Personal growth: the foundation of individual resilience

In 1970 Robert Greenleaf published his seminal work, “Servant as Leader” in which he asserted that the true test of leadership is ‘did people grow’? Our research proves that Greenleaf’s theory is on point. Showing a genuine interest in people’s growth cultivates psychological safety, improves performance, increases engagement … and helps make work more meaningful.

While I believe the vast majority of leaders have a genuine interest in helping people grow, 79% do not show it. This is a profound statistic, though perhaps not surprising given the time constraints placed on today’s leaders, the pressure to achieve short-term results and the erroneous belief that they are indeed helping people grow. Ironically, helping people grow is one of the straightest paths to rapid gains in performance.

Focus on current performance. When we talk about growth, most leaders think about career progression and capability. What is often overlooked is the critical role personal growth plays in current performance. If somebody is not performing in their role today, it is less likely they will enjoy career progression in your organization. Their brand will quickly be tarnished and they will be a retention risk. The first growth priority is ensuring people will be successful right now.

According to our research with the High-Performance Index™, the three most important factors in meeting personal performance expectations are directly related to personal growth:

  • Confidence in one’s ability to deliver on expectations
  • Belief that one’s performance improved from the prior year
  • Ability to recover from setbacks

Cultivate personal resilience. These three factors are all directly related to personal resilience, the very cornerstone of individual performance. We use an expanded definition of resilience which includes the ability to face challenges with confidence, in addition to the ability to recover from setbacks. We reinforce personal resilience in the workplace when we Set Clear Expectations, identify gaps in capability and quickly help people grow to close them. When people are not confident they can deliver, they might feel set up for failure which erodes psychological safety. To further bolster confidence, and therefore personal resilience, people need a development plan that helps them raise their game over the prior year. Providing frequent, Authentic Recognition highlighting ways people have grown can also reinforce resilience.

Build future capability. Once we set people up for immediate success we can help them build Functional Capability within their current role or prepare for future roles. People may wish to deepen their technical expertise or learn adjacent skills to broaden their expertise. Individual contributors with aspirations to manage a team someday might choose to build their leadership capability. Based on our research, most people receive team leadership training either after they are promoted or never at all. We need 3 out of 4 leaders to be effective to cultivate a high-performance culture. The problem is that most leaders have been promoted based on their functional capability and performance, not their ability to manage people. Organizations expect emerging leaders to perform in a completely different role without adequate training. This is a major factor in the culture challenges many organizations face. 

Show genuine interest. The most critical aspect of helping people grow is that you show a genuine interest. Showing genuine interest requires authenticity and consistency. It’s about building trust and rapport over time. While I do truly believe that the vast majority of leaders care about the growth of their team, only 11% of leaders truly show it. This is another example of common sense not being common practice. Here are three deliberate ways you can show a genuine interest in your team’s development:

  • Effective 1-on1-s. We spend a lot of time talking about the power of Effective 1-on-1s. One of the most important aspects of the High-Performance Leader Framework is the Development & Experience 1-on-1. Our research indicates that upwards of 90% of 1-on-1s include tactics and discussions about the work. Having separate, dedicated 1-on-1s focused on each team member’s development is the single-most impactful thing you can do as a leader. It helps people grow and rapidly improves your culture.
  • Co-create a development plan. The key to a great development plan is keeping it simple. The best plans are co-created with each team member, keeping two principles in mind. First, people are more likely to follow through when they are developing skills related to their interests. Second, it’s helpful when people can see how the development plan helps them perform in their current role while progressing toward their long-term goals. In our method we create a Complete Development Goal™as follows:
    • What capability would you like to acquire or strengthen in the next 12 months?
    • How would you prove you developed this capability?
    • What are the steps to make it happen?
  • Hold people accountable. People often create a development plan and never follow through. Some people ask for training but never take the class. Others take a class but never apply the learning. To truly help people grow, we need to ensure people follow through on their plan to acquire new skills or knowledge and put it into practice. Only then is capability developed. 

These actions will have an immediate impact on your team’s performance and culture. There is arguably nothing as important as showing an interest in people’s growth and taking a deliberate, disciplined approach to helping people grow.

Put this into practice

To help leaders rapidly become more effective, we have created The Playbook, our free guide to the foundations of high-performance leadership. If you would like to pinpoint your personal development priorities, take our free High-Performance Leader Self-Assessment or we can help you get a 360° review. 

We empower leaders to make common sense, common practice. How can we help you?