Why some managers don’t learn from experience & 3 ways to fix it

Often despite attempts to provide developmental experiences for people, by all accounts the learning doesn’t happen. Perhaps you’ve heard of people like this? Jane had been given a plum assignment helping her new company ramp up its marketing function. This new assignment was the direct result of an attempt to develop Jane’s skills in a new area to broaden her perspective about the company. Despite all attempts to help, it became clear that Jane was failing in her new assignment. Perhaps Jane is you. What went wrong? How can this be prevented from happening? In order to learn from an experience, you have to bring a learning mindset to the developmental activity; otherwise you won’t learn, no matter how great the experience. [click to tweet]

There are at least three things you can do to improve your learning mindset and improve the likelihood that an experience will provide useful lessons that can be applied for even greater success later.

  1. First, you can set clear goals. These involve goals about the experience or assignment but also and more importantly about where you want to take your career. Ask yourself where you see yourself three to five years from now. What do you want to accomplish? What do you need to learn? What would you like to be doing? These framing questions will help be more intentional about the experience.
  2. Next you should examine your support network. Make sure you have the support of people you need to be successful. These include people who will care enough to give you candid feedback. You also need mentors, people to serve as guides and teachers. Perhaps people who have been on the journey you are on, or at least appreciate the struggle. They should be able to provide advice and ask you questions to help you make sense of the experiences you are having. You also need social support – people who can help you get through tough times just by being a sounding board or a shoulder to lean on. Make a list of potential people who can serve these roles for you and then actively seek them out and enlist their help. Learn how to ask for feedback, and regularly seek these people out for feedback, advice and counsel.

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  3. Finally, set aside time for reflection. You can’t learn from an experience if you aren’t experiencing the learning. Don’t get so caught up in performing or trying to add another notch to your resume belt that you forget to improve your skills or expand your perspective. Set aside time each week to ask yourself what’s working and what’s not and why. If you find yourself feeling stretched, don’t worry, that means the experience is more likely one you can learn from. Seek advice from your support network and incorporate that into your reflection. In the end, if you simply pay more attention to the journey you will increase your probability of success. Of course, you have to pick the right experiences, but that’s a subject for another story.

Now I’d like to hear from you.  What other techniques have you tried in order to improve your learning mindset? Please share your experiences.

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About Sylvester Taylor

Sylvester is Director, Assessments, Tools and Publications at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, NC. He manages groups responsible for new product development, and revision of the Center’s assessment instruments as well the Center's Publication function.
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3 Responses to Why some managers don’t learn from experience & 3 ways to fix it

  1. Very good post. Setting a time for reflection is something I have a hard time doing, but whenever I do do it, it’s pretty effective. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for commenting Sam. Wondering if you have any examples to share about what works for you. Do you journal? Do you have any special approaches? Thanks.

  3. avatar Ahmed Mohammed says:

    Thank you for sharing this article. I especially agree with #2. Having a network or supportive people around you who are not afraid or reluctant to speak up when it’s required to get you back on track is critical to learning in any form. The reflection time is also so important but perhaps one of the most difficult to do.

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