September: A Time to GROW

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I love September, because I always associate it with my days as a college professor. This was the time of year when everyone returned from summer vacation and we began again, refreshed and renewed.

When we’re students, the start of the school year gives us an opportunity to learn new things and grow. Yet as we move into adulthood, one year begins to blend into another. Confronted with daily demands, we tend to rely on past successes and past knowledge alone. Pretty soon we’re just going through the motions. We become stagnant; we don’t grow.

This trend is especially troublesome for leaders, because once you are stagnant—or even perceived as stagnant—your influence erodes. As my friend Norman Vincent Peale used to say, “Once you stop learning and growing, you might as well lie down and let them throw dirt on you, because you’re already dead!”

A Four-Part Plan to GROW

In our book Great Leaders GROW, Mark Miller and I contend that the best leaders make a conscious decision to grow throughout their careers and their lives. In the book, we outline four key practices that lead to the development of your highest potential, both on and off the job.

G Stands for Gaining Knowledge

Gaining knowledge isn’t something you do once and stop doing when you get a degree. It is a long-term decision—a habit, actually—to nurture and develop through the years. You can work on gaining knowledge in these areas: 

  • Self-knowledge – The better you know yourself, the better you’ll understand how you’re perceived and how you make decisions. To gain insight into your personality, check out assessments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the DiSC Profile, or StrengthsFinder.
  • Knowledge of others – The more you know about others, the easier it is to work with them to attain mutual goals. Go beyond superficial conversations and really get to know the people you work with.
  • Knowledge of your industry – Read up on the history of your industry. Research what’s happening in your field today. Who are the major players? What do they offer? Where is the industry headed?
  • Knowledge of the field of leadership – Keep reading business books, blogs, and newsletters to learn new leadership trends and best practices. What skills do other leaders have that you might need to work on?

R Stands for Reaching Out to Others

Reaching out to others and sharing what you’ve learned accelerates your own growth. You can do this formally by using your expertise to:

  • Lead a seminar.
  • Sit on a panel at a professional conference.
  • Become a mentor to someone in your field.

Or you can take an informal approach by making a conscious effort to:

  • Seize on teachable moments.
  • Share what you’re learning with others.
  • Tell stories that convey lessons you’ve learned.

O Stands for Opening Your World

Opening your world is a little tricky during a pandemic, but you won’t grow unless you expand your mind through new experiences that light a spark within you. Thanks to technology, many of the following examples can be done virtually.

Here are things you can do to open your world at work:

  • Attend training events to broaden your perspective.
  • Interview recent retirees and seek their counsel on current issues.
  • Have lunch with someone different every day to expand your network.
  • Lead any kind of a team or group. Leaders are learners!

You can do the following activities to open your world outside of work:

  • Travel—anywhere—when it’s safe to do so.
  • Volunteer regularly—anywhere.
  • Learn a foreign language.
  • Visit virtual museums or attend virtual plays or concerts.

A balance between stimulating work experiences and fulfilling personal experiences is essential if you are going to keep growing.

W Stands for Walking toward Wisdom

Wisdom can be defined as the application of accumulated knowledge and experience. Contrary to what you might think, wisdom has nothing to do with age. We all have known younger people who might be described as “wise beyond their years,” and many of us can say we know a few “old fools.”

The pursuit of wisdom never ends for those who aspire to leadership. Your journey toward wisdom should include the following elements:

  • Self Evaluation. Look in the mirror and be truthful with yourself.
  • Honest Feedback. Ask those around you for feedback on how you are doing.
  • Counsel from Others. Learn from others’ experiences as you move forward.
  • Time. Understand that acquiring wisdom is a lifelong process and can’t be rushed.

Your capacity to lead is determined by your capacity to grow—and the fastest way to grow is to learn. As we head into the fall, challenge yourself. Set new goals and sign up for training. Keep learning and keep growing. Make it a habit, and you’ll enjoy the benefits of becoming a leader for life.

Three Best Practices to Help People Learn

One of the hallmarks of great organizations is their commitment to constantly retraining and educating people so they have cutting-edge knowledge in their work.

But how do you assure that your investment in learning pays off and produces measurable results? You can’t just send people to a seminar or give them an online course and hope for the best. Our research at Blanchard reveals three best practices that turbocharge learning.

 

Best Practice #1 – Use Spaced Repetition to Make Learning Stick

Spaced repetition is a learning technique where you don’t learn something in just one sitting. You’re exposed to the information periodically over time, so that the learning sinks in.

