One of the challenges to being a consultant is working on your own self-development. Remember that old saying that oftentimes it’s the cobbler’s kids that have no shoes? That can certainly be true of consultants, too.

For me, I realized it was becoming true because I hadn’t invested in my own professional development in some time. Sure, I went to various HR-related conferences to stay up on HR trends, but true professional and personal development is also important for us to work on.

As consultants, we often get wrapped up in focusing on our customers and their needs. In my case, I do quite a lot of development for my clients. Here I am training management teams to be more effective in the workplace and be better leaders, but meanwhile I’m not working on becoming a better leader myself!

So, I began looking for opportunities that would pull me in and really interest me at this point in my career. A good friend of mine has gone through the John Maxwell certification for becoming a professional coach, and she uses that coaching skillset in her job as an HR manager. I talked with her about her process and she said, “Ed, there’s tremendous value in going through it for a consultant like you. They give you tools to make you a better speaker, trainer, facilitator.”

I took a look and realized that they not only had great lessons on those fronts, but of course John Maxwell is probably the worldwide expert on leadership thought. So, it was a good program for me.

I enlisted, went through the self-study materials, and began preparing for the certification event. In this blog, I want to share some takeaways from the program on the importance of self-development and the different things that were “ah-ha” moments for me through the course of the training.

One thing I realized was that as trainers and leadership consultants, clients often ask us to “do a training.” And it’s okay to show up and do a training! But training really has to be an experience. If you’re just giving out the information, the message isn’t going to be received because training isn’t just about the information. It’s about the experience that the learners are involved in, which helps them retain knowledge and use it on the work floor.

It may sound obvious, but this was a bit of an “ah-ha” for me. When training, I like to incorporate role-playing, group discussion, etc., but this helped reinforce that, as a trainer, I want to give a true experience to those I’m training. I don’t just want to give them the practical information. I want to open their minds to what’s possible if they use the information, to paint a mental picture for them of why they need to use this information and why it’s vital to their personal and professional development as a leader in the organization.

I think an organization’s culture around leadership and development is also key. As I pursued this path of a professional consultant, I began thinking about workplace culture and how much it can drive leadership and development or hinder it.

One of the things I heard John Maxwell say during one of his talks was that our goal as trainers, coaches, and leaders is to add value to the organization and to its people.

It sounds so simple, and it is simple, yet those are very profound words. When I think about the people who have most influenced me personally and professionally, I always have a sense that they valued me for who I was, not what I could do for them, or the hard skills I brought, or even the results I was driving. They cared about me as an individual. I think we’re missing that in most workplace cultures, and certainly in our society. If we’re going to lead other people, we have to value them and bring value to them first.

I recently had coffee with a man who reached out to me via LinkedIn. I think it’s important, especially with social media, that when we build new connections, we truly get to know each other. The man happened to be geographically close to me, so we met for coffee.

It remains to be seen whether we can work together to support each other’s clients, but what was impactful was that during the course of our hour together, we laughed, we shared stories, and neither one of us attempted to sell the other on anything. It was just a chat between two professionals getting to know one another. We asked each other pointed questions about how we do business. We shared ideas with one another. To me, that feels like the epitome of adding value.

I recently had a chat with a woman looking to go into consulting. She was concerned about her ability to sell. I said, “It’s not about selling.”

It’s all about the relationship. Through the course of getting certified as a Maxwell speaker and trainer, that same message kept coming up about relationships. In order to lead others, we have to lift them up. The only way to do that is to value them and have a relationship with them. We have to truly connect with people in order to lead them and have them want to follow us.

There’s a saying about culture that a company’s vision tells us where they’re going, but the culture is what’s going to get them there. I find that to be very true.

It all comes back to the culture we’re building inside the organization. Are we building one based on valuing others and leading them towards the vision, or are we worried about ladder climbing? True leaders don’t worry about ladder climbing, they build ladders for other people to climb. That attitude of helping one another has to be continually reinforced and adjusted within organizations if we’re truly going to make a difference.

One of the key things I took away from the training is that truly transformational leaders produce other transformational leaders.

I’m a fan of professional football and you often hear about a coach’s coaching tree — how this coach or that coach has developed these other folks and helped them move up through the ranks until they became head coaches renowned in their own right.

To me, that’s the true epitome of being a leader: developing others who have now risen through the ranks to become respected leaders in their own right. That goes beyond the win-loss record, and means we’re truly engaged in empowering our people.

As I’ve been processing the information over these last few weeks, one of the things I keep coming back to is the idea of surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you. If you’re the smartest person in the room, find a different room!

Find people that will challenge you. That’s key to our growth: getting out of our own comfort zones and letting ourselves be challenged.

For all the talk in society today about being a goal-oriented person, maybe it’s time to take a step back and say, “maybe I should be a growth-oriented person.” If we can grow ourselves and one another, then attainment of our goals will naturally follow.

Want to bring some of John Maxwell’s leadership magic to your organization? Give me a call and let’s discuss the possibilities!