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Sidestep Four Impediments to Learning

Sidestep Four Impediments to Learning

“The capacity to learn is a gift. The ability to learn is a skill. The willingness to learn is a choice.”

Brian Herbert

There is a ton of pressure to perform in a new or expanded role. It can be tempting for leaders to dive in and start making decisions without fully understanding how their actions impact the business.

Actually, the first weeks in a new role, leaders don’t know what they don’t know. The only real thing a new leader can do is make mistakes.

Even if a leader knows the business, it’s best to take the time to learn, explore and uncover the issues about the business, people, culture and customers.

 “It’s what we think we know that keeps us from learning.”   – Claude Bernard                  

Unfortunately, leaders can sabotage and impede essential learning opportunities in a variety of ways.

When we hear things that challenge our view of the world, our listening and processing of information can shut down and we can start to discount what we hear. Learning requires objectivity and getting the unvarnished truth. Before jumping to conclusions, ask open-ended questions and listen to all sides of a topic. The knowledge gained can aid in decision making later on.

A transition tends to pull leaders in many different directions, so it’s easy to get distracted and not be fully present. And people know it. We arrive late, fumble with our papers, look at our smartphone. It’s clear we’re not fully listening.

High performance requires leaders to show up physically, mentally and emotionally ready. Instead of hopping hastily from meeting to meeting, it’s best to take a pause, capture actions from the last meeting and get clear on the purpose of the next one.

The third impediment to learning is arrogance which pulls us away from gaining knowledge and distances us from others.

You’ve seen it, “It’s the all about me” syndrome. There’s one side of the story.

Arrogance actually sub-optimizes and shuts down the conversation. It becomes a monologue.

When people realize a leader isn’t interested in what they have to say, they stop sharing and vital information is missed. Best to check the ego at the door and leave some space for others to be experts.

Finally, fear can be a real saboteur to the learning process.

Few people in business settings talk about their fears, but they are there and surface in many different ways. During times of transition, leaders can sometimes play it safe and not want to make changes to their approach.

An entry into a new role is a time for leaders to step out of the comfort zone and develop new skills.

Ask yourself, “Could I be sabotaging my learning without realizing it?”

Don’t miss an opportunity to learn about the business whether you have been promoted into a new role, are entering a new company or are expanding your current role. There is always something to learn.

Explore the business from different vantage points — the enterprise, divisional, regional, or country level. Go beyond your own area and look cross-organizationally to pick up information about how the business operates. Each area of the business may have a slightly different perspective of how things should work.

I advise clients to talk less and observe more. It’s easy to get caught up on the technical aspects and fail to see the emotional and social aspects of how work gets done. The “softer” aspects of the business can actually be the harder areas to navigate especially when leading changes in the future.