How Busy Leaders can Implement Personal Growth

Leaders are busy and can be tempted to overlook personal growth. It’s important to be disciplined and deliberate about growing and developing yourself (no matter how busy you might be) because growth does not happen by accident. When you implement personal growth into your regular routine it becomes the catalyst for success, higher level results, reaching your potential, and increasing influence. Many leaders forsake these benefits due to the busyness of life and leadership.

To implement personal growth no matter what season you find yourself in, I suggest these strategies:

Intentionally plan- Leaders who are always growing and learning place a high value on planned growth. When you plan and schedule for personal growth before (or during) busy seasons you increase your chances of actually taking the time to engage in growth activities. Place personal growth as an indispensable priority or task so you will always be growing and learning.

Become extremely specific- Since time is a valuable commodity it’s imperative to invest in specific growth so you see the maximum return on your time and effort. I recommend having between 3-5 specific growth areas at any given time. These areas should be related to your personal strengths, work competencies, and cause you to be making progress toward your potential and desired dreams. I shared my main growth areas (for 2013) in Be Specific in your Personal Growth which included: Spiritual, family, leadership, communication, and platform. Invest your time wisely by being extremely specific in your personal growth.

Set attainable goals Having personal growth goals is the bridge from the person you are today to the person you should be tomorrow. Goals allow you to follow through and make progress on your personal growth plan. During those busy seasons be deliberate about setting attainable goals. In Author Dave Arnold’s recent article: Growth Goals (What Are They & Why We Need Them) he wrote this practical advice, “Write down a specific goal each week that you want to work on or improve.” Setting a small growth goal (especially during busy times) will cause you to keep growing and learning. 

When you implement these strategies you will always be growing and developing yourself. Remember, “It is the capacity to develop and improve their skills that distinguishes leaders from followers. ~Warren Bennis

Questions: How do you implement personal growth during busy times? Which of the above three areas can you apply to better help you always be growing and learning?

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89 thoughts on “How Busy Leaders can Implement Personal Growth

  1. I think what I need to do now is to make more specific goals like you mentioned. One of my problems with goal setting is that I’m more of a big picture thinker so I make big goals for myself too. However, big goals can be easily lost track of, so I think if I were to make smaller goals in regards to my personal growth I would probably see a lot more progress.

    • I totally relate with you. I tend to make bigger goals that are difficult and hard to accoplish. I’m learning to make more realistic goals. My personal growth goal is to do something everyday where I would learn and develop my specific growth areas. I recommend following Dave’s advice.

  2. This is an incredibly busy time for me right now. Seems strange the summer would be that way. Don’t people know I take a vacation all summer? LOL I have to make time for growth. I am trying to make time to read. I am making time to go to lunch today with my youth pastor so we can discuss the Fall and the sermons. We are also beginning a one-on-one discussion of Love Works by Joel Manby today at lunch.

    • Hi Bill,

      Ya, it does seem strange. When I was serving in ministry the summer times where always the slowest. I’ve heard such great things about Love Works (it’s on my book list). The key is to remember a little growth is better than no growth:) I think we’ve talked about this before but have you thought about audio books while driving?

  3. Dan – right now we are in the busiest season of life I can remember for our family. Having two little ones, and then hosting two more have really increased the complexity of our lives (in a good way). The key for my personal growth right now is taking 15-30 minutes per day for quiet reflection time. Other times throughout the day I try to keep something read as well as pen and paper close by.

    • It sounds like your doing a great job about planning for growth time, even during your busy season. Keeping reading material close by is so important, I always have my phone handy with my Kindle app and blog posts in my inbox. Thank you for reading and sharing.

    • Glad you enjoyed them, Justin. Making and archiving small goals sure does create momentum. I like how you mentioned making “growth a habit.” So important. Thank you for adding value to the discussion.

  4. Implementing personal growth requires being intentional regardless of how busy you are. For me, it’s simply a habit that exists at all times. There’s always some way – book, podcast, article, sermon, Bible study, discussion, etc. – that i am working through. As with exercise & eating right, I know I will completely neglect self improvement if I don’t make it a daily habit like brushing my teeth. I know how easily I can become undisciplined if I allow that part of myself to grow. I need to make it as automatic as possible.

