What are you working on currently to develop yourself?
This is a question I ask people when they join my training workshops in leadership skills. When you ask the question you normally get a bit of a puzzled look on faces, and they quickly dive into their bullshit box and come up with a glib answer: “My communication skills” or “My decision making.”
I think it’s a question we tend to overlook as we get older, and I think this is a great pity. In my experience of working in learning and development for over twenty years most of us have far greater capacity to learn than we realise. The trouble is we get complacent. Possibly lazy. Or is it simply a question of not having enough time or energy?
I used to teach music in the evenings when I was a weekly commuter. It kept me off the streets at night. I remember a middle aged colleague at work asking me if I could teach her how to play the saxophone. “I haven’t a note of music in my body, but I want to learn so I can play in a jazz band”, she said. She practised for 30 minutes per day (got up earlier, simple as that), and two years later – I kid you not – she was playing in her jazz band and being paid to do so. If you want to learn, the sky literally is the limit.
Sometimes our circumstances require us to learn, and we have no choice. This can be stressful but it can also be a great motivator. My wife died suddenly and unexpectedly in the middle of the night 15 months ago. Suddenly I was living alone in a house where I had not learnt many of the basics. If you don’t need to learn something you tend not to. I never paid attention to the cooking, gardening, household equipment. I didn’t even know where to buy heating oil or what paint to use on our granite walls (fortunately I found a list somewhere). I got help from others, learnt by trial and error (mainly error), and found that I have capacity to do all of these things, often with great pleasure. My Beef Wellington at Christmas was a thing of beauty, and a small triumph in my new domesticated world.
Good leaders never give up on their self development. They actively seek feedback. They get themselves a coach. They read lots of books. They ask a lot of questions. They treat learning as a continuous process, and they allow themselves to remain open to new approaches and challenging themselves and others in the way they do things.
Reading more is a simple way to bring about often profound changes in your thinking. One great way to motivate yourself to read more is to partner with someone who wants to do the same, and shares a common interest with you. I remember one year I did this, and my reading buddy and I set a target of 25 business books in the year. Every time we read a book we swapped it for one from our partner, and so it became a kind of competition in which you had to keep up otherwise you couldn’t swap the book when you needed to. Setting a target also works well for me and it might for you.
My suggestions for how to become an effective learner:
>Be clear about what you want to learn and why
>Set up some regular feedback from sources you trust who can hold you accountable
>Allow yourself to believe you are capable of doing things much better
>Work on one thing at a time
>Find ways to implement what you are learning before you forget it
>Keep a learning journal to capture your insights in your own words.
Above all else, try not to be too smart. You’re not as clever as you may think, and there is always another way to look at things. Good luck!