LIFE BALANCE: A Lifetime Journey, Not a Brief Trip

One of my favorite questions that I ask during an interview with a prospective management candidate is: “Tell me what you have done in the past to develop yourself and what you are currently doing?” The answer to this question reveals a great deal about the motivation and priorities of the candidate. We want to know if he has a motivational speech that will help him in his daily tasks as a manager. Let’s look at several typical answers and what I conclude from them.

Answer #1: I am normally so busy working such long hours that I don’t have much time to pursue developmental activities beyond what I do at work. Certainly this answer tells you that the candidate believes that he or she is a hard worker, but it also reveals a great deal about the priority that the person places on his or her personal development. When someone does not have enough time for self-improvement, it sends up a “red flag” of warning about the candidate’s motivation to succeed. There is always time to work on improving oneself IF the person really wants to. It has been my experience that most successful leaders recognize that developing and maintaining their leadership skills is a lifetime pursuit – not something that is only done at college or at company sponsored seminars. Contrast the above answer with the one below:

Answer #2: Since the day I graduated from college I have always pursued activities outside my job to improve my knowledge and skills. For example, after graduating from college I took additional courses in areas that I thought I needed and made a concentrated effort to read the latest management books in a variety of subjects. In addition, I am always reading business journals whenever I have a moment to spare such while traveling and waiting to see a doctor.

It is obvious which person is more motivated and likely to succeed in future jobs. Bennis and Nanus found, “It is the capacity to develop and improve their skills that distinguishes leaders from their followers. The researchers came to the conclusion that “leaders are perpetual learners.” Their nature is to always be curious about learning new things – asking frequent questions and probing for understanding.”

No matter what level you have achieved in your career, you cannot afford to become static. All too often, leaders reach a certain plateau in their organizations and then begin to coast. In a sense, they become bloated, out-of-touch caricatures…..happy, but ineffective. Simultaneously, the nature and scope of their operations continue to change, leaving them obsolete in terms of knowledge and skills. According to Jeffrey Schmidt, a managing director at Towers Perrin, “You have to assume that the half-life of the skill set you’ve got is about three to five years.”

Think of how enthusiastic and energetic you were to acquire new job knowledge when you first began your management career. More than likely, you were like a sponge – learning everything you could as quickly as possible. You probably took stacks of industry studies and trade journals home each night and studied them diligently.

The bottom line is that if you truly want to reach your highest potential as a leader, it is imperative that you continue this almost child-like zest for learning throughout your career. AND THIS MEANS MAKING TIME FOR YOUR PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT.