1. Take responsibility for your own learning and development

What does it mean to “take responsibility” for your own learning and development? In the simplest of terms it means that you accept the fact that your learning and development is up to you, and no one else, and on the basis of that reality you take action! You should not expect or wait for someone else, such as your boss or employer, to make it happen for you. It is your job, your career, your life, and it is up to you to be proactive about your own learning and development.

In some of the foundational research into how executives learn, published in The Lessons of Experience by McCall, Lombardo, and Morrison (1988), the authors found that “the successful executives we studied took responsibility for their own learning” (p. 73). These executives didn’t wait for someone else to tell them how to develop, what they needed to learn, who they should listen to or emulate, or when they needed to gain new skills. They didn’t wait; they just took initiative and did it. They owned their own development and they took the position that every situation is a learning opportunity, squeezing learning from every experience, whether good or bad, easy or hard. What’s more, these successful executives let nothing stand in their way when it came to learning; they were “ready to grab or create opportunities for growth, wise enough not to believe that there’s nothing more to learn, and courageous enough to look inside themselves and grapple with their frailties” (p.122). They demonstrated “extraordinary tenacity in extracting something worthwhile from their experience and in seeking experiences rich in opportunities for growth” (p. 122).

In my own research, I discovered that leaders who take responsibility for their own learning have what one person called “an attitude of discovering,” characterized by curiosity, an attitude of learning, and a willingness to get something positive out of every new experience (How Global Leaders Develop). Because they “owned” their learning and development, they approached every experience as an opportunity to learn. These leaders employed an ad hoc, opportunistic, intuitive approach to learning. Their conviction that they were responsible motivated them to always be searching for meaning and insight, so that they could make the most of their experiences. Learning was “baked in” to their approach to work.

So the bottom line is that your development ultimately comes down to what you do with your opportunities and abilities.  And, not surprisingly, people who take responsibility for their own learning and development tend to learn more from their experiences.

Are YOU taking responsibility for your learning and development? Future blog entries will deal with “how” to do this in some detail, but for now check your own behavior against these signs and symptoms that you may not be taking responsibility:

  • Have you been waiting for your boss to ask you about your development goals? Instead of waiting, take the initiative and create your own development goals.
  • Do you complain that your company’s training programs don’t offer anything you’re interested in taking? Instead of complaining about what’s not offered, consider training programs outside your company or seminars offered through a professional organization.
  • Are you focusing only on achieving your performance goals or targets, without taking the time to think about what you could be learning while you work? Instead of being completely focused on getting the job done, look for ways to learn something new while pursuing your goals.
  • Have you been feeling “stuck” or like you don’t know how or what to do in order to develop? Don’t let this stand in your way! To get “un-stuck,” just do something different, outside your daily routine: read books on a wide range of topics that interest you, join an organization that will expand your view of your profession, have lunch with a colleague who works in a field that is completely different from your own and ask them to tell you about it.
  • Do you tell yourself that you don’t have the time to invest in your own learning and development? Don’t buy into this myth! In reality, you don’t have time to NOT invest in your learning and development! Invest widely by using your work experience as your best classroom. Learn to reflect on your experience and use the lessons you gain to improve, grow, and develop.
  • Have you failed to follow through on your development plan or your commitment to improve, learn, or develop? Pick up that development plan, tailor it to your interests and needs today. Partner with someone else, make a pact to support each other as you learn, and ask them to help you follow through.

I welcome your comments, questions, and – of course – hearing about your own experience with learning from experience!

The next blog entry will focus on developing a clear understanding of your strengths and areas for development.