My Personal Learning Journey – so far

•February 3, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I have always enjoyed learning – even as a child.

School was relatively easy for me (until I met Calculus anyway).  I was the weird kid reading ET at recess (yes, really).  I enjoyed sports as well, but when I started a good book I couldn’t break the need to finish it.  I became completely immersed in the world the book created.  As I grew older, I began to read less fantasy/ sci-fi and more about human interaction, psychology, relationships and even self-help books! (Total nerd, I know!).

I used to love the black and white Twilight Zone episodes on TV.  My favorite episode was the one with a man who was obsessed with books.  He wore glasses and repeatedly wished that all the people in the world would disappear so that he could be alone with his books and free from interruptions.  Of course, when he gets his wish, his glasses break and there is no one who can fix them for him – so he cannot enjoy his time with his books since he can’t read without the glasses.  An interesting message about obsession, perhaps, but I always identified with the man’s wish to have more time to read.  I definitely believe in the adage, “so many books, so little time”.

College was a natural step for me in order to continue my learning goals. However, life is important to live as well.  So it has taken me twelve years to complete my bachelor’s degree.  I originally wanted to be a court reporter (stenographer) and went to college in Utah toward that end. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it past the 180wpm mark and you have to reach 210wpm to graduate.  After being stuck at 180wpm for about a year I decided this wasn’t my path.  I moved back to Nevada and enrolled in the community college.  My father always said it was important to have a degree – probably more because he didn’t have one and it held him back in his career goals.  I still think it is solid advice to anyone.

College is less about the degree than about the journey, in my opinion. You learn about a wide array of subjects rather than only the one topic you wish to major in – this is so that we are more well-rounded individuals.  I think if I could afford it, I would be one of those lifetime students.  Instead, I will have to use my well-worn library card to learn at home (much less expensive).

In every job I have held I have made it my mission to learn as much as possible about the company I work for, how others have done the job, what could make it better (usually more efficient and productive), and what I can offer.  As I grew in job experience I began to also seek outside information about my type of job.

Now that my degree is finally completed, I am looking at my community for how I can give back and be a part of making my community better.  It is extremely rewarding and is lots of fun.  I enjoy learning about the people in my community – their stories of trials and triumph, and doing what I can to help.

My personal learning journey is far from over – there is so much to learn in life and I am learning as much as I can every day and enjoying every minute.

I would love to hear your stories of personal learning and how you manage to ‘fit it into your normal life’.

Passion is nothing without action

•January 25, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Personal learning can be a long and arduous journey; many of the challenges along the way will make you doubt yourself or at least think twice before you act.  Some lessons are easily learned and can be put into practice quickly and efficiently, others will consistently elude your efforts to master them, but keep trying.

Personal learning is not a destination – it is an ongoing journey.

It will test your mettle more days than not.  Searching your own faults and weaknesses can be difficult and often painful, but it is necessary for any lasting growth.  So how do you push through the hard times and ignore the discouraging voices?  Like most things in life it comes down to the attitude you have when approaching obstacles and change.  Having a positive approach to your growth is required for the overall experience to be helpful rather than destructive.

Passion is the number one ingredient in personal learning.

It will keep you moving forward, driving you toward your goals like the getaway car in a robbery.  The passion will be your constant companion, consuming your every thought and breath – eating you alive.  However, the passion is nothing without action.  Your actions need to be planned with built in goals and rewards for all your hard work along the way.  Treat your personal growth as a personal pet project – a lifetime in the making.  Nurture your passion, but harness it into positive, productive actions that help you to narrow the creative tension gap between the you right now, and the you of the future.  You can do it.

Keep Raising the Bar

•August 10, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Step 7 is the last step in the career plan. It is simply to keep raising the bar.  I say ‘simply’ but continuous improvement is not as easy as it appears. If you constantly strive to improve yourself and hold yourself and others to high standards, ask the correct questions, and find the root causes of issues, you will be a continuous improvement success. The difficulty is in sustainment. This is an issue that all companies and all people have to face at some point.  The other 6 steps we have gone over will help you to stay on track and motivated.  This step is mostly about keeping yourself focused on your end goal – remember the ideal you we discussed in Step 1 – Finding your passion.  This should be your focus and rereading your initial life-plan might help when you get lost.  Keeping your journal will help you stay on track as well.  As I state every blog – and I truly believe in – A leaders learning never ends.

