How to be Successful – Know, Grow, and Sow

Know, Grow, Sow:  cover of John Maxwell's 3 Things Successful People Do

In his book, 3 Things Successful People Do, John Maxwell gives his observation of 3 common characteristics that work together to make people successful – Know, Grow, and Sow.  Of course, he must start with a definition of what success is.  Typically people point to riches, fame, or power as being the ingredients of success.  And, typically there are arguments against these three, whether singularly or in combination, as not being a good indicator of success.  We are reminded of the fabulously wealthy businessman who dies alone, the rock star with amazing fame and recognition but in the depths of depression, or the powerful, maniacal, ruler who fails to wins hearts and minds of the people.

What is Success?

A successful life must be defined, then, as a life worth living.  A life that would be worth living over again.  Not that successful people do not have regrets or would not make different choices if they somehow could relive key moments of their life.  But rather, on the whole, they said, did, made, or gave something meaningful and inspirational to others. 

Winston Churchill delivers a radio address in 1939.  He epitomized the phrase: "know your purpose!"
Winston Churchill delivers a radio address in 1939

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

Winston Churchill

Know Your Purpose

Back to Maxwell’s 3 Things.  He summarizes them as Know, Grow, and Sow.  First, successful people Know their Purpose.  They live life with intentionality.  They are never a victim, never reactive, and never aimless.  Instead, they take charge of their circumstances, are proactive (see the first habit of Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), and have a mission or goal in their life.  If they are unsure of what it is, they don’t rest until they discover it.  For some people, this journey of self-discovery takes time. 

When I graduated from high school, I entered the US Navy as a midshipman at the US Naval Academy.  I studied there for four years before receiving a commission and further training.  Finally, at the end of 18 years of education and training (12 + 4 + 2 more in flight school), I was ready to fulfill my purpose as a navy helicopter pilot.  But it didn’t stop there.  After my first tour, I discovered an extension or modification to my purpose.  And then after another year of training at the US Naval Test Pilot School, I became a developmental test pilot, my new purpose for a time.  As my flying came to a close, I shifted purpose slightly once again (still within the US Navy) and became an Acquisition Professional, working within the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) to manage different aspects of the Navy’s aircraft fleets.

When my time in uniform came to an end, I transitioned into civilian life gently.  Although my purpose of service within the US Navy ended, I still saw myself serving the nation in a different capacity, but within NAVAIR as a contractor, helping to achieve the same end.  But it wasn’t the same.  I didn’t have the uniform, and I drifted for several years trying to figure out exactly where I was headed.

Now I know my purpose, and that is to train others to be better communicators, better thinkers, and better leaders.  I didn’t arrive at that quickly.  It has been almost ten years after retiring from active duty.  But after seeing what I had been doing, what others had reinforced and encouraged me in, what I enjoyed, and what I have had success in, I finally got to that position where I know my purpose.

Grow in Your Purpose

The second “Thing” from Maxwell is to Grow in that Purpose.  Successful people see life as a journey, and they never settle into the belief that they “have arrived.”  The hunger to grow, to learn, and to improve is a uniquely human quality.  There is more than simply the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter.  Instead, humans desire to know, to explore, to understand, to reach out.

This is hard.  This takes work and effort.  It also requires intentionality and discipline, and I would be the first to admit that I struggle in this area.  The main resource that growth requires is commitment, and the main commodity that needs to be committed is time.  Read Aristotle’s quote below. Do you have a growth habit?

Portrait of a bust of Aristotle the Greek philosopher.  He talked about how to grow through forming good habits.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Aristotle, Greek philosopher and polymath, the “Father of Western Philosophy,” 384-322 BC

Successful people read.  Successful people write.  Also, they reflect (think) on what they are learning.  This is the essence of Covey’s seventh habit—Sharpen the Saw.  They grow not only in knowledge and experience, but also in skill and ability by putting into practice the very things that they are learning.

Sow Seeds of Value in Others

Portrait of John Maxwell, author of 3 Things Successful People Do (Know, Grow, Sow)
John C. Maxwell

The third observation (Thing) from Maxwell is that successful people are not merely content to know and grow for their own benefit, but they live for others.  They give of themselves and pour value into the people around them.  Maybe this is one person at a time as a mentor, partner, or coach.  Maybe it is one on several as a mother or a father gives of themselves to their children, wanting no less than for their kids to have everything and more than what they received in their lives.  Or it can be value given to large numbers as from a teacher, an influencer, or a leader. Successful people Sow Seeds of Value in Others.  I particularly like the way that Maxwell formulated this statement.

How to be Successful – Know, Grow, Sow – today’s VisionLink.  Be sure to look for more Leadership Principles from P H Tyson & Associates.

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