How an index card can help you finish this year stronger than you start it.

Growth is the hallmark of every great leader. But if you’re not intentional about it, you can grow in directions you don’t intend. That’s why I start each year with a deceptively simple exercise I learned years ago from an image consultant. His name was Jack Byrum, and I met him as a 27-year-old advertising executive, when my then-boss decided that my rough edges needed a bit of polish. Jack was a legend. He had worked with big executives and celebrities like The Tonight Show host, Johnny Carson.

Jack came into my life at just the right time. He taught me a lot of great things about knowing myself and being authentic. But more importantly, he taught me to always think about how I could improve in both of those areas. To help take my self-awareness to the next level and help me focus on where I want to go next, Jack taught me a very simple exercise called the 3x5 exercise. He asked me to write down on a 3x5 index card short answers to two very simple questions:

  • Who am I today?
  • How can I be even better tomorrow?

I’ve been answering these two questions now for four decades, and will continue to do it every new year because it’s the ultimate exercise to help me focus on where I want to grow next.

Here’s a look at mine for this year:

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Who am I today?

Write down 4 or 5 descriptors that best capture how others perceive you today. Why how others perceive you, and not how you perceive yourself? Because it can be easier to be truly honest with yourself if you are looking from the outside in. Think about feedback you’ve received from others or insights you’ve previously discovered about yourself. These can be qualities you espouse, or ways you identify, but they need to be meaningful. Look yourself squarely in the eye to understand where you truly stand, not where you wish you did.

For example, I’m a loving family man who enjoys giving and sharing with others, a leadership coach, in good physical shape, an avid golfer, and grateful for God’s blessings.

How can I be even better tomorrow?

Next, write down how you can be even more effective in the future. How can you better leverage your strengths? Or how can you adjust or compensate for those less-than-powerful areas? Again, only hard truths will help you achieve progress here. Dig deep, and imagine being able to move each of these “tomorrow” items to your “today” column at the end of the year.

Let me break down a few of my own growth opportunities for you:

  • Loving family man: To be an even more loving family man I want to strive to be grateful each day and be positive as Wendy works through her struggles.
  • I enjoy giving and sharing with others: To be more generous I need to look for more opportunities everyday to be other-directed, like a word of encouragement, a moment of vulnerability to a friend, or something as tangible as a monetary donation.
  • Leadership Coach: To grow in this area as a coach and have a greater impact on leaders I want to make more insightful podcasts with pragmatic advice, maximize the reach and impact of my new book, Take Charge of You, and write another book focusing on “active learning.”

Once you’re done, refer to your card often to build your intentionality toward making it happen. I have my own 3x5 card taped on the refrigerator where I can see it every day. I also like to go public with it on Twitter. I find going public with it always gives me the encouragement and accountability to stick with it. It’s always the reminder I need of where I have been and where I want to go.

Make sense? Now it’s your turn. Grab a 3x5 index card and a pen and get started.

Growing yourself is a lifelong process, and the best leaders understand that even if you make it to the top you can never stop focussing on how you can grow and improve. And it’s not as complicated as some people make it. Just start with an index card and watch change start to happen.

What did you learn completing this exercise? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

January 11, 2022