We are operating in a world that demands constant learning and growth. The work world continues to serve up massive change and persistent uncertainty, and it requires us to be more versatile, adaptable and future-focused than any other time in the history of leadership. It requires us to think about our own learning and growth with the same vim and vigour that we do about the teams we lead.
As leaders, if we don’t propel ourselves forward with our own learning, we are simply falling behind and we’re dragging others down with us.
We know many leaders who are so caught up in the day-to-day work, they don’t allow time for their own learning. They face an almighty struggle to hold their commitment to their own development. They sacrifice their time and energy to the “everything else” category and offer up their development time and capacity without hesitation. Then at the end of the year when they check in with themselves and ask, “What did I learn this year?” the response is hollow. They feel a sense of guilt, exhaustion and defeat.
So, what’s so hard about leaders making the commitment to their own learning and self-development?
If I was to put a pin on the biggest blocker, it’s a lack of self-care and putting ourselves first.
Our own self-development is an essential part of investing in ourselves and core to our contract of self-care. It’s an affirmation we make to ourselves and those around us that we become more effective and enriched by the energy that comes with new ideas, new tools, and new understanding. Think about this investment like your contribution to your RRSP. Every dollar you put in this year gets digested into the powerful engine of compound interest, with a future payoff that you can’t fully predict but, if invested well and nurtured, provides a much bigger return down the road. Learning works the same way.
I know I speak from a moderately pious position of having my own business with Fluency Leadership where I can commit to learning in the way I would choose. It’s a pillar of how we’ve operated our business from day one. Cath and I locked arms on that at the outset and enshrined personal growth and development and self-actualization as foundational value in our company. And we actually do it every year!
This year, I am focusing my personal development on the business lens of our work through the Win Without Pitching Workshop created and delivered by the creative agency powerhouse that is Blair Enns. Not since my initial professional coach training back in 2018 have I felt this kind of excitement and nerves about a learning experience. I know it will be exhausting. I know it will be brain-expanding. I know it will be amazing. And it starts in just a few weeks!
And going back to our value of learning at Fluency, this workshop is my commitment to self-care this year. It’s not cheap, but it’s an investment that will pay dividends for years to come in my entrepreneurial journey. So, this is my priority. I will make the time and I will show up.
Once we make that contract with ourselves that our own learning and development is going to be honoured and actioned FOR REALS, we need to set the right conditions that set us up for success. Here’s three ways to bring it to life:
Making a commitment to learning is usually preceded by things like a moment of personal reflection, some challenging feedback at work, or a desire to pursue something different in our career. And then it generates a huge list of things we need to do and learn to improve ourselves. “I have to work on my relationship skills…and team communication…and setting priorities…and motivating others…and…” Next thing you know, you’re so overwhelmed by the list that you get completely stuck. This is because our tendency is to want to do many things all at once, and when we try that, we typically get so overwhelmed we simply don’t take action.
As Mark Twain said, “the best way to get started is to get started.” So, before the list gets too long, pick something. Anything. But just one thing. Select a singular learning goal that excites you, brings a little fear and uncertainty, and has a generative component that will multiply and grow over time. Then come up with five to six reasons why it matters to you personally. Get to clarity on what this learning goal would do for you and those you work with. And then figure out one small step you can take to start the journey towards that goal right away.
Learning requires curiosity. It requires us to come face-to-face with the things we don’t know, the things we’re unsure about, and the things that are holding us back. And to be curious, we need to check our egos and other forms of self-defense, and get uncomfortable by putting ourselves out there for the learning. As Cath says in many of our sessions with teams, there is no learning in the comfort zone! If we go into learning with a view that we want to hear/see/experience things that validate us and affirm what we know today, then we’re ignoring the richest rewards that are available. If we drop those defenses and become humble learners, then we set ourselves up for big wins and capture all the rewards available to us.
Get With Other Humans
If learning is lonely, then it probably isn’t going to stick. The biggest win from learning in a cohort environment is connection with and encouragement of others. This is the amplifier that makes the sound of learning become music to our ears. If we’re truly stepping into a learning environment, then we have to participate, lean in, and talk it all out with vulnerability and honesty. And when we hear our own words, it changes our relationship with them. Often that’s where the deepest learning lives. Most of all, the people you learn with become your circle of accountability to continue and utilize the learning. They become your partners in your learning, and those are bonds that can last a lifetime.
Making the commitment to learning is not easy. It requires time, resource, capacity and the support of others. It also requires the strength to hold the commitment. But most importantly, it requires a commitment to self-care that affirms your belief in yourself and the value of learning for yourself and the people you lead.
What gets in the way of your own commitment to learning?
What’s the one learning and development opportunity that you are most curious about right now?
Who could you join on a learning journey in the coming months?