“Live as if you were to die tomorrow.
Learn as if you were to live forever.”
— Ghandi

In this article, I focus on the importance of self-awareness for leaders. Self-awareness helps you become aware of your strengths, what energizes you or depletes you, how you approach life, and how you take in information and make decisions. But the most vital element of self-awareness is what you do with that knowledge and those strengths. Putting that awareness to work is vital to your success and ultimate fulfillment.

I would like to float an idea I’ve been mulling over. The concept combines self-awareness, learning and goal-setting, and its possibilities are exciting to me. I have found the process of considering this idea even has its rewards, so I thought it would be a good exercise for others.

What if you could create for yourself an intensive, highly-customized, goal-oriented two-day learning and discovery experience that was centered solely on you? How would this experience look for you, and what kind of people would it involve?

First, Making the Time

In a business setting we take time for strategic planning, hire outside consultants to facilitate the process and spend days preparing, executing, and summarizing the results of our efforts. How about doing our own strategic plan? There comes a time as leaders when we all need to stop what we’re doing and work on ourselves for a few days. You may need it in order to prepare for a huge shift in your career or your present work. You may want to start focusing on how to apply your talents, skills and knowledge for an encore career or to hone a particular skill to get you to the next level.

I have said in this newsletter that people can get so busy they forget the “little things,” such as exercise and eating right, that can make a huge difference in their daily lives. That’s true, but sometimes we also get so wrapped up in what we’re doing that we don’t take time to work on the “big things” that have profound impact on our future—the important, but non-urgent things.

You know you need to take that time. Unfortunately, although that time comes for all of us, it also passes many of us by. We push aside the notion for months or even years, saying, “I’m just too busy right now.” That’s an excuse, and it can be a costly one, in terms of both our well-being and success.

I am guilty of this kind of procrastination. I “reason” with myself that if I take off for two days alone somewhere, I might be able work on a few things, but because I’m off alone, the burden is going to be on me to plan the work, orchestrate it, write it all down, come away with a plan, and eventually end up making the time spent worthwhile by actually accomplishing something.

More and more, I believe that if I’m going to take that time for myself, I’d rather have a little help to make it all more worthwhile.

What if I had someone guiding me, and more than one person on that team? Imagine I could create a personal board of experts to help me with my research and exploration, decision-making and planning processes during these two valuable days and then going forward?

I’m not necessarily promoting coaching or consulting here. Let’s just say I have choice of three people—their areas of expertise chosen based on what I was trying to accomplish. Who would I choose?

Recently when I was sitting in the crowd of about 40 people in a management seminar I thought, What if I had this speaker to myself for a day? This expert would be tailoring the presentation to me and my specific goals, rather than to a demographic that is something like me, but not quite, as often happens in a conference presentation. I would be the sole focus of the expert’s attention and message. I would likely get a lot more value out of the presentation because, as I envision it, this would be much more than a presentation, but also more than tutoring.

Then I looked down at the slate of speakers in the seminar and thought, What if I also had this one… and that one. What would it be like to have three people—each an expert in a different area—working with just me for a few days? The session would go beyond what I think of as a traditional management retreat. It would be more like hunkering down in your own “war room” for a few days of intense strategic development.

Of course, someone who would go to such an expense and time commitment would definitely have a critical goal in mind. That goal would be “the next big thing” in their lives—a calculated, life-changing step.

Although an intense discovery experience like this would accomplish a lot in a short period of time, you couldn’t expect it, in itself, to change your life over the course of the two days. I would envision it as a springboard that would result in not only opening huge insights but also setting you on a detailed action plan that would include personal and professional steps you would take over six months to a year. You would also come away with suggestions for further exploration, connections and contacts you would need to undertake in order to keep yourself moving toward the goal.

Designing an Experience

Let’s say I’m a program director or physician leader who has made great strides in managing programs and improving quality. I don’t want to just rest on those laurels—I want to parlay these achievements into becoming more visible and noted nationally in my profession. My broader goal is to advance my career and eventually set the stage for me to create my own company or be recognized as the leading expert on something. I may want to pursue consulting opportunities first.

There are a lot of questions to consider before you can develop and staff your war room:

  • How will I get recognized?
  • Who do I need to talk with?
  • Do I have a product or an idea in mind?
  • What opportunities are out there? What is my business plan?
  • What kind of lifestyle do I want?
  • What are the values and strengths I possess that will help me in my future endeavors?
  • What’s my vision?

You may not have all of the answers to these questions going in, but you will want to structure your learning experience so they are solidly answered going out.

Putting a Team Together

So who would you put on your team?

Personally, I would first choose an executive coach, because for a process like this to work for me, there would be considerable advance work involved—personality and strengths assessments, values work, and determining what I want to accomplish—as well as plenty of follow-up. An executive coach would also be helpful in managing the entire process and making sense of it in terms of developing an action plan and supporting me along the way.

Next, I might choose a presentation or speaking coach to help me craft my message, or perhaps someone in my profession I admire for their speaking abilities. At this point I’m only talking about identifying the right type of person to help me toward my goals rather than detailing how I would structure their participation. I do know one thing—I can only get so much from sitting in a room with 40 other people having someone teach me about public speaking. There are many more possibilities when one-on-one interaction is involved.

Next, I might choose someone who is a communicator, such as a writer, to be part of the process. Again, this might be a professional writer, or someone in my profession or a related profession who has done a lot of publishing. If publishing is part of my process to get recognized, it might also be an editor—someone who knows the ins and outs of preparing manuscripts that will be noticed, and then published, by an editor.

This is only one example. The possibilities and combinations are endless, based on what you would be trying to accomplish.

I also have some ideas about how to structure such sessions. In order to optimize the effectiveness of the experts, some pre-work would have to be done, so your experts will be familiar going in with your personality type, and they would know some of your strengths, values and what your goals are. This would give them the groundwork to further tailor their interactions and knowledge-sharing to your best advantage.

That pre-work should also answer a vital question: What is really critical for you at this moment? Do you need to develop a strategic plan for your organization, or yourself, for your next career move? As we talked about in the last issue, are you looking to step out on your own as an entrepreneur?

I would envision the three experts taking turns working with you one-on-one during the two days and then having everyone come together for the last half-day to discuss and then develop an action plan for where you go from there. The plan would include resources, references and ideas for networking that would help you reach your goals. It would also contain progress steps and a timeline for achieving them.

One of the reasons I would choose a coach as part of the process is follow-up. It would be a shame to go through such an involved process only to have it fizzle out during the most important phase, which is implementing what you’ve learned and putting that knowledge toward achieving your goals.

In the example I gave above about the physician leader seeking to make a national name for himself, one of his tasks might have been to respond to three “calls for presentations” for national conferences by month four. A coach can help keep you on track by periodically reviewing the action plan and discussing your progress.

What Are Your Thoughts?

As I wrote when I began this article, I have been considering this concept for a while, and I am interested in the thoughts of other leaders and managers on the topic. I would like to hear some feedback from those who read this article about what types of expertise you would like to see in people who would guide your learning experience. I would also like to hear if this article makes you think of a completely different concept or format.

Thinking this over might be a good exercise for you as well. As I have gone through the process I have realized that even if I don’t create such an event for myself, these “experts” I am imagining are people I should be talking with for the sake of my own professional and personal development. It’s a good start for growing my networking list.

Please think about this, and e-mail me with whatever you come up with. I would appreciate hearing your thoughts. When you write, put “Learning Experience” in the Subject line. Thanks!