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All in: Leaders who learn

For most of my life I’ve considered the act of learning something that happens in a classroom: there is a teacher who has expertise and knowledge, and there are students who do not yet have that knowledge. Students sit quietly, take notes, study, and eventually learn new information and skills.

This simplistic frame of mind has guided my pursuit of professional development. Almost everything I’ve done to grow as a professional has been based in hard skills: online courses for web development, learning new software programs, attending writing seminars, and trolling tutorials from lynda.com or my latest obsession, Skillshare.

Learning in this way keeps me curious and sparks my creativity, but developing those hard skills amount to helping me be “handy.” As I grow in my career and think about developing myself as a leader, I’ve had to shift the way I think about the learning process.

Some of the most important lessons I’ve learned about leadership have come from coworkers—sometimes colleagues with less seniority than myself. I may not have considered it leadership skill development at the time, but when I started to emulate coworkers who were effective communicators that’s exactly what was happening. I’ve only recently realized that just because those lessons don’t come with a certificate doesn’t mean they aren’t essential to professional growth.

In that spirit I’m excited to begin the YNPN-EPIP Leadership Institute this month. A group of 25 professionals have come together to co-create a leadership development experience with few limitations or guidelines—everyone is expected to be both student and teacher. I may be out of my comfort zone with this model, but I’m going all in. My goal is to learn from the youngest person in the group and from someone whose career path is completely different than mine. Likewise, I will make an effort to mentor someone with much more experience.  

You don’t need an institute to set yourself up for collaborative learning: find a peer mentor and share ideas, or volunteer at an organization that requires an entirely different skill set than you normally use. However you hope to grow personally or professionally, keep your eyes open for teachable moments. The lessons we learn from unlikely situations are usually the most satisfying and memorable.


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