Founding father Ben Franklin said, “By improving yourself, the world is made better. Be not afraid of growing too slowly. Be afraid only of standing still. Forget your mistakes, but remember what they taught you.” So how do you become better tomorrow? By becoming better today. The secret of your success can be found in your daily agenda. Here is what I suggest you do to keep growing and leading up:
1. LEARN YOUR CRAFT TODAY
On a wall in the office of a huge tree farm hangs a sign. It says, “The best time to plant a tree is twenty-five years ago. The second best time is today.”
There is no time like the present to become an expert at your craft. Maybe you wish you had started earlier. Or maybe you wish you had found a better teacher or mentor years ago. None of that matters. Looking back and lamenting will not help you move forward.
A friend of the poet Longfellow asked the secret of his continued interest in life. Pointing to a nearby apple tree, Longfellow said, “The purpose of that apple tree is to grow a little new wood each year. That is what I plan to do.” The friend would have found a similar sentiment in one of Longfellow’s poems:
Not enjoyment and not sorrow
Is our destined end or way;
But to act that each tomorrow
Find us further than today.
You may not be where you’re supposed to be. You may not be what you want to be. You don’t have to be what you used to be. And you don’t have to ever arrive. You just need to learn to be the best you can be right now. As Napoleon Hill said, “You can’t change where you started, but you can change the direction you are going. It’s not what you are going to do, but it’s what you are doing now that counts.”
2. TALK YOUR CRAFT TODAY
Once you reach a degree of proficiency in your craft, then one of the best things you can do for yourself is talk your craft with others on the same and higher levels than you. Many people do this naturally. Guitarists talk about guitars. Parents talk about raising children. Golfers talk about golf. They do so because it’s enjoyable, it fuels their passion, it teaches them new skills and insights, and it prepares them to take action.
Talking to peers is wonderful, but if you don’t also make an effort to strategically talk your craft with those ahead of you in experience and skill, then you’re really missing learning opportunities. Douglas Randlett meets regularly with a group of retired multimillionaires so that he can learn from them.
Before he retired, Major League Baseball player Tony Gwynn was known to talk hitting with anybody who had knowledge about it. Every time he saw Ted Williams, they talked hitting.
I enjoy talking about leadership with good leaders all the time. In fact, I make it a point to schedule a learning lunch with someone I admire, at least six times a year. Before I go, I study up on them by reading their books, studying their lessons, listening to their speeches, or whatever else I need to do. My goal is to learn enough about them and their “sweet spot” to ask the right questions. If I do that, then I can learn from their strengths. But that’s not my
ultimate goal. My goal is to learn what I can transfer from their strength zones to mine. That’s where my growth will come from—not from what they’re doing. I have to apply what I learn to my situation.
The secret to a great interview is listening. It is the bridge between learning about them and learning about you. And that’s your objective.
3. PRACTICE YOUR CRAFT TODAY
William Osler, the physician who wrote The Principles and Practice of Medicine in 1892, once told a group of medical students: Banish the future. Live only for the hour and its allotted work. Think not of the amount to be accomplished, the difficulties to be overcome, or the end to be attained, but set earnestly at the little task at your elbow, letting that be sufficient for the day; for surely our plain duty is, as Carlyle says, “ Not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.”
The only way to improve is to practice your craft until you know it inside and out. At first, you do what you know to do. The more you practice your craft, the more you know. But as you do more, you will also discover more about what you ought to do differently. At that point you have a decision to make: Will you do what you have always done, or will you try to do more of what you think you should do? The only way you improve is to get out of
your comfort zone and try new things.
People often ask me, “How can I grow my business?” or, “How can I make my department better?” The answer is for you personally to grow. The only way to grow your organization is to grow the leaders who run it. By making yourself better, you make others better. Retired General Electric CEO Jack Welch said, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” And the time to start is today.
Written by John C Maxwell from Self improvement 101 book, What every leader needs to know.