This article is the fifth in a five-part series focused on the need for continuous learning. Read Part 1, originally published in the July/August 2018 issue of Chief Learning Officer. Read Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.
Everyone wants to be great, to be ahead of the curve, to be awesome. But I am sure we can all agree that some days are easier than others.
Some days are awesome. We wake up, our hair is perfect, our clothes look great on us, we feel fantastic and it’s a sunny 75 degrees outside. The songs on our drive into the office are favorites, all the traffic lights are green in our favor and the office is abuzz with positive energy. Our big presentation wows the investors, the dinner party that follows is just the right amount of joyous, and the night is capped off with a perfect Pinot Noir.
However, awesome isn’t a word used to describe all our days or how we think of ourselves every day. Some days we wake up late because our phone alarm didn’t go off, which means we need to rush through our morning routine and miss our workout. We open a container of yogurt for a quick breakfast to find a moldy science project has started growing inside, then jump in the shower and discover there is no hot water. We get to the platform just in time to see the train rolling away. The new product pitch we worked on all night gets canceled and the product postponed indefinitely due to budget cuts.
We all have days like these. Some days it seems everything is in our favor. Other days it seems everything is working against us. Some are filled with immense joy and others with equally profound sorrow, some quite productive and others dogged by distraction, some faced with passionate procrastination and others with abundant enthusiasm. We don’t control all the variables that make up our experiences; certain things are going to go the way we intend (or possibly even exceed expectations), and some aren’t going to measure up (or will be downright lousy). We have limits as well as potential within each of our days.
The positive in all this is that both good days and bad days, good moments and not-so-good moments, contain lessons. It’s more common to learn from the bad. A team that misses project targets, an outage that lasts longer than it should, the time you made a critical error that resulted in severe consequences, the moments of crisis that shake us, or any other experienced slump — all these often cause us to reflect immediately on what went wrong so it doesn’t happen again. That’s good learning and a part of good leadership. Some might say a failure is only a failure if we don’t learn something from it.
But we also need to learn from the good days. What made it a good day? How can we repeat that experience? How can we take what worked and make it even better?
The key to learning is to develop learning consistency and to approach each and every situation as an opportunity to learn — whether you’ve had a radical success, dismal failure or something in between. Remember, go in as a learner. Success is not a reserved right for a select few. It starts with an attitude followed by a set of behaviors and actions. It’s a mindset. It’s a belief and a determination to get better over time and with experience — and feedback so we don’t fall victim to our own success delusion.
There’s an adjacent rule here to point out in addition to learning from good days and bad: Always look for opportunities to learn, but don’t dwell on opportunities missed. When learning from bad days, bad moments and bad experiences, the value is in learning and moving on. If we get stuck and dwell on the lessons of missed opportunities, we’ll miss the next opportunity, which is certain to be right around the corner.
So be constantly on the lookout for opportunities to learn — from both the good and the bad. Then take those lessons and look for the next opportunity to apply them. That’s continuous learning in practice.
Tim Rahschulte is former CLO of Evanta, current CEO at the Professional Development Academy and professor of business at George Fox University. His latest book is “My Best Advice: Proven Rules for Effective Leadership,” which he co-authored with Ryan Halley and Russ Martinelli. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.