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By James McPartland

“If I really want to improve my situation, I can work on the one thing over which I have control – myself.”

-Stephen Covey

People who work with me know that I wholeheartedly believe in professional growth through personal development ®. It’s ingrained within my team and our approach – a deep-rooted philosophy about what it takes to create measurable, lasting change within an organization.

But what does it mean?

Professional Growth through Personal Development | Article by Executive Coach, Author & Speaker, James McPartland

Well, some people talk about organizations as if they’re machines that can easily be changed by just tweaking a few settings. But as any CEO can tell you, it's not that easy. An organization is a living entity made up of people with hopes and dreams and powerful gifts. They are the ones that will be driving any kind of change.

Organizations don’t get stuck, people do. And it follows that a company cannot grow without progressing its people.

But as I always say, enduring change must be led from the top. Leaders who model what they wish to see will experience a multiplier effect as their new and improved behaviors ripple outward onto their team members, resulting in dramatic transformations throughout the company.

This is what I mean when I talk about my “top-down, bottom-up” solution.

Hand stretched out holding a mirror ball reflecting corporate office buildings
Ripple of change
Company leadership team members holding up machine gear props celebrating their work in the organization


Real and lasting change requires that we first shift the underlying beliefs that drive our behaviors. Only by uncovering our personal blind spots and discarding some of our own preconceived notions and assumptions can we begin to transform. And transformation is especially challenging when our beliefs become the habitual stories we tell ourselves and others. Many of us too often write narratives about our limitations instead of our true potential.

That’s why it’s important to think about what we think about. We need to be asking ourselves: How are my existing beliefs contributing to the obstacles I have now? What am I trying to get to? What beliefs need to be shifted in order for me to move forward?

But here’s the rub: this method of introspection isn’t a go-it-alone journey. How can we see our own blind spots? We need an objective point of view to give us honest feedback, much in the same way an athlete needs to watch a replay of the game tape to get context on how to overcome habits and improve his or her plays. In order to know what to do next, we need to figure out what we just did last!

Forbes business writer Doug Guthrie brings up the unreliability of solo self-reflection in Creative Leadership: Introspection, “Leaders need to ask hard questions, but first and foremost, they must pose those questions to themselves. How much are you thinking about and analyzing yourself, your own motivations, your own anxieties, and your own goals? To what extent are you being honest about all of these issues?"

You may think you know yourself, and no doubt it took tremendous talent to get to where you are. But the problem is that almost everybody who thinks they “have it handled” in the self-awareness category actually doesn’t have it handled at all.

CEO looking out over tall city office buildings while on the phone
corporate company conceptual image of finger pointing to a diagram drawn on a chalkboard
businessman analyzing his goals and achievements and drawing a growth progress line in dry erase marker

Nearly All of Us Overestimate Our Self-Awareness

In What Self-Awareness Really Is (And How to Cultivate it), Harvard Business Review writer Tasha Eurich cites a study with over 5000 participants. In it, researchers found that “even though most people believe they are self-aware, only 10-15% of the people we studied actually fit the criteria.”

Why is that?

Part of the problem is becoming isolated at the top. Eurich asserts, “Researchers have proposed two primary explanations for this phenomenon. First, by virtue of their level, senior leaders simply have fewer people above them who can provide candid feedback. Second, the more power a leader wields, the less comfortable people will be to give them constructive feedback, for fear it will hurt their careers. Business professor James O’Toole has added that, as one’s power grows, one’s willingness to listen shrinks, either because they think they know more than their employees or because seeking feedback will come at a cost.”

True knowledge of oneself requires mastery of two completely different spectrums: the internal and the external. To quote the study, internal self-awareness involves how accurately we see our own “values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions (including thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses), and impact on others.”

External self-awareness "means to understand how other people view us in terms of those same factors listed above. Our research shows, ‘that people who know how others see them are more skilled at showing empathy and taking others’ perspectives.’”

Self-Knowledge Requires Help

When you are a high-performing individual leading a company, experience almost always gets in the way of either your internal or external self-awareness. The same study notes that “Contrary to popular belief, studies have shown that people do not always learn from experience, that expertise does not help people root out false information, and that seeing ourselves as highly experienced can keep us from doing our homework, seeking disconfirming evidence, and questioning our assumptions.”

In other words, we can get cocky. I’ve been there too – most of us have at one time or another.

This is why getting guided help to explore these internal areas is vitally important to cultivate our true potential. Trapped inside the subjectivity of our own experiences, we need outside feedback to act as a mirror to reveal the beliefs or personal blind spots that are getting in the way of our desired outcomes. We simply cannot be trusted to do it on our own.

Once the blind spots are identified and removed (a process that takes practice), we can begin the exciting work of redefining the true business objectives and adopting the metrics by which we can measure their progress.

ceo businessman standing in suit and tie
blackboard and lightboard conceptual new ideas removing blind spots
Executives with iphones and analyzing their business objectives and metrics and measuring their progress


For success to be achievable, it must also be measurable. When we find the true objectives of the business, then we can determine the best metric to keep track of what is most important.

In Measure What Matters, Fast Company writer Lucy McCauley interviews business leaders about their real-world objectives and how they measure what’s most important to them. Ron Wolf, former General Manager of the Green Bay Packers, was among those interviewed.

