Everyone knows that innovation is key to success and that, to be innovative, a company must be nimble enough to quickly adapt to disruptive change. This is only possible when everyone in the company is committed to personal growth.

Innovation doesn't occur automatically. It only happens when the individuals in an organization are growing and changing, taking on new challenges, learning new skills, entertaining new ideas. Innovation is thus the result of personal growth.

Becoming nimble isn't automatic, either. Organizations are only nimble when leaders are can let go, put aside the fear of change, and learn to accept and then transcend their own strengths and weaknesses. Being nimble is thus also the result of personal growth.

Ironically, many entrepreneurs and executives put personal growth on the back-burner and focus instead on strategy and tactics. Those are important, certainly, but without personal growth, strategy and tactics become rigid. Innovation falters.

With that in mind, here's how to nurture the personal growth that's the root of all innovation:

1. Create a community not a machine.

I've sometimes heard leaders proudly describe their organization as "well-oiled machine." I always take that remark as a sign that the company is about to fail, and I'm usually right, because machines don't adapt; they can only break.

When leaders think of organizations as machines, they inevitably dehumanize employees either as cogs in that machine or "resources" that the machine must chew up and spit out in order to keep itself running.

When leaders visualize an organization as a community of individuals it sets a completely different tone. It unleashes a flood of enthusiasm and energy. Employees feel free to grow into new roles in order to help the entire community to succeed.

2. Balance overtime with "undertime."

Today's pace of change is so rapid that it sometimes feels like you've got to run as fast as you can just to stay in the same place, let alone get ahead of everyone else. So if you're going to out-innovate, it means working long hours, all the time.

The problem with this way of thinking is that if you fill every waking moment with to-do tasks, you never have the time to learn new skills or to try new things. Because there's never time to relax, you burn out before you get anywhere.

It's true that you'll sometimes need to work overtime to meet deadlines or ship dates. To give yourself (and everyone else) a chance to grow, you also need to work "undertime" which means, well, goofing off.

3. Provide training on life skills.

Many leaders consider training to be an expense. In good times, they begrudge money spent on training and when money is tight, they cut the training dollars first. What's worse, such leaders think training should be limited to job skills.

In face, a company's ability to take full advantage of good times as well as cope with the bad times requires employees with strong life skills: overcoming fear, managing emotions, building empathy, better communication, etc.

While training on job skills is important, training life skills can create those breakthrough moments where people transcend their limitations and grow into the person they need to be to move to the next level.

4. Commit to your own personal growth.

When your company grows, the leaders either grow or are left behind. Entrepreneurs who fail to grow lose control of their own company. Executives who fail to grow get stuck in one job, which they when the company changes.

Successful entrepreneurs and executives are lifelong learners. They never rest on their laurels. Instead, they devour new information, seek new perspectives, challenge themselves to become the best they can be.

That kind of personal growth never comes from hard work and long hours. It comes from spending time and energy on yourself. It comes from developing the courage to let go of who you think you are and instead transform yourself into someone better.

Published on: Apr 22, 2015
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