What is Personal Development?

by Luis Rivera

Throughout my life, I’ve been fascinated with leadership and leader development. Prior to joining Solutions 21, I spent over 24 years in the military building and developing leaders, teams, and organizations all around the world. I guess that’s why I love my current role with our organization so much; I get to continue my passion of adding value to others and impacting their lives through personal growth and development.

But, what is personal development exactly?

According to Indeed, “Personal development is the ongoing act of assessing your life goals and values and building your skills and qualities to reach your potential.” As I continue to personally develop year after year, I look for new ways to increase my influence. Thus, I’ve been studying the farming process, its application to leadership, and how it relates to personal development. I’ve always had a vague idea about the practice, but never really applied it to leadership and personal growth. So, I decided to immerse myself in the topic and learned how amazingly similar growing crops and personal development really are.

Personal Development is Like Farming

I believe in order to thrive as a 21st-century leader, leaders must have a process of personal and professional growth that will enable future success. The new process I’ve learned and implemented is akin to the farming process of growing crops. The main steps in the agricultural cycle of farming are preparation of soil, sowing, adding fertilizer, irrigation, and harvesting. Come along with me as I build a bridge from the farming process to the self-development process.

Preparation of Soil

All farmers know in order to achieve a harvest in the fall, they must first prepare the soil in the spring. Preparation begins with sub-soiling the ground. This process prepares the soil to ensure the irrigation penetrates properly and the crops get the needed watering and nutrients.

As a leader, I must ensure I’m preparing and cultivating in the proper “soil.” This begins with preparing my mind – the soil – to receive the nutrients of personal growth. I must remove all obstacles, roadblocks, and distractions to development. I can attend countless conferences, read endless books, and listen to umpteen podcasts, but my personal development journey will be a waste if each and every time I don’t get into the growth mindset, my mind (the soil) won’t be prepared for planting and growing.


Once farmers sub-soil, the ground is prepared and ready for sowing of the seed for the harvest they wish to reap in the fall. Two important aspects here: the actual sowing and the proper seed. If you don’t sow, you won’t reap. Similarly, if you don’t sow the proper seed, you won’t get the intended harvest.

In personal and professional development, I must continuously “sow” the “proper seeds” of growth if I want to achieve continual success and mastery of personal skills. Do I have a personal development plan for the “season” ahead? Have I completed a personal SWOT analysis to know where I currently stand and where I need to grow? Is there a personal goal I want to achieve? What books am I reading? Are these books geared to the personal development goals I’ve established?

Adding Fertilizer

Farmers know that soil alone is not sufficient enough to grow a plentiful harvest. They understand that they must fertilize the crop. The proper fertilizer and quantities have tremendous importance to help the crop grow throughout the harvest season.
Who is “fertilizing” my growth?” Who are my coaches and mentors? Have I shared my self-development plan with them? How am I maximizing each day to fertilize personal growth through the different seasons of life?


This step is utilized when water is not readily available to the growing crops. The three main techniques of irrigation are flood, drip, or spray irrigation. Each has its pros and cons, but the essential point is knowing when and how much to use.In personal development, there will be times when you encounter “droughts.” During these times, you will need a form of “irrigation” to ensure your personal development is not stalled.

Who are choosing to surround yourself with? Will they help you with your personal goals? Who are your champions and motivators? How much time you are spending thinking and learning new techniques?

One of the most influential business leaders and developers of our time, John Maxwell, once said, “If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room for personal growth.” Be aware of personal development droughts and have irrigation options available to work through them.


If farmers are diligent, consistent, and patient with the preceding steps, this final one is plentiful. That being said, when it comes time to harvest, several factors come into play in order for farmers to achieve the greatest results. And while there are many tools, experienced farmers will tell you timing is a personal experience factor.

In personal development, acquiring and utilizing the proper tools is essential when learning a new skill. The matter of timing relates to when you will you apply what you’ve learned. Many times, leaders learn and reflect and do nothing! You will not improve as a leader without applying emotional intelligence in conjunction with the personal development skills you’ve learned, continue to seek personal development opportunities, and reapply.

Start Your Personal Development

The late business development guru, Zig Ziglar, once said, “Don’t ask that things were easier, ask that you were better.” Do you have a self-development process? How are you growing consistently? Are you applying what you learn to achieve your career goals? If you are unsure of where to begin, let us help you.

Our leadership development program allows us to work with organizations, like yours, to build the next generation of your elite leadership team. We offer a customizable, research-based approach that ensures your rising leaders are capable of guiding transformational change while continuing on their personal and professional development path.

Contact us to learn more about our leadership development programs to see if it’s right for you.