Be yourself

One of my senior colleagues recently found herself reeling, having immersed herself in a raft of personal development opportunities one after another.

Image © Let's Go Out Bournemouth & Poole, Flickr CC

Image © Let's Go Out Bournemouth & Poole, Flickr CC

Recognise that feeling of self-development overload? I know I do. We all have a saturation point.

Momentarily weary from self-imposed self-improvement, my colleague made an interesting comment:

"Too much development and you could lose track of the real you".

Don't lose yourself

In today’s business environment, professional development is required, applauded and rewarded. And rightly so. Self-awareness is such a crucial part of being a strong leader.

But it can sometimes feel that there's a subtext: if we're serious players, of course we achieve business targets and personal development plans. If we're not serious, we're underachieving. There's a sense that we ought to aim higher, learn more, go deeper, and be seen as a person who has learned from their experience.

Leading athletics coach Frank Dick captures it well when he talks about the difference between "mountain people" and "valley people".

Valley people, Frank explains, make excuses: "A draw is a good result".

There’s nothing wrong with this if you’re content being a valley person; as Dick says, no risk means less chance of a mistake.

But my senior colleague wants to be seen as a mountain person, and what Frank would describe as a challenge seeker: "They climb a mountain so that next time they can climb a bigger one". As he puts it, without risk there is no progress.

But Frank says something else, too, which definitely resonates better with my experience, and feels much more helpful and actionable:

"Just be better at being you,
and you’ll always touch your mountain tops."
Frank Dick

Yes, seek out challenges to be better, and be careful not to lose the original 'you' in the process.

Start with integrity

The start of a new role, or project, or responsibility is a great opportunity to practice this.

At those moments people naturally look to you to make decisions, set direction and enthuse everyone – to lead them. And that's exciting, if a little daunting.

In a quiet moment of self-doubt, you might even wonder why anyone would want to be led by you, or succumb to the temptation to think you need to become a different person in order to be a leader. Hiding behind a bold alter ego is a refuge for many an introverted individual – actors and journalists, for example, are often shy.

To the coaching clients I’ve worked with who, on promotion, have quietly expressed a sliver of doubt about their ability, I've said this:

"You got to this position because other people
think you are the right person for the job.
Not the person you might be, but the person you are now."

There is a huge difference between creating a ‘new’ you, and developing yourself as an inspiring leader.

What makes a leader great?

True leaders are those who are secure within themselves. Their strength of character makes them confident about making and learning from their mistakes, they trust others and help other people develop their skills.

So in developing yourself as a leader, any old ‘training’ won’t do –  too much of the wrong development might even dim the individual sparkle that makes you who you are.

If you ever find yourself in a self-development spin, I suggest:

  • a step back - perspective is a wonderful thing
  • time to breathe
  • a frank conversation with someone you implicitly trust

It's an approach that I've used many times, to bring me back to myself.

This post is part of our Vintage Lyn Bicker series - powerful strategies drawn from decades of experience that form the foundation of our business. A version of the article was originally published in Edge Magazine by the Institute of Leadership and Management.

Over to you

Ever found yourself floundering in a sea of development opportunities, or had the realisation that your appetite for learning has dulled your unique talent? Let us know on Twitter if this article resonates with you.

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