When cars are important to their owners, they keep them polished. In the same way, leaders polish their gifts to keep them shinning.
No Shortcuts To Excellence
Max De Pree is a leadership expert and mentor to many. The former CEO of Herman Miller has a stellar track record in the business community and numerous books to his credit. More importantly, Max is known for living for Christ on the job. In Leadership Jazz, De Pree exhorts leaders to avoid shortcuts and to work hard at their leadership. This includes polishing their gifts:
"There are no shortcuts to preparing for leadership. The accretion of layers of skill takes time. Polishing one's gifts requires the tumbling of experience and the grit of great discipline….Failure is an unavoidable part of this preparation. Preparation for leadership does not come from books. Books sometimes give you an insight or an outline, but real preparation consists of hard work of wandering in the desert, of much feedback, much forgiveness, and of the yeast of failure. Believe me, it's a lot like learning to hit a curveball–a fragile and fleeting business."
Excellence does not come by accident. Leaders must be diligent and determined when it comes to using and improving the gifts God has entrusted to them. This is a message the Apostle Paul shared with Timothy:
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:6-7 ESV
The message we hear from both Paul and De Pree is this: Get out your duster and polish that gift!
How Leaders Polish Their Gifts
As De Pree notes, polishing one's gift is not an idle exercise. Here are nine ways leaders can polish their gifts:
- Take inventory of your gifts.
God admonishes us to do this (Romans 12:3). Where are you gifted? What are the things that you do well? Most leaders can identify two or three areas in which they excel. Focus on those gifts. Give priority time to them. We get better as stop trying to be a "10" in every facet of leadership. Guard against the recurring tendency to try to do it all. Focus on your strengths. Delegate the rest.
- Evaluate your current level of gift competence.
Honestly assess your gift competence. Use a "1-10" scale or give yourself a grade (A, B, C) as you would receive if you were in school. Why did you grade yourself this way? Where are you strong in your gifts? What needs to improve?
- Invite others to critique your gift competence.
Ask two or three trusted friends to assess your gift comptence using the same "1-10" or "ABC" scale. Ask them to highlight two things you do well and a couple of areas in which you can improve. This will take great humility and bring great improvement.
Reading is the portal to improvement. Here are three helpful posts on how to improve through reading: 5 Reasons You've Got To Read, and How I Read (Part 1) and How I Read (Part 2) by Stephen Mansfield. Just click the link to go to the post.
- Find a gift mentor.
Who has the same gift that you do and uses it really well? Talk with that person if you can. If they blog, subscribe to it. If they write, read their books. You can read more about mentors and mentoring by clicking here.
- Attend a training session.
It's a great day. One need not leave home to attend a training session. There are multiple opportunities to participate in webcast training sessions. Many of these are archived for easy access. The Willow Creek Association and Harvard Business Review are two great sources.
- Fine tune your gift.
Leaders may think they are about as good as they are going to get. Not true. In Talent is Overrated, Geoff Colvin identifies “deliberate practice” as an essential for great performance. This is intentional focus. It is the "'10,000 hour rule,' which posits that it takes about 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to truly master a skill, be it playing the violin, computer programming, or skateboarding." Pick a specific aspect of your gift that needs improvement and work on it.
- Develop a personal growth plan.
There are no shortcuts to getting better. Having a plan to improve helps immensely. You may find Michael Hyatt's podcast, "How To Create A Life Plan" a great place to start. Click here to get it.
- Use your gift.
De Pree said, Polishing one's gifts requires the tumbling of experience and the grit of great discipline….Failure is an unavoidable part of this preparation. Too many people let their gifts sit idly on the shelf. Put your gift into practice. Risk failure.
God has given you a gift. We need it. Today is an opportunity to polish it! What step will you take today to polish your gift?
 Max De Pree, Leadership Jazz, page 34-35.
 "Malcolm Gladwell's 10-Hour Rule Visualized: Practice Makes Perfect" by Brian Clark Howard of National Geographic News on August 14, 2012. www.http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com. Accessed November 16, 2012.