Each of us can boost our leadership by making learning a way of being. As Peter Vaill said in his book by that title, when learning is a way of being, “leadership is not learned;” leadership IS learning.
Start by trying on the notion that everything you do at work is a platform for learning. When you make a decision, face a challenge, wonder how to work with an employee, create something new or solve a problem, you can learn something new. Ask questions like,
- What do I notice about the work experience I just had? What do I notice in myself? In others?
- What choices did I make—whether or not I saw them as choices at the time? Did I get stuck? If so, how?
- What were the results of my actions and thought patterns?
- What could I do more of, less of or differently?
- What will I do now?
Reread my blog post on the Learning Compass (c) and you’ll notice that these questions take you around the learning cycle: experience; reflect; analyze by finding the significance of what just happened; think of choices; make choices that lead to action.
I recently read Sonali Deraniyagala‘s memoir Wave, which is about losing her family to a tsunami. Sonali decided to write about her loss as learning. No, there are no lessons; to distill lessons from the tragedy would have cheapened it. Instead, as she experiences waves of grief, she learns a process. She slows herself down, asking how the grief shows up in body, mind, emotions and spirit. Then she reflects, observing herself from inside and outside. By “outside,” I mean she sees herself in relation to her context– colleagues, community and the family she lost. Gradually, over a period of years and in the reflective, analytical and active practice of writing, Sonali literally remakes herself.
We could follow a similar process both to learn about specific experiences and to learn how to learn better. Try this experiment. A couple of times during your work day:
- Look up from your desk. Take several long, slow breaths.
- Notice your thoughts, feelings and your body. You are gathering information, like a researcher or artist.
- What contextual things are influencing your work and your experience of it right now? Examples might be deadlines, physical surroundings, the technology you are using and the time of day.
Notice that this little exercise does not take much time. You are creating awareness as a step in learning. Without trying to change anything, notice whether there are shifts just because you are paying attention.
More on learning as a way of being in future posts. Meanwhile, let’s all breathe.