Daniel Stewart, President of Stewart Leadership, shares this story in LEAD NOW! A Personal Leadership Coaching Guide for Results Driven Leaders. I love sharing this story as it relates to creating Individual Action Plans.
There was once a merchant in 1849 who was caught up in the California gold rush fever. He sold his store and all his possessions and trekked across America to the goldfields of California to seek his fortune. He had dreams of the rivers in California being filled with gold nuggets so big that they could barely be carried.Day after endless day, the young man dipped his pan into the river and came up empty. His only reward was a growing pile of rocks. Discouraged and broke, he was ready to quit. However, one day an old, experienced prospector said to him, “That’s quite a pile of rocks you got there, my boy.”
The young man replied, “There’s no gold here. I’m going back home. I’m finished.” Walking over to the pile of rocks, the wise old prospector said, “Oh, there’s gold all right in these dirty rocks. You just have to know where to find it.” The old-timer then picked up two of the rocks from the pile and smashed them together. One of the rocks split open, revealing several flecks of gold sparkling in the sunlight.
Noticing a bulging leather pouch fastened to the prospector’s waist, the young man said, “No, I’m not looking for flecks of gold. I’m looking for large chunks of gold like the ones you have in your pouch!” The old prospector extended his pouch toward the young man, who looked inside expecting several large shiny nuggets but was stunned to see that the pouch was filled with thousands of small flecks of gold.
The old prospector said, “Son, it seems to me you are so busy looking for large nuggets that you’re missing filling your pouch with these precious flecks of gold. The patient accumulation of these little flecks has brought me great wealth.”
It is common for leaders to look for a single experience that will vault them to success, the unique moment that qualifies them as a complete leader. But like the Boston merchant, they misunderstand how true leadership is created. And that is why an Individual Action Plan (IAP) is so critical - it is the mechanism by which you can identify where to find the flecks of gold for your professional development and make sure they get into your gold pouch.
This concept of gathering flecks of gold underlines our LEAD NOW! Leadership Development Model. Built with the knowledge that real and lasting improvements in one’s skill level and leadership talents are developed one small step at a time. From small and simple things, major gains occur. Whether you are building your leadership skills in a particular dimension of leadership or pushing toward your next promotion.
Following are ten questions you should ask when building an IAP to drive your professional and career development and maximize your success.
1. Have I shared my IAP with my manager and incorporated his or her feedback?
Your manager should be your primary support to further your development. He or she can serve as a coach, mentor, and guide to you in strengthening your skills in your current role, as well as in preparing for future career opportunities.
2. How do I plan to discuss my IAP progress with my manager?
You should periodically share your progress with your manager - make sure you have outlined a plan and schedule to ensure this happens regularly. It will help your manager better support you and increase your likelihood of success.
3. Do I address the skills I need to do my job now and those I’ll need to achieve my career goals?It’s imperative that you are improving performance in your current role while at the same time building skills in anticipation of future roles and opportunities. One way to do this is to have one development goal focused more on present performance and a second more focused on building skills for the future.
4. Do I have an appropriate mix of learning methods?
Research has shown that we tend to grow and develop best as humans through a blend of classroom training, on-the-job experiences, and learning from others like mentors. Having a solid mix of learning methods will also keep motivation and variety high.
5. Will the successful outcome of my IAP help my organization and team?
If your IAP is only focused on helping you grow, without benefit for the organization, then you have missed the point! A solid IAP will not only help you build your skills, but it will help you and your team perform more effectively and add skills and capability to the organization. If you align your goals with those of your organization, it becomes a win-win for everyone involved.
6. Do I address both my strengths and opportunities?
Yes - you should address both! Strengths are easier to develop because we are already so good at them - it’s a bit counterintuitive, but we can make significant progress with a development focus on strengths. At the same time, we all tend to have a few development opportunities that stand in our way of improved performance and impact. Focusing on shoring up a development weakness can also help us avoid “derailing” in our role.
7. Will my IAP push me out of my “comfort zone”?
This is really important - if your IAP is too easy or too comfortable, you’re likely not going to grow much. At the same time, you don’t want to be so aggressive with the goals that you set yourself up for failure. Having a balance while continuing to push beyond your comfort zone will ensure you are making substantial progress.
8. Have I created achievable metrics to measure success?There’s nothing quite like stepping on the scale after working hard to lose weight and realizing you’ve lost those 10 or 15 pounds you wanted to shed! Having clear metrics to indicate success will give you something to work towards. It will also keep motivation high when you succeed - or make measurable progress. Performance that is measured will generally improve - it’s in our natures!
9. have i created milestones to keep me on track?One of the primary reasons milestones matter is that development happens one day at a time - remember the flecks of gold! Given that, having milestones over time will help you build your skills consistently and strongly. When you put months into a development goal, you will see tangible results - and milestones can help you do just that.
10. Who will support and follow up with me?Having a support partner to encourage you along your journey will make it more pleasant and significantly raise the likelihood of success. This might be your manager, but it could also be a mentor, a professional coach, a close friend, or a significant other. Regardless of who it is, engage them early and make them a central part of your planning - it will equip them to better support you and be glad to have a partner along the way to encourage and challenge you.