My grandmother lived to be 101 years old. On her 100th birthday, I asked her to tell me how she managed to live such a successful life. “Everything in moderation,” she said with a little sparkle in her eye.
Who knew that Nana’s simple wisdom would prove to be one of the most effective strategies for personal growth and professional success?
In the work I do as a mentor and leadership coach, I see over and over again how hard we are on ourselves. We all have things we would like to improve. Perhaps you have a list of what you’d like to stop doing, start doing or change. But even self-improvement needs moderation or else we’ll start thinking we’re not good enough or we’re broken. Before we know it, we wind up in a place of habitually feeling bad about ourselves at all times.
It’s classic “destination addiction,” a term coined by my mentor and friend Dr. Robert Holden that describes a preoccupation with the idea that happiness is in the next place, the next job and with the next partner. This kind of approach to self-improvement is the number one cause of self-induced stress.
Evolving Our Weaker Traits
Fundamentally, there’s often nothing wrong or broken about any of us. What we consider traits and behaviors we’d like to improve are simply aspects of ourselves that need to be recognized, brought to the surface and strengthened. Our success depends on the ability to make that shift to the strongest parts of who we are quickly and adeptly.
Think of aspects of your personality as existing on a spectrum, with weaker traits are on the lower end and more productive traits are on the higher end. To reach our full potential, we need to learn to evolve low-end traits to the highest end of the spectrum, so they actually become personal strengths.
This level of growth requires coaching, but the work is worth it. Every aspect of your personality has a gift to give you; the key is to stop looking outside and start valuing what’s within.
Here are four examples of personality traits commonly perceived as negatives, and how they can be turned into positives.
1. Self-doubting: One of the most important skills of successful leaders is asking the tough questions. The self-doubter can be successful if they’re able to refocus their inner scrutiny into scrutiny for their work.
2. Likes to complain: Recently, I worked with a team in the midst of a rough organizational change. As a result, lots of people were frustrated and complaining, which can be difficult for a leader to take. However, the aspect of the personality that notices when things could be improved is an important part of who we are. We want to embrace it and harness it in people to improve things in our offices and our lives.
3. People-pleasing: People-pleasers can hold grudges because they give too much and eventually deplete themselves. But in its strongest position on the spectrum, this personality offers two, key gifts embedded in it: compassion and empathy. Some of the most emotionally intelligent leaders have mastery in this area.
4. Inner-critiquing: When the self-critic becomes the self-coach, their inner conversations — and also all conversations with colleagues — become more encouraging, supportive and helpful.
Practicing Healthy Self-Improvement
Relentless self-improvement can mask feelings of not being good enough and keep us from realizing the gifts of who we are. However, as we grow as leaders in our lives and our workplaces, it’s necessary to embrace and evolve our personalities by checking in with where we are. Here are some exercises to inspire healthy improvement in both ourselves and in others.
- Ask yourself: What aspects of my personality would I like to shift? What’s one small action I could take this week to move me in that direction?
- Who on your team displays behaviors that are holding them back? How can you help them look within those patterns to discover the gift inside? Consider this for people you manage.