January 24, 2022

Sustaining Your Progress as a Leader

Executive Development | Leadership | Leadership Development | Nursing Leadership | Physician Leadership

By Robert (Bob) Porter and Janet Dombrowski

You’re working hard to grow as a leader and are making meaningful progress. Well done! Looking ahead, how do you sustain your progress until those changes become new, unconscious habits?

It’s helpful to think of growth as a cycle with four distinct phases:

  • Unconscious “incompetence”
    You have blind spots, unaware of aspects of your leadership profile where there’s opportunity for growth.
  • Conscious “incompetence”
    You’re becoming aware and going to work on opportunities for growth.
  • Conscious “competence”
    You’re taking intentional steps to break old patterns and adopt new ones.
  • Unconscious “competence”
    You’re incorporating new patterns long enough that they become habits, no longer requiring the same level of intentionality.

Below you’ll find guidance for lasting transformation, extending your progress toward unconscious competence.

  • Maintain a commitment to periodic “heads up” time, focusing part of that time on your personal and professional growth.
  • Periodically review your professional vision statement, values and strengths and a checklist of key shifts you have sought to make in your mindset or behaviors.
  • Update your vision and goals to extend your efforts into new areas of growth.
  • Continue to explore small changes to further advance your proficiency in the areas you have identified for growth. Don’t be afraid to experiment in areas that stretch you outside your comfort zone.
  • Practice self-compassion and consider your growth as an ongoing journey, not a task to be completed. Recognize we are all a work in progress.
  • Anticipate potential feelings of stagnation, where your growth from coaching seems to have slowed or stopped. This may be that you’ve mastered certain areas or they’ve become second nature. However, guard against becoming complacent about continued opportunities for growth and effectiveness by doing the following:
    • Seek out a learning partner. Explore methods to invest intentionally in your ongoing development. Consider developing and maintaining an explicit learning plan.
    • Build a personal “board of directors” — people you trust and who are positive role models.
      • Meet with them periodically to gather their insights and broaden your perspective.
      • Share your professional vision with them as a means to help hold you accountable to continue the journey.
    • Additionally, create more intentional structures for seeking real-time feedback. This is particularly important if you are a very senior leader (as subordinates are often less forthcoming). Ask regularly (in 1:1s, after key projects end, etc.), stay open and curious, and guard against defensiveness. Example: “What specific 1 or 2 suggestions would you offer to help me improve my effectiveness?
    • Consider sharing what you have learned, whether in a formal teaching or mentoring relationship, or casually with colleagues. This will be both a reminder and a reinforcement of your progress and continued commitment to growth.

Meet the authors:

Robert (Bob) Porter is an accomplished organizational leader with over 30 years’ experience in health system leadership. Bob has extensive experience in working with senior executives in complex organizational settings, with a proven track record of engaging diverse stakeholders in the redesign of organizational systems and processes to achieve breakthrough improvements.


Janet Dombrowski spent nearly 20 years as a senior strategy leader in various consulting organizations and large health systems, after an early career in healthcare delivery and operations. Her coaching and consulting work today is focused on supporting C-suite executives in becoming more intentional about their leadership presence, their contribution to organizational culture, and the importance of aligning in strategy, structure, and culture for optimal performance.


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About the author

Robert Porter

Robert (Bob) Porter is an accomplished organizational leader with over 30 years’ experience in health system leadership.

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