The need to learn is nothing new; it’s not going away, either. I’ve never met a leader who didn’t need at least one of their team members to upgrade a skill set or mindset. Many leaders can’t accomplish their goals unless team members start making tough changes in how they work. And at the most senior level, leaders are realizing that those who are behind the learning curve are exponentially hindering progress. It’s as true in Silicon Valley startups as it is in the bureaucracies of Washington DC. More so than ever, across sectors, leaders need to challenge and to champion learning.
Easier said than done
Unfortunately, not everyone lavishes in the opportunity to learn. To some, learning is more draining than energizing. Many find it more rewarding to work in the areas that they have already mastered. Perhaps your people feel they know everything they need to know. Perhaps, like the 2004 Ducati Racing Team, they are at the top of their game and don’t see the need to learn from their success. Perhaps your people are conveniently ignoring shifts on the horizon that will require new ways of working. Often, our team members are motivated to learn everything except the one thing that we really need them to learn. To exacerbate matters, senior leaders neglect to lean into their own learning curves, leading them to role model the mistake of thinking that others’ learning is more important than their own.
Tips from a learning addict
As a coach, educator, and community leader, I’ve been challenged to inspire learning and growth from multiple angles. As someone who views learning as pure joy, my first struggle was to understand and relate to those who didn’t seem interested in learning. So I began to wonder, how can I inspire growth among those who aren’t similarly motived? So far, I’ve found three approaches that work.
- Let learning follow goals. When the need to learn seems secondary, superfluous, intimidating or otherwise unappealing, point your people back to their own goals, and let learning follow.
Case in Point: Over the past year, I’ve dedicated much of my time to helping leaders learn to coach. With some exceptions, most of these leaders didn’t really understand why they were learning this. Had we tried to convince them that they needed to learn to coach, I’m pretty sure we would have lost them in the first 10 minutes. But instead we spent over an hour talking about the needs of the business and their aspirations to be the best leader ever – learning to coach is, basically, a side effect of pursuing the goals that they already care about deeply.
- Link learning to love. We all love something! Each of us has one or two things that we absolutely delight in. For those who don’t delight in learning, frame learning as a pathway to the things they really want — strong relationships, peace and harmony, standing out, getting stuff done, having fun, being strong, etc., etc. Let learning become a part of pursuing these passions.
Case in Point: I recently spent six months working with a client who couldn’t identify anything he needed to learn, or even anything he needed to do better or differently. After a few meetings, I discovered that he loved to be the hero. With this insight in mind, I stopped exploring his learning goals and started exploring his next great act of service. In the process of lining up his next heroic feat, he grew in many areas.
- Leverage strengths. From a strengths-based perspective, we all have natural talents that we can leverage to pull us up in the areas that don’t come naturally to us. When you’re working with someone who doesn’t have the strength of learning, your best bet may be to play to the strengths they do possess.
Case in Point: I once had a staff member who was obsessed with results but basically disinterested in learning. She could implement exceptionally when given explicit instructions but became paralyzed by the need to figure something out. Rather than harping on her to become more agile, I figured out that one of her top strengths was Responsibility. I started encouraging her to leverage this strength whenever she felt stuck or lost, and she began to embrace learning as a necessary part of following through on her commitments.
Here’s the bottom line: Learning is both non-negotiable and a hard sell. When you need someone to learn something that they’re not interested in investing in, sell them on what does matter to them. In the timeless words of Mary Poppins, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”
This article was previously published on Forbes.com as “How To Inspire Your Team to Learn When It’s the Last Thing They Want To Do.”