“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” – Warren Buffett
Early in my career, I made three significant investments in myself that paid off handsomely. In 1982, I purchased a HP41CV calculator for $440 dollars (about $1,000 today) at a time when I had not purchased new clothes in two years, and my car had only cost $55. However, it successfully got me through engineering school. The second investment was a university education, which I funded to the tune of $50,000 dollars (approximately $100,000 today) with zero guarantee of any payback. The last investment I made in myself was to borrow $1,000 from my mother and buy a one-way plane ticket to Toronto, in order to find a job. I did get a great job and in less than 2 years had recouped all my costs, including paying back my own dear mother, and my career was launched.
At the time I had nothing to lose so I went all in, in order to maximize my probability of success. This play-to-win attitude is sometimes lost on business leaders when it comes to investing in new skills for themselves and employees. In some organizations, training and development gets relegated to another line item under Expenses on the Income Statement, right between Utilities and Property Tax. I can understand this, knowing that significant competitive pressures of running a business push short-term thinking.
However, top notch leaders take the long view on development, and invest for the future as follows:
Start investing in yourself – The boss should lead by example. Be humble enough to know that you are not omnipotent. Determine your deficiencies and upgrade yourself. It’s best to focus on leadership and communications skills first, followed by business skills for the new areas of your planned future growth. If the employees see you developing yourself, they will be much more apt to follow.
Correct deficiencies first – Before you send an employee away on an exotic course, make sure they have competencies in the essential skills to do the task at hand. This helps the business and the employees the most, by eliminating deficiencies that are hurting the current business. It’s likely that the employee is not aware of these gaps, so some tact is required to help him or her understand and then take the appropriate action.
Distinguish between job-specific and general skills – Like any investment, you expect to get back your money and more! Therefore, guide employees towards development that makes them better at their jobs (i.e. time management, project planning, etc.) and then better people (i.e. effective communications, Dale Carnegie, etc.). Invest heavily in your top performers as future leaders.
Help employees be life-long learners – The world is changing very fast and people need to adapt quickly. For instance, there are 4 million smart phones sold every 24 hours, fundamentally changing the way we work forever. Business leaders have an obligation to help people invest in themselves and become life-long learners, so they can adapt to change, live interesting and productive lives, and give back in a meaningful way.
Investing in yourself takes the courage to act, the perseverance to succeed and the faith to know that ultimately, dividends will be paid. It is one of the few proven ways to create skills that are magnified, helping yourself and others, well into the future.
Eamonn has a B. Eng. (Electrical) from Lakehead University, MBA (Finance) from University of Toronto, and has completed Executive Education at Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He lives in Vancouver, Canada. Follow him on twitter @EamonnPercy