Are You SMART?

•August 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Step 6 in the Career Plan is to set SMART goals.  These are essential to personal growth as they help to focus yourself in the right direction.  SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time bound.  Create your own personal SMART goals in order to effectively measure your personal growth.  Build in rewards to keep yourself motivated and focused.  Break down long-term, large goals into smaller, more specific ‘step’ goals; creating a road map for success along your career path.  As always, use your journal to keep track of your progress.

Step 5: Building Relationships

•August 7, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Step 5 in the Career Plan series is to build relationships.  Although this is something that we all seem to intuit, it cannot be emphasized enough.  In many instances in the business world, it is who you know, and not what you know that makes the difference between you or someone else getting the job. This may be seen as favoritism or nepotism, depending on how you know the person, but the point is that you must have a network, or you are unknown. In order to get the advantage, you must stand out. If you have someone ‘on the inside’ who knows your abilities and your style, you have a much better chance.

How do you network? Where do you meet the people who can make a difference in your field? There are many places you can connect with professionals in your field. Join a club that has a local group but is a nationally known group or affiliation.  Go to networking events at your alma mater, or a local university. Most schools have a small business network in the area and can direct you to people who can be very helpful in either your search, your personal growth, or become part of your network.  Utilize the internet as often as you can for business purposes and previous co-workers. Only make solid connections with people who truly know what you can do, or who can be helped by your services.

Once you make connections, it is important to maintain them and work toward lasting, meaningful relationships based on mutual respect and understanding.  Be there for your network and do what you can for the people you are connected to – offer recommendations to them when deserved, and they will respond in kind.

A leaders learning never ends.

Got Time Management?

•August 6, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Time management is the next step in your career plan.  Time 
management includes prioritizing, delegating, and managing your own time as well as the time of your direct reports.  If you don’t have direct reports yet, practice on yourself.  These skills are essential to being productive and effective in both your home and work life. 

Prioritizing the projects and tasks you have into daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc., will help to manage your workload.  Then focus on the tasks that are needed for the projects you are responsible to complete.  Order the tasks by importance, but leave yourself as much room as possible for the little things that pop up on a daily basis. The little interruptions that are not scheduled can throw you off and put all your hard work in jeopardy.  For the things that HAVE to be done – either find time to do them at home (if it has less distractions) or come in early / stay late to finish them when there are fewer pulls on your time and attention.

Before delegating tasks to others, schedule yourself time each week to work on something for someone else.  If you first help others and are consistently seen as a team player, you will have an easier time asking others for help when you are in need.  If there are things that others you work with can do better or more easily – ask them to help you out with it.  Be certain to only delegate tasks that are not responsible for the projects failure or success and pick your delegates purposefully in order to build relationships and foster a team spirit.  Make sure you don’t overload any one person with your tasks – they have their own job to do as well. 

Managing yours and others time is a responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly. To show proper respect keep to your schedule and always choose people tasks over paper or computer tasks.  It will go a long way to increase their positive view of you as their leader.  When you are in meetings have an agenda and keep to the time line set out if issues become larger, reschedule a time to discuss or walk through the issue.  Last but not least, when you are meeting with someone – be present in the meeting, don’t be checking your e-mail or using your cell phone. Pay attention and give respect to the person you have the meeting with – or don’t have the meeting at all.

A leaders learning never ends.

Watch Yourself!

•August 5, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Step number three in your career plan, after you have found your passion and connected with you mentor, is self-monitoring.  This is one of the best tools at your disposal to really drill down and understand what skills and behaviors work for you and what you still need to focus on improving.

Along with self-monitoring, it is necessary to keep a journal.  The journal will log your incredible mentorship, situations that happen on a daily basis, your thoughts and feelings, ideas, solutions and key projects you want to work to solve.  These notes should be brought to your regular meeting with your mentor in order to go over what you actually did and said (your behaviors). This process will generate conversation and feedback around how you may have been able to improve the situation or better handled the circumstances.  Use the journal to write down important insights from your mentor and use them as your plan for personal improvement.  A solid personal development plan will be focused on increasing your knowledge in order to become the leading subject matter expert in your field.  It is important to use this opportunity to focus on both your strengths and your weaknesses in order to develop your skill sets evenly and be a ‘well rounded’ leader.

