those who remember their dreams and work hard go on to play these roles for real as adults. But most of us do not.
As we grow older we get a bit more serious, and playing games (especially in the workplace) no longer seems appropriate to us. We exchange learning through playing for learning through doing, with a sprinkling of training and education thrown in for good measure. Most of our doing as adults comes through holding down a job to pay the bills, and it becomes the environment where we find most of our opportunities to learn.
On the job training has become something of a dirty term in the workplace today, because it’s normally a euphemism for being thrown in at the deep end with insufficient / non-existent help and support. The reason for the lack of support is simply that many employers and managers don’t know how to instruct and coach their staff. It is something that they have no interest in, and are not comfortable doing. But they should have such an interest, because the irony is that the workplace is the best place to learn work-related skills – provided we are able to play before we have to be. ((I will talk about the relative merits of training courses in a later article.))
All play starts with behaviours – actions and attitudes that we show to others (externalise). The game we are playing is how to manage yourself. If you’re on your own, where can you look for help and advice?
Turn To The Coach
In this field, the work of John C. Wooden stands head and shoulders above everything else. John C. Wooden was the head coach of the UCLA college basketball team from 1948 to 1975, where he not only consistently created great teams, but where he consistently got the very best out of his charges. His outstanding work was honoured in 1999 when Coach Wooden was voted ‘Coach of the 20th Century’ by ESPN, and by the award of the President Medal of Freedom (the USA’s highest civilian honour) in 2003.
During his time in basketball, Coach Wooden developed his Pyramid of Success. It has three key ingredients that make it a great approach for learning how to manage yourself.
- It is principle-based, not practice based – created decades before management books and coaching understood this fundamental approach. Practices come and go, but the right principles are timeless, and can last for thousands of years.
- It has stood the test of time. Created over 50 years ago, it was honed through Coach Wooden’s teaching to his college students and teams. His students took the Pyramid out into the wider world of sports and business, and made it the foundation of their success too. And since 2003, the management community at large has been able to learn about and apply Coach Wooden’s work through his book Wooden on Leadership.
- It is about you, not about others. In a time of short-termism, downsizing, offshoring and the threat of recession, it can be no surprise that management writing has come to focus so strongly on the here and now. All sports coaches are in one of the ultimate results-driven environment; they need immediate results far more than your average manager does, and they have to contend with a turnover of staff (in their case, players) that your average manager never has to face. But Coach Wooden and his record of coaching at UCLA proved beyond all doubt that, even in such an environment, both short-term results and long-term success comes from within, from internal work that at first seems both unnecessary and without immediate reward. Success comes from within you the manager, and it must be instilled within each and every member of your team.
The Pyramid of Success
Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success contains 15 separate building blocks for you to work on. Along the bottom are the five foundation blocks that leadership is build upon.
- Industriousness: Success travels in the company of very hard work. There is no trick, no easy way.
- Friendship: Strive to build a team filled with camaraderie and respect: comrades-in-arms.
- Loyalty: Be true to yourself. Be true to those you lead.
- Co-operation: Have utmost concern for what’s right rather than who’s right.
- Enthusiasm: Your energy and enjoyment, drive and dedication will stimulate and greatly inspire others.
If the foundation layer is about your heart, then the next layer is all about using your head.
- Self-control: Control of your organisation begins with control of yourself. Be disciplined.
- Alertness: Constantly be aware and observing. Always seek to improve yourself and the team.
- Initiative: Make a decision! Failure to act is often the biggest failure of all.
- Intentness: Stay the course. When thwarted try again; harder, smarter. Persevere relentlessly.
At the heart of the Pyramid is the formula for teaching success that Coach Wooden learned from Coach Ward Lambert during his playing career.
- Condition: Ability may get you to the top, but character keeps you there – mental, moral and physical.
- Skill: What a leader learns after you’ve learned it all is what counts most of all.
- Team Spirit: The star of the team is the team. ‘We’ supersedes ‘me’.
The first twelve blocks together create a platform for success, but to elevate yourself to achieve your full potential, you have to master the cornerstones of true greatness.
- Poise: Be yourself. Don’t be thrown off by events whether good or bad.
- Confidence: The strongest steel is well-founded self-belief. It is earned, not given.
Finally, we reach the very pinnacle of the Pyramid of Success – the behaviour that the rest of the pyramid supports:
- Competitive Greatness: Perform at your best when your best is required. Your best is required each day.
