Becoming Personally and Interpersonally Effective

Becoming personally effective is quite different than learning to code in Python, cook better, rebuild motorcycle engines, or knit sweaters. While learning these skills can be tough, they are fairly straightforward endeavors and there are many books to guide you. It’s tougher to try to grow yourself, to become a better listener, or to be a better leader at work or in the community. These activities are more art than science, and learning them requires art as well.

This is, in part, because personal and interpersonal effectiveness is evaluated subjectively by others, suggesting the need for perspective taking and empathy. It is also highly dependent on circumstances, calling for sensitive awareness of conditions both internal and external—your own moods and biases, the needs and values of other people, the power dynamics of your relationships, the surrounding corporate culture, and so on. What’s more, your personal effectiveness and your leadership abilities are deeply intertwined. Most everything you do to be more effective as a person will help you to be more effective as a leader.

Furthermore, developing personal effectiveness is just that: intensely personal. When you try new things and fail, or elicit negative feedback from those around you, it’s hard not to feel hurt, embarrassed, or angry. And it’s never a one-and-done experience. Learning to be a more effective individual is a lifelong process, with new lessons continually waiting to be learned and old lessons needing to be refreshed or applied in new ways to unfamiliar circumstances.

Finally, building your personal effectiveness and your leadership skills involves risk. In the words of personal coach Jerry Colonna, growth is painful; that is why so few choose to do it. It demands that we consciously choose to move out of our comfort zones, and to do so not just once but, as the famous psychologist Abraham Maslow observed, “again and again.” Yes, it is scary. Yes, it can hurt. But it has to happen if we want to grow. As IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty puts it, “Growth and comfort will never co-exist. And it’s the people and organizations willing to constantly take risks that will be successful now and into the future.”

Motivations for growth are as varied as people themselves. Psychologists love to divide the world into “two different kinds of people.” One of those dichotomies defines people as having either a prevention focus or a promotion focus.

Does your interest in growing derive from your desire to protect yourself from falling behind in today’s ultra-competitive world, or is it driven by a passion to create a new and better you? Either motivation can be worthwhile.

researchers who examine growth in organizations remind us that it “may be part of the everyday sense making that happens as you take on discretionary work, respond to bosses’ directives, and so forth.”8 Growth sometimes is also something you seek out. You might sense a bad fit between who you are and what the environment seems to want from you and become motivated to address that misalignment. Or the environment itself may change sometimes, as it did for Jon Horwitz, in ways that are uncomfortable, and prompt flexing. You also might observe an attractive role model and think, “I want more of that in my life,” thereby prompting this process. Growth is possible if you remember to look for it—and no matter which motive operates in your case, you’ll find that flexing can be a helpful tool for achieving your learning goals.

So much depends on becoming personally and interpersonally effective: whether you will be able to make that sale, build that team, motivate that colleague, attract those friends, find the right mate, fix that problem, adapt to that change.

Unfortunately, many people don’t take personal responsibility for their own growth. Instead, they simply run the race laid out for them. They do well enough in school to keep advancing. Maybe they manage to get a good job at a well-run company. But so many think and act as if their learning journey ends with college. They have checked all the boxes in the life that was laid out for them and now lack a road map describing the right way(s) to move forward and continue to grow.

In truth, that’s when the journey really begins. And, of course, that’s the point at which your agency becomes critical. When school is finished, your growth becomes voluntary. Like healthy eating or a regular exercise program, you need to commit to it and devote thought, time, and energy to it. Otherwise, it simply won’t happen—and your life and career are likely to stagnate as a result.