Is It Better to Grow Well or Show Up Well?


Recently, some friends and I were talking about our relationships with our wives or girlfriends. One friend mentioned that he’d just gotten feedback that he doesn’t communicate well.

“Did you get defensive?” I asked.

“No, not at all,” he said. “I am meeting with a therapist to work on this. It’s my issue, not hers. And I will grow.”

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People generally fall into one of two categories when it comes to their own behavior and performance. Some people prioritize growing well and others prioritize showing up well.

Leadership experts disagree about how much people can actually grow. Some say, for example, that you should build a team with only those who show superior knowledge and skills. True, selecting talented people is critical. But research suggests that Growers end up being the most successful.

My friend is a good example of what I mean by a “Grower.”

His story reminded me of a colleague who nearly lost his job with our company years ago because he wasn’t performing well. With steely determination, he studied processes and products at night. He took risks and listened to counsel from other colleagues. Today, he’s grown to become an essential leader in the organization.

I also think about the VP of Sales who hired me a year ago to do sales training for his team. Over coffee last week, he related a conversation he’d just had with one of his managers who had been at a sales meeting with one of their most experienced sales reps.

“I was amazed to see—and learn—the sales process in action,” the manager told him. “The preparation, questions to the customer and presentation of our capabilities truly accelerated the customer relationship. It quickly got us to a place that we’d never been with this customer.”

Thinking about their growth helps reinforce for me the work I continue to want to do in my own life. For instance, I have a note in my phone that I review several mornings a week while the house is still quiet. I read through the statements that I’ve written down from mentors and counselors. Here are a few of them:

  • If I’m getting feedback or feeling attacked, listen with curiosity before defending myself.
  • Communicate with people when I’m tempted to withdraw out of discomfort.
  • Look at people to give them my entire attention and presence.

These and other areas of growth for me need continuous reminding and intentionality. And I am growing. My wife tells me that I am!

The Difference Between Someone Who Grows Well vs. Shows Up Well

Some people work very hard to appear competent. They impress with experience and credibility. Their emphasis is where they are versus where they could be. Growers self-assess well. They impress with their self-awareness and their hope for what’s possible.

Often, you can distinguish a “Grower” from someone who shows up well simply by what they communicate, whether it’s with their words or their actions.

People who show up well say:

  • “I’m already really good at what I need to be good at.”
  • “I am who I am. It’s too much work to change.”
  • “Despite feedback from others, I frankly don’t need to improve.”
  • “I’m too tired, too old, too scared or too comfortable to make the effort to change.”

Growers say:

  • “I need to become the person I have the potential to be.”
  • “I want to grow despite the emotional pain of behavior change.”
  • “I can grow, with effort and intentionality.”
  • “I will confront myself, and I will invite others to help me.”

Growers change to reach their potential. Others appear competent because it’s safer to stay the same. Who will you hire and promote? And who will you be?

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