Why exceptional mentors never stop prioritizing personal development

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When people think of personal development, they often think of a process in which one cultivates and refines skills that will enable achievement of certain career goals. But what happens to this process after an individual achieves those goals?

"You're either green and growing or ripe and rotting," says Mike Harbour, founder and president of Harbour Resources, a leadership consulting, training and talent management firm based in Little Rock, Ark.

According to Mr. Harbour, personal development should not cease to be a priority for professionals once they reach a certain age or level in their career. This is especially pertinent for those who play a part in others' careers as mentors or coaches.

Whether someone is a student, entry level employee, middle manager or CEO, continual learning and self-improvement are always important. Even seasoned leaders preparing to retire can benefit from personal development, according to Mr. Harbour. "Personal development isn't about achieving a certain goal or target in life," he added. "It's about becoming a certain kind of person."

What being a mentor or coach really means
Mentors and coaches take initiative to advocate for and support others in their professional lives. Additionally, they are motivated by a genuine desire to help their mentees become leaders with valuable knowledge they can pass on to others.

But without actively seeking personal development opportunities, mentors and coaches won't be able to as effectively create this trickle down effect.

"Personal development basically enables you to do multiplication instead of addition," says Mr. Harbour. "Without working on myself, I'm just adding. I'm telling other people what to do and adding stuff to their plate. But with personal development, I'm multiplying. It allows me to grow myself and to grow others so they can go on and grow even more people."

If all leaders and mentors prioritize personal development, that multiplication effect can help remedy the succession problem facing many American companies right now, according to Mr. Harbour. According to a survey of 1,098 senior managers and executives by the American Management Association, fewer than one in 10 large organizations integrates management development and succession planning with strategic business objectives.

"If I'm giving someone all I have today, what am I going to give them tomorrow?" says Mr. Harbour. "Great mentors know the way, show the way, go the way. But we have to grow ourselves if we want others to grow. Don't let the well run dry."

Personal development as a lifelong project
The notion that personal development is only imperative for young professionals at the outset of their careers is a disadvantageous misperception. Mr. Harbour, who considers himself to be at the middle of his career, says personal development is important in all stages of life. He even coaches a 62-year-old man who plans to retire next year.

People pursuing personal development constantly seek ways to become a more knowledgeable person with richer insights and experiences. While it is tremendously important for those just entering the workforce to prioritize learning and self-growth, it is equally important to those who serve in leadership and mentorship roles.

Anyone who wants to make personal development a greater part of their daily life can use the following six strategies as a guide, according to Mr. Harbour.

1. Think of learning and growth as a lifelong goal. "Grow until the good Lord calls you home," says Mr. Harbour. Every day is an opportunity to learn.

2. Add personal development to your daily calendar. If it's not on the calendar it won't happen, according to Mr. Harbour. "Every morning I have a personal growth appointment with myself at 5 a.m.," he says. "I spend time reading, listening to something educational or watching a video. I look for [content] that challenges me to step outside the box."

Mr. Harbour does this for 15 minutes a day. While these "personal development appointments" are brief, the cumulative result is a greater appreciation for learning, enhanced curiosity and, in effect, increased qualification to serve as a mentor to others.

3. Seek out diverse mentors. Mr. Harbour recommends having at least three mentors who offer different perspectives. One mentor should be someone who is in a later stage of life — both in terms of age and career. He also suggests seeking a younger mentor who can offer a different perspective, as well as one in a completely different industry.

4. Take advantage of the tools you already have. The internet, YouTube and TED Talks are excellent and accessible education tools.

5. Attend at least one conference a year that isn't industry focused. While staying on top of industry trends and changes is essential, professionals who broaden their educational experiences by attending a variety of conferences will increase the diversity of their knowledge.

6. Invest in a coach. "To really grow and get to the next level, we need someone who can challenge us," says Mr. Harbour, who believes everyone can benefit from hiring a professional performance and development coach. Relationships with coaches should be tailored to the individual's goals. While some people might seek a mentor to meet with on a weekly basis, others might opt for once or twice-monthly sessions. Regardless of how frequently mentors and mentees meet, to Mr. Harbour, an effective performance coach is worth the investment — at any stage of life.

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