There is far more to Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success than I can do justice to in this article, and I would much rather you learned more about it from Coach Wooden himself. You can download a printable version of the Pyramid, and learn more about each of these building blocks from Coach Wooden’s website. His 2003 book, Wooden on Leadership, expands on them still further, and is essential reading for anyone looking to follow the Invest In Loss philosophy.
Coach Wooden used it to build a great basketball coach; you can use it to build a great manager – yourself.
1 comment »
Learning to manage yourself is essential if you want to manage others. You affect other people at all four levels of interaction within your company or organisation:
- At the personal level, you’re a role model for everyone around you. People will look at you and take the message that it is okay for them to act that way too.
- At the inter-personal level, you’re directly influencing how other people feel about working with you. The way you treat other people directly affects the results you’ll obtain from them.
- At the managerial level, you set the tone for how the whole department will function. Your choices here will determine how well the department functions – especially when (not if) you’re not around.
- At the organisational level, your individual actions determine whether your department adds value at all, and whether it’s because of you … or despite you.
But how do you go about improving your self-management?
Start Here – Acceptance
You must start by accepting a simple truth: you can learn to consciously choose your responses to whatever happens in your life. You are not just responsible for your choices – you are able to choose your responses (response-able).
It can be very difficult for new and inexperienced managers to come to see – and especially to accept – just how much influence they really do have, and it always comes down to how much you choose your responses. Most people do want to be lead, and they do want to be governed, but it must come from someone they can look up to in one way or another. If you are not cultivating yourself through self-improvement, through learning to choose your responses, then what could there possibly be about you for anyone to look up to? If they don’t look up to you, at best they follow you reluctantly – if at all.
You are not your past achievements, and if you do not learn to choose your responses, it’s down to luck and circumstance as to whether or not you’ll be able to be successful again in the future. It won’t be down to you!
The Cycle Of Self Improvement
There is no substitute for hard work. A person who works hard, and who learns to self-improve, is far more likely to achieve their full potential than someone who always finds things easy. There is a deeper understanding that comes from hard work and applied brain power than what comes from applied brain power alone. This is something I’ll come back to in a later article.
With self-improvement, we’re all about stacking the odds in our favour. We want to reduce both luck and chance as factors in our success, and instead we want to increase ourselves as the factor in our success. Hard work without direction, organisation and supervision relies entirely on both luck and chance.
The Cycle of Self Improvement contains five key areas where you will find the self-improvement that you are looking for:
Behaviours are where we start. We start by doing our best to act in the same way that we’d imagine a great manager would act. We research, and we apply what we’ve learned to what we do and how we do it. Or, to put it another way, we fake it until we make it. This is difficult at first, because we’re trying to be something that we don’t necessarily understand …
Paradigms are where we start to gain an understanding. By changing our behaviours, and learning what works and what doesn’t, we start to change the way we think about ourselves and our work. If we make a conscious effort to study whatever we are trying to improve at, we will create new models in our heads of how this particular area works.
Maturity is where our actions (our behaviours) and our thinking (our paradigms) are refined in the crucible of experience. As we mature in our role, there’s less faking it, less mistakes, and more genuine ability. Our understanding matures, and we move beyond mere knowledge to the point where we ‘get it’.
Character is where our maturity of understanding feeds back and we internalise what until now have been entirely outward changes. We start conquering our demons (and those of our parents that we’ve inherited), and move towards a freedom of operation, of living, that most people never achieve. We become more rounded as people as we smooth off corners and jagged edges.
Eventually, we go beyond ourselves and learn to Invest in Loss. It isn’t about us any more; it’s about what is and what needs to be. We learn to accept reality and work with things instead of against them. We move from trying to be masters of the universe to being its servant, which is where life suddenly gets a whole lot easier :)
Finally, we start again with behaviours; we apply our new understanding all over again, continuing round the cycle once more. No matter how good any of us get, we’re all capable of further improvement, of further polishing. There are always deeper levels of understanding available to us, but only if we put the hard work in first and master the outer levels.
These are the five steps of the cycle of self improvement, and we’ll look at each one in turn over the next five articles here on the Invest In Loss blog.
We Have An Infinite Capacity To Improve
There is always more room for improvement, which is why the cycle goes back to the beginning and starts again. Our aim is to smooth things out, to bring every aspect of ourselves up to the same level, and then to raise that level over and over again. It was this strategy – to find and improve 100 things by 1% – which is widely attributed to bringing World Cup success to the England Rugby Union team in 2003.
A word of caution though: entropy (and specifically the principle of use it or lose it) applies just as much to self-improvement as to any other aspect of life. If you stop trying to improve, you will inevitably regress over time. This isn’t work you can do during study days, or through a few days on a management training course. There are no secrets, and there are no quick wins. You have to integrate this work into your life, and into every single day that you can.
