Earlier this week, Laura Petrolino wrote about the importance of professional development and keeping your skills fresh through ongoing learning.
I personally think it was her not-so-subtle way of suggesting we need Spin Sucks Trapper Keepers, but she had a great point.
I have a friend who, at 4:00 every day, shuts down what she is working on and opens some sort of learning.
It may be a course on Coursera or Lynda. It could be an article she’s been meaning to read. It might be a webinar she downloaded, but hasn’t been able to watch yet. Or it could be some sort of hands-on training that allows her to do her job more efficiently.
She does this for only 30 minutes, but it is every, single day. She has an appointment in her calendar and nothing—and I mean nothing—prevents her from “attending” that meeting.
It’s pretty impressive and, while it’s only half an hour a day, I’ve watched her grow in many ways because of it.
And here’s the other thing about her: She’s the leader of a very successful, multi-billion dollar company. From the outside perspective, you’d think she has it made. She doesn’t need to keep learning. She’s already where most of us yearn to be and never get.
But she has learned to program. She has learned another language. She has become a much better writer. She has begun painting. And she has become a whiz at the types of data her company should analyze for future growth.
All things she has people to do, and yet she thinks it’s important for her to learn, as well.
It’s a Different Level of Respect
I remember reading somewhere that Jason Fried, one of the founders of 37Signals, was learning Ruby on Rails (the programming language his co-founder created) so he could more efficiently lead his team of programmers.
Does the CEO of a multi-million dollar company need to do that?
Does it make him a much better leader?
(Not to mention the level of respect he gains from his team.)
Success is a Lousy Teacher
Bill Gates, in his book, The Road Ahead, wrote:
Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.
Think about that for a second.
Now think about my friend and about Jason Fried.
They’re both extremely successful people. They both have built organizations that have teams of people to do the things they have taught themselves to do. There is no reason on earth they need to do this.
Success has taught them they absolutely have to keep learning.
For themselves. For their teams. For their customers. For their families.
Invest in Yourself through Learning
Forbes recently picked up on this idea, too. The idea that we all must keep learning.
They looked at how the most successful leaders “push themselves to grow and challenge conventional wisdom.”
They found they do three things:
- They learn from experience;
- They learn from objective mentors; and
- They learn from their clients.
So how do you invest in yourself through learning?
- What are you studying? I extol the benefits of daily exercise here quite a bit. I’ve often said it’s like brushing your teeth…it’s just something you have to do every day. I feel the same about professional development and continual learning. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t do something unless it’s on your calendar, do like my friend and make an appointment with yourself every day. And start taking classes. At first, it will seem like you’re taking away from your job to do this, but you’ll quickly find you’re much more efficient when you do this. In the words of Nike, “Just do it.”
- Who gives you advice? Laura’s blog post earlier this week recommended the same thing: Find a mentor. In my case, I’ve hired a mentor in Randy Hall. You might work with that person. You might have a loose relationship where you have a monthly phone call. Or you might hire professional mentorship. Find a mentor and stick with an ongoing relationship with them.
- Stay ahead of the trends in your industry. Attend conferences and trade shows. Read blogs (this very one right here tests things all the time to give you a head start on the trends of the PR industry). Find the tech startup scene in your city and attend events there. This will give you access to the brains of young innovators and make you think about things differently. Read books that are outside of your normal scope. One of the best books I’ve read that helped me grow my business is What Would Google Do? Throughout my copy, you will find notes and ideas that I jotted down while I read that, today, have become full-on services we offer.
One of the very best things you can do for yourself is to do a real analysis of your weaknesses. If you can figure that out, you can begin to invest in yourself through learning by becoming strong in those areas.
It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. I promise.
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