The never ending learning

It is a dream of many kids who have to go to school every single day. They sit in the class rooms and dream about holiday or possibly about getting out of school and be like grown-ups and start working, make money and never need to learn anything again. Unfortunately, life is not that simple. In fact when you get out of school the real learning just starts. We have to learn every single day and if we want to be successful in our professional careers and keep up with the brave new world we live in, we need to spend some conscious effort in learning new things.

It is not HR’s responsibility

Over the years I’ve been managing teams I heard very often that “HR should provide some training”. When I asked what are the developmental needs of that particular individual the response often was “I don’t know, just tell HR to give me a list of training and I will pick some.” The implication here is that I don’t really know what I need or what I want, just give me something… anything. I will then go and sit through some class that will most likely be irrelevant, boring and bring me nothing except of the feeling that the company “gave me training”. This is the most common waste of money many companies would do.

HR (Human Resource) departments are here to provide tools and guidance. They are not the almighty beings who will just miraculously push the right knowledge into your head.

It is not manager’s responsibility

So if not HR, then I guess it should be the role of the manager, right?

Wrong. Manager, who works with you on daily basis, understands what skills you have today, what is required for the job and what skills you may need in the future. Your manager is in a unique position to help you identify the skills gap that you need to bridge. The manager is here to provide you with opportunities so you can learn on the job. The manager can provide regular feedback and course corrections and can work with HR group to provide the tools or training you need.

However, even the manager can do very little when you are not willing to learn.

It is your responsibility

It is a responsibility of each and every of us to take ownership of our own personal development. You cannot blame the HR or your manager that you are not growing and not learning anything new. It is your responsibility to provide the effort, seek out new opportunities to learn and go above and beyond your current duties. Learn on the job, learn from colleagues, learn from external mentors, and learn from books or articles in the magazines and on the web. Let me give you two examples from my life.

When I started by career as a software developer in 1999 I would buy any book I could get my hands on that could give me better insight into technologies I worked with (C++, PHP, Perl). I would spend nights browsing (and often contributing) to various community forums for developers, learning from others and sharing my knowledge. I would spend weekends digging into the technologies, building small apps to test the limits, trying new things and figuring stuff for myself. I really wanted to be good at what I did. I didn’t need a manager or HR department to “send me on a training” and I didn’t expect them to.

And then I moved to management and as a professional manager and a leader the learning started all over again. I would read tons of books on leadership, I would enroll to MBA, I would enroll to coaching and leadership training courses, I would spent time reading what other leaders say about managing people, I would even experiment with my teams (lucky them) and try different ways how to manage people and I would volunteer for new managerial challenges to learn on the job and to push the limits of what I can do. I would keep open mind and really dedicate myself to be as good professional manager as possible. And I still do it even today. And that takes effort, willingness, dedication and perseverance.

What to learn?

So where should you spend your time and effort? What are the things to learn? In majority of the jobs it is always a combination of different things but in any leadership role it boils down to these five skills:

  • Company basics (you really need to understand the culture, the values and what the company stands for to be able to lead other people and achieve company goals)
  • Technical (you need to have the necessary technical skills related to the function of the group you are heading; for example finance, HR, IT, sales, operations, R&D)
  • Management (another sort of technical skills, this time focused on getting things done through other people; for example project management background is pretty handy for most of the management jobs even if they are not directly project management related)
  • Communication (every leader needs to communicate, in fact that is the major part of the job so invest your time in improving your communication skills or even language skills when in international environment)
  • Leadership (this one is the most difficult to learn and will take time to master, in fact it is a life-long journey; leading people, influencing others, inspiring teams is more art than science and thus needs to be continuously improved and adapted and cannot be learned on any training course; the only way to learn it is by continuous everyday practice)

Some of them are easy to get from your boss or HR, some of them will need a mentor, some of them a good book or hands-on experience and some of them just the right mind-set and lots of patience and perseverance.

Just remember that whatever help you get is always just a beginning. For example, you participate on a training focused on improving presentation and public speaking skills. It will give you the theoretical background, if it is good it will also give you a chance to practice in safe environment and provide you with some feedback so you know what to improve. But if you want to really improve this is just the first step and then you need to regularly get in front of people and talk. That is the only way you will really develop the skill and ensure the training wasn’t just waste of your time and money.

Twitter type summary: “It is a responsibility of each and every of us to take ownership of our own development and never stop learning.”

How do you learn? And more importantly why do you learn?

2 thoughts on “The never ending learning

  1. Your first paragraph reminded me of my daughter who once told me when leaving home for the kindergarten: “I wanna grow up so I don’t need to go anywhere anymore.” Poor kid 🙂

  2. Pingback: Holiday Special – The Best Posts of 2013 | The Geeky Leader

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