Wolf said, "The nice thing about our business is that there's one universally recognized measure of success: winning the Super Bowl."

That's a simple objective, but many complex metrics spring forth from it. Wolf compared his team’s stats against his competition. “What do we have to do better to topple them?... Answering those questions means looking at our team, player by player, and developing metrics that help with that evaluation. We have size and speed requirements for every position… With a wide receiver, for example, we measure such things as his ability to release off the line of scrimmage.”

A Metric for Every Kind of Objective

But objectives don’t have to be as cut and dry as winning the Super Bowl. McCauley highlights examples from other industries. For the London School of Business, the objective is transformation, so the metric is measured by a “transformation-benchmarking questionnaire” for alums. A discount airlines’ main goal is to keep costs down, so the metric becomes the cost to produce an available seat. For the WNBA, the objective is engagement with the fans, so the metric becomes game attendance.

Devout attention to business metrics is indeed necessary. But, to truly bring our most powerful gifts to the organization and thus maximize our contribution, we can’t ignore the metrics of our personal lives. If those pieces fall apart, so does our work life.

The Metrics of Your Life

Yes, staying solely focused on work can cause the rest of your life to fall apart.

Friends spending time together on a hike looking at the sunrise

It nearly happened to me years ago, when the relentless pursuit of my work and fitness goals derailed my attention to the metrics I value most – how much time I devote to my family, relationships, and spiritual and personal growth. It took an executive coach to pull me out my disastrous tunnel vision and show me a different path.

You shouldn’t have to have a dramatic crash to transform. Trust me on this one.

In The Truth About Work-Life Balance, Entrepreneur writer Jennifer Wang points out how work and personal life are intertwined. Wang refers to the teachings of David Whyte, British poet and speaker on organizational development, “The way he sees it, we all have three lifelong commitments, or ‘marriages,’ as he calls them: to work, to a significant other and to ourselves.” Whyte goes on to say, “to neglect any one of the three marriages is to impoverish them all, because they are not actually separate commitments but different expressions of the way each individual belongs to the world.”

We can elevate our performance in ALL areas of our lives, personal and professional. But we must start with the personal! When we first work to develop ourselves – the individual players – we can begin to change the game organization-wide, sharing our unique gifts and operating in our genius zones daily.

women doing yoga exercise at the beach, working together toward a common goal
Sports game positions and plays diagram in chalk
Key company players showing peak performance standing in the middle of tall office buildings


With blind spots out of the way and clear, measurable objectives set, we can begin to entrust our key players with those goals. We do this partially through transparency – walking our talk and modeling our values. This is exemplifying responsible leadership by taking radical responsibility.

But it goes beyond transparency. It’s essential to encourage our team members to take ownership, pursue their unique gifts, and connect with their own sense of purpose in relation to the larger company objectives. When team members intentionally select personal goals that align with the company goals set upon them by their leaders, that's when the magic happens. When we have alignment, the achievement of the personal objectives has a direct and positive impact on professional performance.

Some may ask, is it really necessary that team members feel alignment between individual goals and overall company goals to experience a greater sense of purpose?

Forbes writer Joseph Folkman illuminates some of the business research in The 6 Key Secrets to Increasing Empowerment in Your Team, confirming that productivity increases dramatically when team members are engaged: “Empowerment impacts the engagement of the team, but it also impacts productivity. A study from Zenger Folkman found that only 4% of employees are willing to give extra effort when empowerment is low but 67% as willing when empowerment is high. The discretionary effort of employees (willingness of employees to give extra effort) has a significant impact on productivity. As a leader, the other major benefit of having a highly empowered team is that you get to work with a group of satisfied people who are willing to work hard. It's the best of all outcomes. Who wouldn't want to strive for this goal?"

A legendary story describes when John F. Kennedy toured the NASA Space Center and asked a janitor what he was doing. The janitor replied, “Well, Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

No greater power exists in an organization than when the people within it are engaged with the objective, using the full potential of their gifts. In this way, the “top-down” initiation of change also becomes a “bottom-up” operation of company-wide peak performance. We are literally building champions!

Employee looking at graphs on computer and righting down her professional goals
Tall corporate office building exterior
Company members jumping up celebrating their team synergy and professional achievements


We are all here for a reason. No experience is wasted, if we integrate their lessons into our lives. They become part of our gifts – the talents, skills, and perspectives that we were born with or that were won through experience.

The process of unleashing these gifts is what I describe as a breakthrough. When opened and given freely, your gifts spark a chain reaction of rapid transformation within yourself and encourages the same in others. When this process unfolds inside an organization, it builds a high-performance growth culture, inevitably producing lasting innovation and sustainability. Organizational trust is elevated, team synergy skyrockets, and breakthrough results become the norm.

True professional growth is ONLY possible through personal development.

That's why it is vital for leaders to do the hard work of achieving clarity around objectives by releasing assumptions, removing blind spots, and discarding beliefs that are getting in the way of using their greatest gifts. Once everyone around you can see a blazing path, they can become all-stars that walk it themselves. 



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From Unopened Gifts to Unstoppable Breathrough article by Executive Coach, Author & Speaker, James McPartland


Exemplify Responsible Leadership By Taking Radical Responsibility article by Executive Coach, Author & Speaker, James McPartland


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