Following the plan you and your mentor create, monitoring your behaviors and reactions, focusing on your strengths and weaknesses and documenting the important discoveries you are making about yourself will lead to a solid foundation for personal change.  These are key components to reaching your career goals.

A leaders learning never ends.

Got a Mentor?

•August 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Now that you have found your passion (step 1), step 2 in your career plan is to find someone that you look up to in the same field in which you are interested in becoming a subject matter expert.  It is extremely important when you choose your Mentor to remember that these are real people and they can make just as many mistakes as you.  The point here is to emulate their successful behaviors,  not to become a clone.  Be yourself – you need to have your own personality; bring your insights and your thoughts to the table. Do not be your mentors mouthpiece; instead, learn from their positive behaviors in order to do what they do in your own way. 

Often, your mentor will be older than you are since age usually comes with experience.  The pearl of wisdom here is that you need to find someone you can talk to, someone you have a personal connection with;  this doesn’t mean they have to know all the details of your personal life.  

Your mentor needs to be comfortable with providing straightforward, open, honest feedback to you.  Be ready to hear what you can do better, what you are doing well and how you can be more effective. You MUST BE open to the uncomfortable nature of this situation.  If you become defensive when they try to give you feedback, it will shut down your ability to grow and it will stunt the relationship between you and your mentor.  Make no mistake, you are building a relationship with your mentor.  It is your job as the mentee to make these discussions easier for your mentor in order to have honest conversations on your personal growth and in order to move on to step 3 of your career plan.

A leaders learning never ends.

Need a Career Plan?

•July 31, 2010 • Leave a Comment
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a career plan to follow? Have you ever wondered how to start being the leader you want to be? Creative tension, as established last post, is what drives personal growth. Use the resulting discomfort as the impetus to move your career and your personal growth forward.
 
Where do you start? You start by finding your passion. There is an excellent tool that I recently tried online, its free, and it will help you to “Begin with the end in mind” as Stephen R. Covey suggests in his book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. This tool is called life-plan (go to the bottom of her page), and is a series of questions for you to ask yourself. The point is to be open and honest with yourself about what it is you envision for your future – your ideal future.
 
Sometimes the first step is the hardest, but it will set the tone for the rest of your life – its worth the effort and the often awkward self examination that is required. Once you have completed the excercise, your mind should be spinning about what you are most passionate about.
 
Go online and find groups or communities on Linkedin, Facebook, etc, that are also interested in the same things you are passionate about. Read blogs about your passion, this should be fun, since you are excited and passionate about this topic – write yourself notes about what you like and dislike while you are reading. Immerse yourself, as often as possible, in the topic you feel most passionate about – give yourself permission to enjoy this – and it will become a larger part of your current life.
 
Make the first step in your journey one in the right direction.
 
A leaders learning never ends.
 
 
 

 

Closing the Gap: The journey from the you of today to the best you of the future

•July 23, 2010 • 1 Comment

I am a definite fan of Dr. Bret Simmons – not only because he is an engaging and inspired teacher, but because he never stops learning.  In his recent blog, he discusses creative tension, an uncomfortable feeling that results from the gap between who you are right now and who you want to be.   It is a widely accepted concept that most people do not leverage this feeling to reach or stretch their potential, but instead prefer to ignore the difference (the gap) in order to feel better about themselves in the here and now.

Unfortunately, ignoring the gap for the short term, “fuzzy feeling” it creates, only prolongs the inevitable.  The natural leader seeks out that uncomfortable space, that creative tension, knowing it will change them, knowing it will challenge them to be a better version of themselves. Growth is uncomfortable and can even be painful sometimes, but you get out what you put into the process.  This willingness to be in uncertain territory and use the experience to increase ones knowledge about oneself, is key to leading others.  If you are not willing to be uncomfortable in order to grow, then you will have zero credibility and experience to draw from when others around you are struggling with their own creative tension. The only way to engage, inspire and motivate your peers and your direct reports is to have walked the path yourself and have the scars to show for it.

A leaders learning never ends.