Grow Your Own

“Leadership is not about you; it’s about investing in the growth of others.” Ken Blanchard

The average adult human body contains over 30 trillion cells. Every single adult started as a single cell that divided into 2, then 2 divided into 4, then into 8 and so on. This is growth. When we were babies, our cells divided as much as twice as fast as an adult’s do. However, once we are fully grown, we still replace tens of millions of cells per day (not counting red blood cells which are generated at a rate of 2.4 million per second). This is also growth.

Basically, our body never stops growing. If it did, we would die in a very short time. Interestingly, the ability of our body to replace damaged cells with new ones is at the root of our capacity to heal and regenerate. If I get a cut in my jeans, the fabric will never be whole again. If I get a cut in my skin, it can heal and, in many cases, you won’t even be able to tell I was ever damaged.

The fourth way leaders show they care is to provide opportunities for growth.

Just as growth is essential for our physical bodies, growth is also essential for our minds and our spirits. While the number of cells in our bodies remains fairly static once we are adults, the number of connections between the neurons in our brains continues to grow. The average human brain has about 86 billion neurons (or nerve cells.) Each neuron is connected to up to 10,000 other neurons, passing signals to each other via as many as 1,000 trillion synaptic connections, equivalent by some estimates to a computer with a 1 trillion bit per second processor.

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to repair, rewire and reconnect neurons in new configurations. It is the brain’s ability to be agile and open to change. What scientists have discovered is that what keeps the brain nimble is practice. Practice, for your brain, is anything that causes the brain to take in new data and process it. Learning, moving, new experiences, and particularly reading, all “exercise” the brain and increase neuroplasticity. By providing opportunities to learn and experience new things, we can make a difference in people’s lives not only at work, but wherever they are.

I find a particularly compelling allegory between how the brain works and how our communities function. In a healthy person (one whose cells are getting food and oxygen, are reasonably protected from outside harm, and are working in unison) the brain is able to adapt and create in response to damage, new stimuli or need. If a neuron or its synapses are damaged, other neurons form new connections and take up the task the injured neuron was handling. Neurons that have been keeping one memory or record or doing a particular task can be retrained and reassigned to keep new information or perform new tasks.

Likewise, in healthy communities (where the members are getting their basic needs met, feel safe and are in community—remember the bison herd?) individual members working together make up a “brain” that is able to adapt and create in response to changing conditions, outside threats, or new priorities. If one member of the team is struggling, the others can fill in the gaps for a time. Team members have the capacity and willingness to change rolls, perform new tasks, and take on new responsibilities.

Like the brain within the body, the healthy community both provides for the needs of the member and relies on the member to provide for the community’s needs. It is a symbiotic relationship. If the community quits taking care of the members, the community gets sick and becomes unstable and unhealthy. If the members quit attending to the roles they play in the community, again, the community becomes unhealthy and this impacts the members.

Providing opportunities for growth is one of the most effective ways a leader can care for the members of the team and therefore ensure the health of the community. Cross training, inter-disciplinary teams, education, and service are fairly common things we see. However, we need to realize that to maximize the potential for growth, the opportunities need to be interesting and significant for the individual. Great leaders know what captures the hearts and minds of their team, and then they find ways to open doors to those interests and desires.

When leaders create the space for personal development and growth, they are strengthening the herd and helping to develop the bonds within the community. Strong communities are capable of absorbing change and stress, are more creative and innovative, and can move more rapidly toward the next level. When each member (cell) has opportunity, the whole community (body) functions better.

Each of us desires to live our best life. Like the cells in a body, we cannot do this alone. As a leader you must understand that you cannot live your best life unless the people around you are living theirs. We should be focused on enhancing the lives of those around us—growing our own. It is the key to our best community and our best life, and it is The Kimray Way.