    • Hello Kari,

      Making it a daily habit is key! Everyday I make sure to take time to grow and learn, even if it’s a short amount of time. Keep growing and leading! Thanks for sharing.

  5. I like the idea of writing down a specific goal weekly, that brings the book of our lives down into sub-chapters that make the writing make more sense.

    Some of my biggest leaps in personal growth has been when I’m going through the most difficult circumstances in my professional life. Growth happens the most during the most conflict… seems to be just the way it is. We avoid, I know I do, but in the end God does more with the tough times than he does when “He makes us lie down in green pastures.”

    Thanks for always making me ponder a little deeper, Dan.

    • Dave’s advice is golden. Also if you have not yet read his book Pilgrims of the Alley I highly recommend reading it. To learn more about the book here is the link

      That’s some great insight Floyd! I totally agree with you. I’ve seen tremendous growth when going through a challenging or difficult time. Those lessons are valuable.

      Glad to know I’ve cause such a wise person to ponder a little deeper:)

  6. Thanks, Dan, for challenging us to make what’s truly important a priority. Michael Hyatt’s post on journaling recently inspired me to work on daily journaling as a personal growth tool. The process makes me stop, reflect, and learn from my previous day’s experience, while helping me set goals to change what I need to change in the day ahead.

  7. Dan, I often listen to podcasts when I’m in the car and exercising. In addition, I make time to read about 10-12 books per year. There isn’t a shortcut to personal growth.

  8. This is absolutely an overlooked factor for leaders. It’s so easy to get caught up in helping others and forget about yourself.

    But in reality, you are doing everyone a disservice by not improving because the more you improve the more you can help others.

    Scheduling specific times to grow is the only way when you’re busy. Like what Chris Peek said, listening to podcasts in the car or during exercise is a perfect way to find time for personal growth.

    Great stuff Dan!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Kevin! Great point about doing the people around you a disservice if you fail to grow and develop yourself. When that happens we become the cap and fail to move everyone forward. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.

  9. This is a great blueprint for dealing with the craziness of life. When we specifically focus on what we should be doing right now, we get a lot more accomplished. Setting those goals we focus on and works towards gives us clear direction. Great stuff brother.

    • Great thought Kimanzi! The key is to apply the blueprint into our life, so we can grow and move toward the future. That can sometimes be the challenging part. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I commit at least an hour everyday to reading a book and then several hours throughout the week to reading relevant blogs (like this one), as well as business, church, and nonprofit articles from HBR, Stanford Business, International Leadership Institute and the like.

    • Taking time to read is so important. I spend over an hour listening to audio books on most days and reading other blogs as well. Do you prefer reading or listening to a book?

      • I definitely prefer reading books. I’ve taught myself how to speed read, but that is a discipline that I only practice with certain material. I am usually able to read faster and retain the lessons longer as opposed to simply listening. But speed reading is kind of like eating. Sometimes I’m “hungry” for leadership but only have a short amount of time. These are the cases that I speed read relevant articles, and so similar to cooking something in the microwave, I want to consume the content quick. Other times, particularly reading Drucker, Collins, Lencioni, or the like, I will sit down and enjoy the meal like an eloquent banquette feast.

        • I’ve been thinking about learning how to speed read, was it easy to learn? I do read books but mainly read blogs and listen to audio books. I guess it’s whatever works best for the individual. We should talk soon again.

          • Agreed Dan, I’d love to chat again soon. Speed reading, like any skill, takes time and practice to develop. I liken it to driving a racecar… the more you do it, the more comfortable you become going faster and faster. And you’re right Dan, whatever works for you is probably the best bet. One of my dear mentors, the late Peter Drucker differentiated between leaders who learn best by reading versus those who learn by listening. Here is the original Harvard Business Review article from 1999 in which Drucker makes this distinction using various United States Presidents as an example

            • Let’s try for next week. I know I’ve become a faster reader by just reading a lot but want to get a little faster. I guess I just need to learn the fundamentals of speed reading then apply them. Thank you for sharing the link, Heading over to read.

  11. Excellent points, Dan – I’m an attainable goals type of person. Being realistic in goal setting can be a tenuous exercise. Too easy to hit and it may not be very impactful but too tough can lead to frustration and have a negative effect.

