A-Player Guide to Self-Improvement: Knowns and Unknowns

For a CEO of a fast moving company or anyone else in a fast-paced environment, self improvement is hard.  Really hard.  That’s because most smart people have improved all the easy stuff by the time they are 25.  The hard stuff is changing one’s personality … and often that’s hard-wired into our brain and it takes extensive effort to both identify and change.

Becoming a better leader is NOT like losing weight.    

My definition of being overweight: you think you are fat and most of the people you know think you are fat.  If you satisfy that criteria, then you ARE overweight.  You KNOW you have a problem.  And the solution (eat healthier and get more exercise) is obvious.  Actually implementing the solution is really hard – it takes incredible discipline, resolve, and fortitude … but it will definitely work if you do it.

Becoming a better leader is much more challenging than losing weight.  When you are losing weight you have a known problem and a known solution (the easiest type of problem to solve).  To become a better leader, you often have an unknown problem and an unknown solution (the hardest type to address).   
Identifying the problem

If you want to grow, you need to figure out what your problems are.  This is actually really hard to do.  Your problems and deficiencies will be “obvious” to everyone you work with, but each person will have a different perspective that is colored by their own biases and where they sit in the organization.  Also, most of your employees will never tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  People don’t like to deliver bad news.

You can try anonymous employee surveys.  I have found them to be pretty helpful to me.  But you need to take them with a grain of salt – especially when you receive conflicting feedback (a common survey result will get both “you are spending too much of your time on Product X” and “you are not spending enough of your time on Product X”).   And because anonymous surveys are anonymous, you cannot ask follow-up questions.

A good way to handle this is to make sure you are getting very honest feedback from your direct reports and from the people you report directly to (if you are a CEO, then you report to the board). If you get consistent answers, that could be a good place to start.  Doing this is hard and it sometimes requires building trust bonds with the people you work with that could take years to build.
Another tack is to assume you can’t fix everything, so focus on things you can measure like your company’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  That way, you at least focus on the known problems (which is a great place to start).

4 thoughts on “A-Player Guide to Self-Improvement: Knowns and Unknowns

  1. Eric Di Benedetto

    Better leader ultimately make themselves obsolete by hiring and grooming “betterer” leaders who will constantly challenge them in the best interest of the organization and its healthy survival. Poor leaders keep collecting toy soldiers and middle-managers who tell them what they want to hear until the organization looks like North Korea facing the abyss…

  2. Self improvement

    Self improvement can be achieved by various things such as making a good start, maintaining a schedule, taking a break and having fun, being generous, accepting the things that you can’t change, avoiding procrastination, remembering the positive goals, facing the fear, etc.

  3. David Urmann

    I find momentum extremely important. Even if you are having small success they build each other and the positive cycle is really important. Just little things like getting up late can be enough to throw you off. Once your off the cycle its easier to do things that are not as goal oriented. Stick to your goals and find ways to unwind and relax that keep your momentum going.


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