If you can achieve that, you’ve done the hardest work of all.
4 comments »
Next Page »
No matter how many people you have to manage, there is always one more person who you can never afford to overlook: yourself. Many managers focus exclusively on what they manage, believing that this is where results and success come from. It simply isn’t true.
The roots of success always come from within. Your team, your organisation, the results it produces and the service you provide to your customers; ultimately all of these will be a reflection of you and the way that you conduct yourself. You can only control and influence others through your own actions; if you don’t have control over yourself, how can you possible extend that control to others successfully and sustainably?
The very first step in managing using the Invest In Loss philosophy is to learn to manage yourself.
Someone once told me that you can’t manage what you can’t understand, and I believe that this advice applies equally well when it comes to managing yourself. How can you manage yourself if you don’t understand yourself?
How well do you really know yourself?
The place to start is to simply become aware of your behaviour, and how close it does (or does not) relate to the reality all around you. How many lies and half-truths do you have to tell to get through each day? How often do you have to bluff and bluster your way through situations and relationships with your colleagues, your friends, and your families? When do you stand and get stuck in, and when do you run and avoid? When do you say one thing, but do another? Why are you having to do so? What are the reasons behind you behaving in this way?
At first, simply focus on becoming aware of when you act like this, and on determining why. Don’t do anything in particular at this stage to change your behaviour, just focus on improving your self-awareness day by day. If you don’t already, start keeping a daily diary where you can capture your observations and thoughts. Look in particular at the boundaries of your world – your interactions with other people, both professional and personal. Seek out where friction occurs, where things are not smooth and plain sailing, and where emotions (especially yours) regularly boil over. Focus entirely on what you are doing.
You Reap What You Sow
When you’ve been building up your observations for some time (I’d recommend at least a month, and preferably several months), the next step is to see how far you are (or aren’t) disjointed from the reality around you.
Continue to capture the observations of your own behaviour, but now start to add in observations about your external world. How well is that latest project going? What are your customers grumbling about this week? If you are already a manager, what are your staff saying about you? What are they saying about your decisions? How are the family? What should be happening, but isn’t?
Over time, you will start to gain a new awareness: how your lies and half-truths, how your blustering and bluffing, and how your avoidance and your fear are related to the problems you encounter in the external world. Your world – your reality – is a reflection of your behaviour, and more importantly of the way that you choose to behave. You must stick with this exercise for as long as it takes for the penny to drop. As a manager, your team or organisation will also be a reflection of the way that you choose to behave.
You cannot sustainably manage others until you can manage yourself.
Deep Roots Are Hidden From View
Deep and meaningful change comes from internal work. It is not for the faint of heart. It requires a commitment and dedication that you probably haven’t known before. You must give up being both selfish and selfless, and become self-ful instead. You must become completely focused on observing and altering your own state of being. You don’t need to worry about changing other people at this time. If you make the right changes, other people will respond to you in the right way if they can.
This is work that never ends, which is precisely why it produces truly sustainable results.
Working from the principle of cause and effect, start to look at whatever comes before the situations where your behaviour is disconnected from reality. In any situation, you behave the way you do because of the state you are in when you enter the situation. Focus on understanding what your entry state currently is for your each of your situations, and add those observations to your ongoing diary. Seek to understand your starting point each and every time, and on how these starting points result in the behaviours that we’re seeking to change.
For each of these starting points, take a piece of blank paper, and write down what you wish they were. It might be helpful to create a mind map for each starting point. Work out what you need to ensure that you wouldn’t need to lie, to bluff, to avoid; what you need to be confident, on top of things, and to able to act. Don’t feel constrained in any way by your current circumstances. Don’t compromise on your list.
Once you’ve worked out what each starting point should be, go back further, and look at what you are currently doing immediately before you get to each of these places. This is where you need to make changes. Your starting points are actually the end points of previous activities, or of activities that are currently missing altogether! Fix these activities, and everything else will follow.
This is what we mean when we talk about beginning with the end in mind.
The Never-Ending Circle
The work presented here never ends. The end of one thing is always the beginning of the next, even if the connections aren’t immediately apparent. Thankfully, we’re all capable of an infinite amount of polishing up, of improvement over time – as long as we take responsibility for our own progress. By choosing your behaviour, and establishing your entry state by ensuring the previous activities end the way you need them to, over time you’ll grow the degree of management you have over yourself … and ultimately over others.
1 comment »