What makes a learning and development person great? In every industry, there are exceptional people that rise to the top as the most admired and followed. These are the people companies seek to hire as consultants or key employees, and lend great weight to their opinions. Some are highly visible in their industries – publishing books or blogs, and often speaking at events or hosting regular webinars. But others, the quiet majority, are just out there, day after day, being awesome. They come to work and achieve incredible results with little fuss or pretense.
I had the blessing of growing up with a dad who exemplified the traits of a key leader in his industry. CEO’s of major companies would call him for advice. He was regularly sought out to be on boards. Organizations attempted to hire him away from his company, and colleagues pursued him for his guidance and criticism. As I got into my teenage years and he took me on business trips, I got to sit and watch these conversations happen, shake hands with those CEO’s, and even get on a first name basis with many. I learned many invaluable lessons during this key time in my life, thanks to my dad, and I continue building on those lessons to this day.
What is it that makes him, and other key performers like him, great? How do they achieve so much and become great professionals in their industries? And what lessons can Learning & Development professionals take and apply to their own careers?
I believe the true professionals in any industry, both visible and behind the curtain, share some common practices that L&D professionals can apply:
- Hunger for knowledge – I once knew a guy that graduated near the top of his class in Computer Science from a major university. He worked in the field briefly, but when I met him he was a janitor and struggling to make ends meet. When he got his degree, a major part of his training was using punch cards. These were a key component in computer science when he went through school. But as they quickly went away, he never kept up his education in the field, and soon found himself unemployed. Great professionals are always hungry for new knowledge. They consistently set aside time to seek out new advances in their field, and discuss those advances with others to improve their understanding. Completing a degree in their fields is considered by these people to be the beginning of knowledge, not the end.
- Share openly – the most powerful way to learn something is to teach it to others. Great professionals know this and regularly share their knowledge, not just because it helps them understand it better and gives them personal satisfaction, but also because it will help others. That is the main goal. In doing so, they reinforce the knowledge in their own minds and start conversations that lead to greater collective knowledge and understanding.
- Have tough conversations – great professionals don’t let their own position, the position of their audience, or the expertise of another stop them from sharing or defending an idea they are passionate about. They also recognize that ideas don’t make up the totality of a person and are successful at separating a person’s ideas from the person. Thus they can hate the one and respect the other.
- Teachability – everyone is wrong sometimes and great professionals are willing to recognize and acknowledge their errors, and then learn from them. No one likes arrogant people that are always convinced they are the only right answer in the room. Leaders in non-profit organizations are often the worst at this as they have such deep passion for their work and are totally sure their way is the right way. Being teachable is the only way a person can truly grow.
- Problem solving – great professionals don’t try to think outside the box, and they don’t try to think inside the box. They simply seek the best solution, vet it with wise counsel, and solve problems. The box isn’t an issue, only the quest for the best solution.
These certainly aren’t all the things that make great professionals great. But they are things I’ve personally seen in all the great professionals I’ve known in my life. I believe the hardest to learn, if you aren’t already doing it, is #2. Our society is naturally so protective of ideas, that if this doesn’t come naturally to you, you’ve probably learned to do exactly the opposite. Don’t fret, it gets easier over time.
To all those that have positively influenced me over time, thank you for your lessons!