  12. Great topic Dan. I really need to work on the extremely specific part.

    I try to take advantage of small blocks of time. Even if I just have 5 or 10 minutes I can spend that time reading. I can listen to audio while at work. I try to plan, but I have also had to learn to be flexible. Family and ministry do not always fit neatly in planned schedules.

    • Listening to audio is great (especially with a smart phone). I agree, family and ministry are top priority over consuming growth content. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. It’s always great to hear from you.

  13. I like the one small goal a week idea – I just about always have a general area I’m working, but I think it would be interesting to look at a small weekly goal within that area – will have to give it a try!

  14. I’m constantly trying to squeeze as much as I can into a day- I usually always have a book or two handy.

    One thing I’m working on at the moment is learning how to relax a little. To sit back and listen to God instead of always being on the GO. I’m not very good at this.

    • Having a book handy is so important. Especially for those few minutes of down time here and their.

      That’s an important practice to apply. I know I struggle doing the same thing:) Thank you for sharing.

  15. Dan,

    I do two main things….

    1. I develop a battle rhythm. Think of it as a plan to “make winning a habit” so to speak.

    2. I try to maximize the use of the small intervals of time in between meetings etc… For example if I was prevented from reading due to a meeting; in between meetings I will read. It may only be five minutes but it is five minutes!

  16. I’d tell you how busy I am if I could slow down long enough to catch up with myself :)

    Reading and goal setting is mandatory; goals change over time as a more perfect vision of the goal is realized. In my situation. however, planning can only go so far out. I may not be in a business setting, but the responsibilities don’t change. Working on implementing that which I’ve already learned (book learned as opposed to practical, applied lessons) is also important.

    Good post! See you Saturday :)

    • Hello Rick,

      Ha, that’s funny. It’s great you still take time to read and grow! Keep growing toward your potential. Thank you for reading and adding to the conversation.

  17. Use the In-Between times. These times are the small spaces within your day that are normally filled with nothingness/filler.

    I’ve found lunch time to be an excellent time to pursue and implement personal growth. You’ve got anywhere from half an hour to an hour to yourself (most of the time). Why not use it to grow yourself?

    • That’s essential Joe. It’s important to maximize our time by using those down or “in-between” times. That’s a great time to spend growing and learning. Thank you for adding value to the topic.

  18. Great post Dan. I think being specific with your goals is key. It’s nearly impossible to hit a moving (or even unknown) target. That’s not to say your goals can’t change and evolve, but that change must be planned.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you Larry! Yes, being specific is so important. Specific growth allows us to pinpoint a skill or strength we want to develop. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I hope to see you again.

  19. Thanks for the mention, Dan. Really good post. I think you are so right, we must have an intentional plan or we won’t grow (at least not long-term). Good stuff, brother!

  20. The key is to be as intentional as possible; the other things fall in line after that. We have to prioritize our personal growth and not let anyone steal that time away from us.

  21. I’ve been in a very busy season and it’s not easy to create time for my self-growth. I’ve really lagged behind in reading! I think # 3 applies to me most right now, just get to reading (besides articles and posts) half a chapter a day of my current read. Great thoughts!

        • It might be worth trying. It took me a while to get use to listening to an audio book and now I really love it because I’m able to go through more books.

          • I think my challenge is that am always DOING something since am home-based. so i’d have to curve out time to actually listen while doing nothing else :), and that’s when am reading, as it’s my preferred mode. I do think listening would work great when driving or working out or something else that doesn’t take mind-focus as much, right? Definitely something to think on.. thanks!

  22. Dan for me it has to be consistent reading. I always want to consume new material and it helps to spark my creativity. If I am consuming new programs that fit my strength and growth areas I am all for it. Thanks for sharing this reminder because I was lacking in this area because of busyness lately.

  23. It is important to keep your mind active. Working puzzles is a good way such as cross word and jumbles. Even an active computer game stimulates the brain.

    • Great additional point. I’ve also read some place that playing puzzles is a great way to keep a person mind sharp. Thank you for adding to the discussion.

  24. I’ve heard that you should plan to spend 3% of your income on personal development – books, conferences, etc. I don’t go quite that far, but try to make strategic investments to better myself. I think what I could do better is to be more specific, that way I can measure my progress.

