Why Personal Development Is A Must For Today’s CEO

Late one Sunday night, Ron sat in his study ruminating on the upcoming week. The board was meeting on Wednesday, and Ron knew that some directors’ private questions about his leadership were getting louder. Soon the company was to announce a third straight quarter of stagnant earnings. Ron was starting to wonder if he had the right team—and the right strategy—to compete in an intensely competitive industry. Maybe the Peter Principle was real. Had he finally reached his level of incompetence?

To relax, Ron put on his headphones and set his iPhone to shuffle. As he sat back, the gentle opening guitar riff from Stairway to Heaven started to play. This song always brought him back to his youth, when life seemed simpler. Suddenly, Ron’s reminiscing was interrupted by Robert Plant: Yes, there are two paths you can go by/But in the long run/There’s still time to change the road you’re on.

As Ron reflected over his career, he noted that leaders usually achieved the best outcomes when they were temperamentally suited for their role, had earned their colleagues’ and customers’ trust, and worked in an organization—and industry—where their skills were most valued. He pulled out his notebook and began to jot down the themes into a process flow diagram.

Ron drew some boxes. Each position he had held valued certain personality traits over others. At times in his career, Ron had felt like he was painting with his left foot. But what if he had molded his role to match his innate personality and assigned out tasks he did not enjoy? What if he had more effectively partnered with colleagues holding different strengths; would that have changed his outlook and the outcome? Ron realized that his personal effectiveness was the product of role-personality alignment and perceived trustworthiness. He thought back to the simple trustworthiness equation one of his mentors had taught him many years ago. Trustworthiness = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy)/Self-Orientation. Did he come across as too self-oriented? Perhaps. Did others feel they really knew him? Perhaps not enough.

Ron liked how the model was shaping up: personal effectiveness applied against the right platform would lead to both “hard” and “soft” outcomes. Those include financial results, Ron’s top priority, as well as team cohesion, strategic advantage, and enhanced reputation.

In the flow diagram, Ron sketched a box called “personal development,” which drew from both internal and external sources. External sources included colleagues, customers, and high-quality training programs. Ron also valued the nuanced insights he took away from a peer network he attended every quarter. As a voracious reader, Ron regularly sought out provocative ideas that would help him to understand his industry, his role, and himself  better. Ron had not worked with an executive coach in the past but wondered if a coach might help him step back and make sense of these disparate data points. It might be worth a try.

As Ron drew some arrows, he noticed a feedback loop in the diagram. Time spent on personal development had dual benefits, which complemented each other to enhance outcomes. On the one hand, he could use personal development to change his opportunity space. Why were marketing and product development not working well together? Why did the sales team miss the competitive threats in Asia? What might the shift from a pipeline business model to a platform model look like? As CEO, he had the authority to re-shape the organization, something Bill Gates was famous for.

On the other hand, Ron could also draw on personal development to change himself. Was he taking on specific responsibilities just because his predecessor had? They were very different people with different strengths and interests. Why did Ron feel that he had to keep the confines of the position? What might he delegate, and where could he better apply the talents that helped him reach the CEO position?

Ron challenged himself through self-reflection, an internal source of personal development. Did he sometimes dodge a tough question because he didn’t feel comfortable answering it? Did this erode others’ trust in him? Did they perceive his actions as a lack of competence? Perhaps some wondered if he had a hidden agenda. He knew that millennial employees craved authenticity; but then again, he suspected most others did, too.

There was much to consider. As Ron’s schedule became increasingly intense, he had spent more time working on the company and less time working on himself. He switched off the light in his study and headed up to bed, knowing that this had to change. Personal development was not a luxury. It was a necessity. It would make the company better. It would make him better. And that sounded like a winning formula.

George W. Watts is Chairman of Top Line Talent, an online education company for leaders and sales. The firm trains professionals how to add strategic value. He received his Doctoral Degree in Counseling Psychology from William and Mary. James (Jamie) Millar is founder and president of SkyBridge Associates, a firm that creates the platforms leaders need to build authentic relationships and share valuable insights with each other. He received his Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School.

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