My first job after graduating from my MBA program at the end of 1993 was a territory manager position with a large company. At age 25, I believed that my primary responsibility was to get results. That meant increasing revenues and controlling costs. I worked 60-70 hours a week to achieve my goals and surpassed them that year.
This soon resulted in a promotion: Early in 1995 I was offered a larger territory and a pay increase. At the age of 26, I would lead a team of 80 people working in four offices across a large area.
I viewed this promotion as the natural outcome of my hard work and my results. It was also the latest in a series of successes I had experienced from a young age, often while facing difficult challenges.
Over the next several months I once again faced a number of challenges, but this time I couldn’t solve some of them. I had some very smart and opinionated team members but I didn’t know how to really engage them. My relationship with my boss was poor; we had little mutual trust and argued frequently. My territory was huge and diverse and I had trouble managing it well. I could never get all four area teams to align with our goals and strategy at the same time. The only thing going right was our revenue growth, but everything else was tough and I could not find a solution. I worked long hours, gained weight and started losing my hair.
And after eight months, I did something I’d never done before in my life. I admitted defeat and gave up. I retreated to a territory with a boss I knew and trusted and spent a year recovering my health and confidence. I felt confused about why I had failed and tended to blame it on my relationship with my boss.
21 years later, the reason for my failure in that position is very clear: I believed that working hard and achieving results was sufficient to guarantee success. I was not aware of the role learning and development plays in success.
As a result, I did not know that having empathy for and adapting to style differences is an effective way to engage people and resolve conflicts. I had never heard of EQ or self-awareness, and I did not realize that my mindset was causing many of the problems with my boss and subordinates. My attitude toward feedback was to explain why it was wrong rather than listen to it. I didn’t know there are useful team and sales management techniques that offer real solutions to practical problems and are available in books and training courses.
If had just had some awareness of the importance of learning and development in achieving success, I would have opened up to the many resources available to me and found some solutions to my problems.
At True Development, we believe that many people are like I was. They do not understand how learning and development can help them succeed, and so they struggle through their problems, suffering needless frustration and failure.
When people ask me how they can develop themselves in their jobs, the first thing I do is congratulate them. I say “If you want to develop, the first thing to realize is that your development is in your own hands, not in your boss’ hands and not in HR’s hands. So you are already doing better than many people.” The next thing I do is talk about what they want to develop. In terms of supporting someone to perform at his/her best, these are generally the most important areas to focus on:
● Job Knowledge
● Influencing Skills
● Problem Solving Skills
The next question to answer is… How do I develop these capabilities?
Tip #1: Use a Diverse Approach
The best way to develop self-awareness, knowledge, influencing skills, and problem solving capabilities is through a mix of books and training courses; conversations with experienced people (e.g. mentors); and on the job “practice.” An example of how it works: Let’s say I work in sales and I am not satisfied with the way I deal with “It’s too expensive” objections. I ask a senior account manager on my team how he deals with this. He gives me some good advice and also recommends two books and a training course. I read the books and take the training course, then ask him to lunch where I discuss the things in the books and training I didn’t fully understand. He helps me and now I’m ready to practice what I’ve learned. It doesn’t go so well at first but after several tries, I perfect the techniques for dealing with price-based objections and see some strong progress in my sales efforts. Using a diverse approach is the most efficient and effective way to learn and develop.
Tip #2: Develop a Formal Learning Plan
Research clearly shows that people who read and take training programs perform better over time than people who do not. At the beginning of each year, I develop a plan for books I will read—I assign myself one book each month but I actually read 5-6 books each month—and training programs I will take. This plan ensures I am filling my job skills database with new knowledge and experiential learning.
Tip #3: Recruit a Mentor
Think of mentors as learning and development accelerators.Good mentors will help you connect ideas and find breakthroughs in ways you couldn’t do alone. And because I am personally a mentor to many people, I’ll tell you who gets the most attention from me: People who understand that this is a two-way relationship. They take time to update me on their progress rather than waiting for me to ask. They also look for ways to serve and support me instead of just asking me over and over for help.
Tip #4: Ask for Feedback
Feedback can be uncomfortable if it’s honest. But honest feedback is one of the best ways to learn about your strengths and weaknesses. You canmake it easier for people to give honest feedback if you ask them for feedback like this:
The Feedback Request
“I am trying to get better at behaving and communicating like a leader (executive presence). Can you tell me what you think I do well in this area so I know what to build on? And then can you tell me how I might improve?”
After you have practiced for a few months based on the feedback you receive, you ask the person if he/she sees any progress, and in what areas.
When I was 26 years old, I didn’t know these things. If I had, I think I would have found a way through the problems in my second position. My hope is that you find this useful and that you will forward this e-mail to someone who might benefit from it.
Yours in learning,
P.S. For information on our new internal workshop, “Owning Your Own Development,” click here”