From Gabbing to Growing: Really Learning From Others

by Julie Winkle Giulioni | Posted | Leadership

From Gabbing to Growing: Really Learning From Others

According to the Center for Creative Leadership's popular 70/20/10 model, leaders learn 70 percent of what they need from challenging assignments, 20 percent from developmental relationships, and 10 percent from coursework and training.

That 20 percent dedicated to ‘developmental relationships' simply stated comes down to learning from others... and it represents a powerful tool for change in today's workplace.

Yet, this important vehicle for growth and improvement is too frequently relegated to the realm of ‘ad hoc'. You've seen it and lived it... interactions happening on the fly with little conscious attention or support.

Three ways to really learn from others

The most direct and efficient way to learn from others is to engage in purposeful dialogue with the intention to gather critical information, fill knowledge gaps, or acquire new skills. 

And it all sounds a lot easier than it actually is.

Just gabbing doesn't guarantee growth. Dialogue doesn't effortlessly deliver development. And conversation can't naturally cultivate capacity. But there are three key practices that can help you take advantage of the shortcuts and insights available when you effectively tap into the wisdom of others. 

1. Dare to Prepare

As with so much in life, preparation makes all the difference. The primary reason that people sub-optimize learning from others is that they fail to give it the same level of structure as classroom - or even experience-based learning - thinking they can just wing it.

This doesn't mean you need to create a full curriculum... but it does mean that you need to spend a few minutes thoughtfully considering what you hope to achieve and how you'll make it happen.

The good news is that this is as easy as having a handful of prepared questions that you use to drive a focused conversation. This transforms mere ‘brain-picking' into a powerful, intentional opportunity to learn.

Sometimes, you'll be seeking out very specific information designed to help you perform a task or develop a new skill.

Start with questions like:

  • How did you learn to do this well?
  • What goals, expectations, or standards form the foundation of your work?
  • What steps do you perform that routinely lead to success?
  • What are you thinking about/asking yourself each step of the way?
  • What are the most common missteps, errors, or omissions?
  • What's hardest about this for you?
  • How do you keep yourself motivated?
  • How do you keep your own skills fresh?

Other times, you may intend to have a more general conversation, one that is still focused on extracting learning but without specifics as your target. These broader conversations still demand a level of intentionality to ensure they don't devolve into interesting - but not developmental - chats.

So, approach them with a plan that includes questions like:

  • What's the smartest move you ever made?
  • What are the most pressing challenges and changes facing our industry and what steps are you taking to address them?
  • What are the most important skills and talents required for success today?
  • What does our organization value most and how do you deliver on that?
  • What's contributed most to your professional success?
  • What do you wish you'd done differently?
  • If you had an extra hour in the day, how would you use it to add greater value at work?
  • What's my reputation in the organization and what's one concrete way I can enhance it?

A simple plan takes five minutes of preparation and will deliver at least five times the value... not a bad investment.

2. Leverage a Learning Lens

Rather than reprising the old ‘active listening' theme (because, let's face it, we've heard it for years but still struggle to use it!), try reframing what you do during a conversation.

If you were reading a biography, blog or business journal to extract lessons, you'd scour the text with care, reading every word, reviewing key passages, highlighting and exploring particularly interesting points in greater depth. So, why not do the same thing in conversation? This approach involves leveraging a learning lens.

Rather than treating a developmental dialogue like a casual conversation, come to it with complete concentration and the intention to leave with new knowledge, information, or skills.

For example:

  • Don't allow yourself to become distracted. Set aside a time and appropriate setting that will allow you both to focus fully.
  • Approach the exchange with the assumption and expectation that value awaits you.
  • Take in everything that's shared with the same level of attention and interest as you would during your favorite course or workshop.
  • Routinely ask yourself: What does that mean for me? How can I use this information? What's going to make it challenging to put into practice?
  • Take notes to capture key insights and questions. And don't be shy about revisiting your notes during the conversation to follow up and delve into important or confusing points in greater depth.
  • Challenge your ego. Embrace not knowing. Welcome your ignorance. This creates the receptivity and conditions that welcome learning.

3. Collect and reflect

Unfortunately, developmental relationships and learning from others don't come with an approved text, workbook, or study notes. And, unless you are among an extraordinary few, you won't remember all that's shared by those with whom you interact.

So, it's incumbent upon you to construct your own system that captures these ephemeral conversations and learnings for ongoing consideration, contemplation, and use.

It can be as simple as making notes in a physical or online journal. The form is less important than just doing it. Because, over time, you'll generate a rich repository of ideas, key messages, to-dos, themes, and other gems that will offer the basis for new insights and enhanced performance.

But you'll only realize these benefits if you collect and reflect upon the richness that comes from these conversations.

Developmental relationships make up a significant portion of what must be learned to remain effective, relevant, and competitive in today's workplace. But they have to be treated with the same rigor as other learning activities.

Use these strategies and you'll go beyond simple ‘brain-picking' to legitimizing - and optimizing - your learning from others.

Your Turn: How do you foster developmental relationships in your workplace?

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