the shape of leadership

Developing a Personal Growth Plan

Being a better person takes action, and action takes a good plan

Chris Railey on December 14, 2018


Raise your hand if you’re focused on personal growth. Great leaders focus on improving. The most seasoned leaders I know are still committed to personal growth even after all they’ve achieved in life. There is no expiration on the value of personal growth.

Improvement takes action and hard work. Whether you want to learn a new skill, read more or even just get in better shape, it will take some sort of action on your part. But actions don’t come automatically. You need proper preparation. If you fail to plan, the old saying goes, you plan to fail.

Keep the End in Mind

Before beginning the new year, decide how you want to end it. What do you want your life, your family, your ministry to look like a year from now? What are the main characteristics you want to emphasize or the values you want to add?

Take a minute to think through this; really think about it. Imagine yourself a year older. What would you like to have accomplished? How do you want others to think of you? How has your family grown or changed in that time? Get very specific.

Reaching that end goal of growth will take a step-by-step plan, not a couple of long leaps. Think of it like building a house. You can’t do it all at once at the last minute. It takes careful planning, but it also involves putting steps in the right order.

You begin building a house by pouring the foundation. Then you frame out the walls before putting on the roof, siding and brick. Once that’s done, you install electrical, plumbing and flooring before all the finishing work. The point is, it takes steps. And each step follows the one before it.

With that end goal in mind, think backwards through the steps you’ll need to take to get there. Then, decide each day which step to take that gets you closer to the you that you want to be.

A Productive Personal Growth Plan

Now that you have the major framework in place for personal growth, let’s talk about how to make it a productive one. The best plans are simple and have clear growth markers attached. People don’t fail to grow personally because of a lack of desire, but because their plan wasn’t easy to follow or clear in its execution.

Here are five things I think through whenever I come up with my yearly personal growth plan:

1. Decide on an area of personal growth. Pick where you want to see growth this next year. I like to make a list of the main areas I want to work on, from career and family to health and relationship, and, most importantly, my spiritual life.

Before beginning the new year, decide how you want to end it.

Once I have that list, I can start developing individual goals for each area. For instance, under family, I may include eating more dinners together at home, and under spiritual life, I may add reading a devotional book each month.

2. Define success. Just completing your goal is not the win. You must define success if you want to be successful. What do you really want to accomplish, and how will that affect you and those around you? If you don’t know what success looks like, you will easily stray off target.

3. Prioritize your goals. Rank your goals. If you were only able to grow in one particular area this year, which would it be? Now, put that at the top of the list and give it the majority of your attention.

Here’s why. We will all get busy or distracted in the new year. Prioritizing your goals lets you keep your personal growth plan in front of you, even when the going gets tough. You’re clear about what really matters, and can stay on track even during the busiest of seasons. Instead of becoming frustrated because you can’t do it all, you’ll be free to zero in on what matters most.

4. Avoid roadblocks. Your busy schedule is just one roadblock you’ll face. There will be unscheduled meetings, unexpected events and unwanted emergencies. And it seems like we always encounter roadblocks immediately after setting our personal growth plan.

The best way to avoid roadblocks is to have a plan to get around them before they come up. Develop strategies and integrate fail-safes to ensure success. For instance, if your spiritual growth requires getting up early each day, make sure to guard your bedtime so that you’re ready to go when your alarm sounds.

5. Stay accountable. Reaching your goal of personal growth takes a lot of hard work. You’ll be tempted to slack off or even dump the whole thing at pivotal points along the way. How are you going to stay accountable?

The best way is to have a partner who will ask you frequently how you’re doing. Meet regularly with that person — over the phone, if not in person — and hold each other to your goals.

Another easy way to stay on target is to simply write out your goals and then mark your progress along the way. That can be done in a notebook, a journal or just your calendar. Writing out how you’re doing is a great way to not only stay on the hook, but also to motivate yourself as you get closer to your end goal.

Without a plan, you might still grow. But the chances are slim. With a productive plan in place, though, you’re not only more likely to succeed, but you’ll be more disciplined in the process. I can’t wait to hear how many of you are growing personally this next year.


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