What the best improvers do

There’s a “tell” that lets me know when one of my clients is about to experience a breakthrough.

It’s when they come on our call and say:

“I’ve been thinking about something you said…”

With these words, they signal they’ve been engaged in reflection.

Why is that important?

Typically, start-up founders look to successful founders for insights on how to lead effectively.

For sure, it’s helpful to study what habits might be associated with successful leadership.

But wouldn’t it be valuable to know what habits are associated with improving faster?

To optimize your learning and get more out of your efforts to improve?

That’s what a team of Dutch researchers set out to do in a study focused on improvement in high performers.

They recruited 157 national-level swimmers and followed their training habits and competition performance for a full season.

What they found was interesting: the key difference between swimmers who improved the most and the least wasn’t what they did during practice.

It was what they did after practice.

The swimmers who improved the most during the season engaged in more reflection than the swimmers who performed well, but improved less over the course of the season.

For example, swimmers might reflect on their practice session and whether they focused on the most important things to become a better swimmer. Or look back at notes from their practice session and consider whether they structured the session effectively to reach their goals.

For you, as a founder, the equivalent might be reflecting on why your conversation with the VP of Sales didn’t go well.

As you ponder, you begin to wonder if perhaps you should have asked more clarifying questions. Or taken 15 minutes to prepare your talking points so you didn’t get derailed by his pushback.

Or maybe you need to anticipate how you’ll respond if you get emotionally triggered so you can stay calm and rational.

In any case, it doesn’t take a research study to know that reflecting on our experience and what we might change leads to improvement.

And improving faster means better results.

So why don’t more founders do it?

Well, maybe because it takes effort to slow down and evaluate a past situation.

Then there’s the fear of discovering that what you’re doing isn’t good enough. Now, suddenly, you’re responsible for making a change.

But what exactly should you change — and what if it doesn’t work?

If can feel daunting to examine what’s not working and be honest with yourself.

But you don’t have to do it alone.

A systematic approach to self-evaluation and reflection (Step 4 in my High-Velocity Learning Cycle) is exactly what I teach the founders I work with to accelerate their learning.

If you’re looking at the dizzying changes in the world today and realizing you need to level up, let’s talk. Schedule a “leadership breakthrough” call here and we’ll put together a game plan so you can be one of the fastest-improving founders.

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