  25. A mind blowing post as always Dan,
    Among the 3 tips up there, the one I want to comment on is the issue of setting attainable goals, this is the most important among the 3 in my humble opinion.

    Nothing beats setting achievable goals because when you set such goals, you will always work very hard in order to ensure that you attain it and, that’s is why it is of utmost importance to always set goals in whatever we want to achieve.

    Thanks for sharing man :).

    • Glad you enjoyed it:)

      I agree, setting attainable goals is so important. It really allows us to make progress on our growth and development. Thank you for adding to the topic. I appreciate you.

  26. Hi Dan – I entirely agree about the need to set manageable goals and to be very specific. Otherwise there’s a real danger that this kind of thing just gets squeezed out by day-to-day priorities and pressures. I think you need to identify the specific activities that are going to contribute to your personal growth and ensure they’re scheduled in to your daily routine. I’ve found some guidance I’ve read recently about ‘habits’ very helpful – for example,writing in a daily journal and incorporating a 20 minute meditation session are two personal development activities that I’ve now turned into habitual activities I do as a matter of course every day.

    • Hello Sue,

      Thank you for adding to the discussion. It’s important to be specific from the very start so reach our full potential and competence level. The article you recently read sounds great, can you share the link in the comments?:)

  27. Hi Dan,

    Excellent post!

    Setting attainable goals been my favorite. I haven’t thought about it at first, and didn’t wanna list them out either. But coming up with a to-do list including the goals I wanna work on, allowed me to see where I’m heading.

    The best part is striking them out and finding I’m consistently moving through the hurdles. The more realistic they are, the easy for us to grow. Else, procrastination might knock on the front door and we might lose our track 😉

    You have a successful week ahead mate! :)


    • Thank you Mayura:) A “to-do” is is so valuable when it comes to reaching our goals and accomplishing the most important tasks. Thank you for adding to the topic.

      I plan on having a great week! I hope your week is productive and good:)

  28. You said this one before: listening to leadership books or podcasts. I know when I’m running errands and so forth. That helps me a lot. And keeping CONSTANTLY focused on your goals is a biggie. It’s so easy when the times to tough to slack off and compromise.

    This is a great post Dan!

    • Hello Mike,

      It helps me as well. I listen to audio books in the car all the time. Yes, focusing on our goals is essential. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  29. I’m not sure if I’m on the right frequency of the article here but I’m going to give it a try… There’s not a single day that I’m not busy on the week and that includes Saturdays and Sundays but I still manage to go for a run (as in jogging) from time to time.

    To me, the mere act of jogging is actually part of my personal growth activities because it makes me understand a lot of the things I’m doing right, the ones I’m doing wrong and the ones I should be doing so for me, running is like my business manager (even if that means *me*).

    Whenever I’m done, I normally modify all my activities and tweak the rest of the week according to the new ideas if it’s required, if not then I just keep following through and that’s how I’m able to maintain a real productive to-do list, I keep myself healthy and I keep my thought process going all the time.

    PS. Setting attainable goals that are part of very big goal is one way to avoid overwhelming in big projects so I normally split tasks as little as I can.

    • Hello Sergio,

      Working out brings so many benefits. It allows us to be healthy and we can also listen to audio and think. I think it really maximizes our time because we can multitask.

      Great side note about goals. I totally agree. For me setting smaller goals that lead to my bigger goals being accomplished is so helpful. Thank you for reading and adding to the discussion.

  30. Great stuff Dan. By setting SMART goals we can narrow down our focus to whats important. Falling for the high priority, low important trick is something we have all fallen for. We need to understand whats important, focus on one thing at a time and be intentional on what were trying to achieve. After all, life is short, time flies by and it can be difficult for leaders to manage the chaos.

    • Thank you Nate:) Yes, SMART goals are so important. It cuts through the thick of things and allows us to make and achieve our goals (personal growth or other). Thank you for reading and adding to the discussion.

  31. Great topic, Dan. For me, not worrying about a SMART goal when I’m busy is helpful. I’ve been incredibly busy lately and while I never had the goal written down, I learned how to be less concerned with my to-do lists, the cleanliness of my house, and having things done now.

    • Thanks Melanie. Letting go of the daily needed tasks so we can focus on what really needs to get done at the moment is so important. Thank you for reading and sharing.