My friend John Haggai calls spaced repetition “the mother of all skills” because it’s so effective. Advertisers use this technique all the time; they call these repetitions “impressions.”

To be learned, information almost always requires repetition over time. But why? It’s sort of like putting something away in your garage—it’s not very useful unless you’re able to retrieve it! After your brain stores information into memory, you need to revisit that information a few times, so that you can recall it when you need it. This is how short-term memory becomes long-term memory.

To make your learning stick, take notes and review them within the first 24 hours of taking them. Be sure to think about what you’re reviewing. Don’t just re-read your notes; try to recall the main points without looking at them. Then—within a week—teach what you learned to someone else. This will force you to recall what you’ve learned.

 

Best Practice #2: Tap Learning Power with Cohort Groups

Learning flourishes in a social environment where conversation between learners can take place. Several studies examining group learning have shown that people learning in a collaborative environment acquire more knowledge, retain that knowledge longer, and have better problem-solving and reasoning abilities than people working alone.

At Blanchard, we’ve seen hundreds of instances of the power of group learning in our Master’s in Executive Leadership (MSEL) program at the University of San Diego. Every year our students are amazed by how effectively their cohort groups help them learn to become great leaders through role-playing, assessments, presentations, and collaborative projects.

By learning in groups, people develop teamwork, communication, and decision-making skills faster and more effectively than they would learning alone. The social aspect of group study helps people keep their commitment to learning. Accountability to the group keeps procrastinators on track. People learn faster by drawing on one another’s knowledge of the subject.

Group interaction is a key strategy for learning that works. As I always like to say, “No one of us is as smart as all of us.”

 

Best Practice #3: Design Learning Journeys to Drive Results

The best learning experience isn’t a one-time thing—or even a one-methodology thing. Our research shows that optimal learning is more of a process than an event. Such processes are called learning journeys.

We define a learning journey as “a training and development experience that unfolds over time.” These learning journeys can be customized to the needs of a business, department, or person.

For example, a person might begin their learning journey in a classroom or with a webinar. Their next step might be to engage with a discussion group. Next, the learner might go back to their workplace, apply the new concepts, and see how they work. The journey might continue with a return to the group, where the learner would share their real-world findings. From there, they could continue with follow-up classroom or e-learning, then take their new knowledge and skills back to the workplace for more real-world application.

By blending theory with real world experience, learning journeys are highly effective in driving sustainable business results.

 

An Organization That Learns, Thrives

In the long run, only smart organizations survive. Leaders in high performing organizations understand that knowledge exists in knowledgeable people; they know that unless its employees continue to learn, even the smartest organization will not say smart.

So, be smart and apply these learning practices. I guarantee you’ll be making a wise investment in your organization’s knowledge capital.

Refiring Intellectually: Learning Something New Every Day

Light BulbIn my last blog I explained the overall concept of my newest book, Refire! Don’t Retire: Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life, coauthored by Morton Shaevitz. Although it is written from a general perspective about life, it also applies very strategically to the working environment.

The first key is Refiring Emotionally and relates to the idea of creating a work environment where people can be engaged and emotionally connected to others. Now I want to talk about the second key—Refiring Intellectually. This seems like a no-brainer, right? We all need to keep learning to help ourselves and our companies thrive. But how many of us have a plan for learning and exploring new ideas?

These days there are so many ways to learn new skills. You don’t have to rely on taking a course or attending a workshop when you can watch a YouTube video, listen to a podcast, or ask a friend to help you learn something new. I’ve been doing that for years—when writing books, I always work with a coauthor. I love the experience of collaborating with a colleague. My philosophy is simple: I already know what I know—what interests me is what I can learn from others.

Think how easy it could be to collaborate with colleagues at work: Start a book club to discuss the key points of the latest business bestseller. Share links to online articles and videos that will inspire team members with new thinking. Have occasional brown bag workshops at lunchtime where someone teaches a craft or a computer skill to coworkers.

I think the code of conduct Morton and I created for refiring intellectually will stimulate you to think about learning from a new perspective.

  • Be open to learn—Look for learning in every situation
  • Be a reader—Constantly search for new information
  • Be teachable—Let others mentor you
  • Be courageous—Venture into new areas
  • Be persistent—Stay with it even when it’s difficult

I’ve often said when you stop learning, you might as well lie down and let them throw the dirt over you. So get outside your comfort zone and learn something new! Who knows where the next adventure might lead you?

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promo_04To learn more about Refire! Don’t Retire: Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life, visit the book homepage where you can download a free chapter.