Why self-improvement will enhance your startup

- January 9, 2014 4 MIN READ

It’s the time of year where we naturally look forward and envisage what could be. Resolutions get tossed around and rarely fall where we hope, leaving us to dream again – same time next year.

As the driving force behind a small business we are in an interesting position. As our personal capacity grows, so to does our business’s – so planning to ‘be a better you’ isn’t just about self-esteem. Self-improvement will have a very real impact on the strength of your business.

Our challenge; just like all the other departments big business takes for granted a Start-Up will rarely have a HR or Learning and Development department to look to for support with career development. Like everything else, it’s down to us to make it happen.

After working in People Development for many years for those big businesses I thought it was high time to share what’s important to know as you plan out your own development for the year to come. Here are my three development truths to help you and your business grow stronger through the year.

1. The best growth is deliberate growth

When you take the dive into the world of small business you experience an amazing amount of growth. You are thrust into situations that demand you develop particular skills to survive. Nothing like being cannonballed into the deep end, right? This learning-rich process is exhilarating (if not a little stressful) but it isn’t especially planned. It’s often anything but with the squeakiest wheel getting the grease. As a result the way we spend out time and therefore our development lacks strategy and any long term reason.

Like the art of time management, the best development is deliberate. It’s considered, strategic and thinks in the long term. It anticipates what competencies will be needed in the months and years to come and begins planting the seeds of skill early.

Action: Take yourself out of the office for an hour. Head to a quiet cafe and consider your current strengths and opportunities. Look forward to your year ahead. What will your business and your customers need from you? What would be the three most beneficial skills I could build this year? What, if I held as a strength, would turn good into great?

Leave your session with a list of three key strengths you hold that you want to share with others and three key development focuses for this year. If you can, run your list by a trusted colleague and check your thinking.

2. Experience is the best teacher

This is another truth that we entrepreneurs can definitely attest to. The act of doing is a multi-sensory experience, making it ‘stickier’ in our brains. You feel what it’s like to act and that feeling provides an amazing amount of unforeseen insight. But there is a particular type of experience that offers even greater learning. I call them Oh, Shit Moments. They are the situations you find yourself in where you can’t help say to yourself, “Oh, Shit”.

Research has shown that experiences of hardship offer the most development so it’s up to you to be deliberate and plan out your own Oh, Shit moments. If your hoping to develop your Presentation Skills this year – drop yourself into a pitch contest. Volunteer to MC your sporting clubs presentation night. Your divining rod should be, ‘Would I rather avoid this?’.

But don’t fear – you won’t be going in alone. Back up your difficult experiences with new ideas from mentors and resources. Connect with a ‘Resident Expert’ on your topic of development and find the go to book on Amazon and read it. Look for new ideas and techniques to try out in the field.

Action: Deliberately plan experiences that push you beyond your comfort zone in the area you wish to develop. The goal isn’t to be the best straight away. It’s to feel uncomfortable. Use the right mentors, books and resources to provide new techniques and strategies to test during your Oh, Shit moments.

3. Learning doesn’t happen without reflection

It’s the easiest thing to skip over, but reflecting on your experiences is absolutely key. It’s a pillar of the way that adults learn, so it is integral to plan out opportunities to make reflection happen. This could take a few forms but before we explore some potential actions, here are a few questions you need to ask of yourself after an experience.

Consider, “What behaviours really worked for me? What will I be sure to do again next time I find myself in a similar situation?”. Asking these questions force you to focus on the what you nailed. It ensures that you repeat the things that should be repeated. Next, be sure you think about what you will try differently next time. Think about what technique fell flat on it’s face and consider why. Have a strong idea of what will be different next time.

Reflections can be as simple as taking notes in a journal. You can grab a drink with your ‘Resident Expert’ and talk through what happened. You can even start a blog sharing your thoughts as you grow through the year. No doubt others will be able to benefit from your insights as you learn. Whatever form it takes, what’s important is that you reflect.

Action: Plan and schedule opportunities to reflect. Focus on what worked and what you will try differently next time. Be unrelenting with your reflections and enjoy the benefits of your accelerated growth.

It’s an empowering to realise that everything that you are good at today – started as something you sucked at yesterday. With deliberate effort, the courage to get uncomfortable and tenacity to stick with it we have the ability to grow whatever we dedicate ourself to. The best part. With these three developmental truths, you don’t even need a HR department to get started.

I’ve spent the last twelve months building a resource to help people as they work to grow themselves. I’ve separated the helpful from the ugly from the worlds of Social Sciences, Self-Help and Business Thinking and put it together in a 7-part course called Lifelong Online. If you’re keen to learn new ways to think about resilience, optimism, passion, goal setting, habits and more head over to my website and take a look – www.growlifelong.com.