Never stop learning. Even when you don't have time (who does?). Even when you are the CEO and think you've made it to the top. You can always better yourself--especially for those around you. But when reality is that time is scarce and business is busy, stick to the basics. These are my three professional development musts.
1. Hire an Executive Coach.
It will make a huge impact. Executive coaches help you identify your blind spots and take on the awkward task of running a 360-degree assessment of how other people perceive you--if you haven't had the pleasure of one of these, they ask your direct reports, colleagues, bosses, board members, your partner, even your mom all about your strengths and weaknesses.
They look for common denominators and report back with a constructive analysis. It feels more like a peek at your tombstone than a therapy session. Sometimes they even equate you to an animal. I've been told I'm like a Golden Retriever: playful and really nice, but he's going to get that stick at all costs and run you over if necessary. I digress.
Being self-aware is vital to becoming a successful leader. You realize how your behaviors and habits inform your leadership style and choices. You might not be able to change the way other people view you, but that level of awareness helps you make quicker, more confident decisions. You're simply not second guessing yourself. It's worth the cost and the long-term benefit is immense. If you're on a budget (or if you're CEO of the year and want to offer this to all your employees), check out Goalspriing, an early-stage startup that's democratizing executive coaching. My personal executive coach is Clive Crooks -- he's changed my life.
You should always be reading. I read a book a week and schedule it into my everyday life. And I'm not talking about Who Moved My Cheese? or the latest BS must-read about #startuplife. I read a lot of fiction. Pulpy fiction like Jack Reacher books.
Fiction, and especially detective thrillers, help you think and keep you analytical. I'm putting myself in character drama and watching strategies develop. Fiction teaches you better storytelling (vital for any CEO) and improves your vocabulary. It also gives me a break from the monotony of reading about work, business trends, and market analysis.
3. Ask for honest feedback.
Yes, you have your coach, who has a direct line into your business soul. But I also get a lot of constructive coaching from my colleagues. I strive to have an executive team of two to three people I know really well.
They push back on me. They tell me if I'm being a jerk. They tell me what the employees need from me. I can be myself around them and they know they can say anything to me. You need that too. People in your life who are going to call you out--and give you practical, candid advice to guide you through the most important decisions.
I also have advocates or my 'rabbis,' as I like to call them, that I don't directly work with, who I reach out to for everything, from marriage advice to business. If you don't have a Rabbi, but want to find one, check out the Voray, YPO, Venwise, Vistige, or Ivy communities. When you have people in your life who aren't scared to give you constructive feedback, seize the opportunity to better yourself.