I have been in learning leadership since the early 1980s when I was a program manager at the Pace University Computer Training Center in White Plains, New York.
It was 1984, and the first IBM PC XT desktop computer had hit the market. The first company to transition to these new machines was IBM itself, and it contracted with Pace University to train all of its approximately 100,000 professionals.
Prior to joining this team, I was a computer science and mathematics teacher for Nova Southeastern University’s private high school. By day, I taught my students, and by night I attended classes to keep up with my students who took to these computers like bees to flowers. My role allowed me to teach 50 percent of the time, and I got such great energy from doing this, it charged my batteries for all the associated administrative tasks.
Later on, as chief learning officer for Booz Allen Hamilton, my time facilitating and coaching was reduced to as little as 10 percent, and I really missed it. When I moved to Tech Mahindra in India, I was able to allocate around 20 percent of my time to my passion.
Then in 2009, I started my own consulting business, and for the next six years, I truly enjoyed the opportunity to practice my profession as a consultant, facilitator and coach. Of course, being on your own does not guarantee 100 percent of your time will be dedicated to being a practitioner. There are administrative tasks like doing your own marketing, sales, writing, copying, travel, billing, expense reporting and so on.
All of this changed in October when I was contacted by a recruiter who talked to me about a role at Amazon.com as an executive development principal. Beth Benson from Zimmerman Associates told me I would be responsible, as an individual contributor, for facilitating executive development, coaching and conducting research on a potentially large scale for the top 300 leaders in the company.
I had not been an individual contributor since 1984, so I listened attentively. After speaking with Beth and throughout a comprehensive interview process, I listed the reasons why this role would advance my development as a learning leader after 36 years crossing more than 60 countries:
The last time I had the opportunity to dedicate myself full time to teaching was from 1980 to 1984, when I was a teacher. Back then, I was very new to the profession and had not honed my skills; 36 years of experience as a learning and business leader did that.
- The opportunity to spend 100 percent of my time concentrating on my true passions, facilitation and coaching.
- The ability to relinquish all the distractors such as budgets, operations and enterprise leadership.
- Time to truly help the top executives by learning the business of their business and time to observe and impart the knowledge needed to evolve leadership on a large scale.
- Take the opportunity to demonstrate my executive skills and my learning professional skill to maximize impact and outcomes.
I also considered the other side, including how the learning world would perceive a CLO becoming an individual contributor. Ultimately, I decided the prospect of truly honing my craft after all these years was well worth it.
Have you considered taking a break from leading to practice the profession of learning, leadership and organizational development? I strongly encourage you to take a few years to diversify and practice your profession on your way to the top or even as a break from being in the top learning role.
Has anyone else experienced this? If so, please get in touch and share your experience.