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Lead by Example to Create a Learning Culture

The whole philosophy behind my business is that leaders can be anywhere and should be everywhere. Sometimes it’s the “de facto” leader on a team, rather than the appointed leader, who sets the pace or raises the bar. So, if you read my article on how leaders can build a learning culture, you may have wondered, “Yeah, but I’m not in charge. What can I do?” Be the pacesetter for the learning culture on your team. When you lead by example to help others grow, you make a difference for your organization and your career.

Lead by Example

To start, know what your company’s policies are around learning and development. Read the employee manual to find out what learning opportunities might be available. Does your company offer reimbursement for industry or professional designations? Is there a reimbursement process for attending conferences or other functional training events? Do you see a policy on tuition assistance?

Use this information to encourage others, and help others navigate the terrain. When I was managing a large team, I held monthly “skip-level” meetings with my team members. One of them asked me if she could be promoted without a college degree. I could have cited examples of people in management roles who didn’t have degrees. Instead, I asked, “Would you feel more comfortable applying to a management role if you had a degree? Is it important to you?”

She told me she had never applied for a promotion because she assumed she would be overlooked. When asked why she didn’t finish if it was important to her, she said she was paying for her daughter’s college education. She didn’t think “at her age” that she would get management approval for tuition reimbursement. As a manager, I told her to start filling out the paperwork immediately if that’s what she wanted to do.

In another instance, I was mentoring a woman who was completing her degree at a local college. She told me she could only afford to take one class at a time, and she was frustrated at her rate of progress. I asked why she wasn’t getting reimbursed by the company. After all, her company offered the benefit. She said the paperwork was too cumbersome and she didn’t think she could figure it out. So I opened up my laptop and showed her how easy it was to submit receipts and grades. She finished her degree soon afterward.

In many cases, it’s not budget or company policy that prevents people from meeting their professional development goals. It’s fear of being told “no.” Be a leader by challenging limiting beliefs around manager support or bureaucracy.

Ask, “What’s the obstacle?” Then ask, “Are you sure?”

Model the Mindset

Be sure to be vocal about your growth mindset. Use “Yeti” language when talking about degrees and professional designations. For example, “Do you have your degree yet?” conveys a different message than “Do you have a degree?”

Yet says “I believe in you and would love to see you succeed.” The word itself conveys an expectation or cultural norm. It also offers a possible future to someone who may be stuck in a belief about their identity. Yet can be a powerful coaching tool even if you’re not a manager or executive.

Solicit Feedback

Continually seek feedback around strengths and opportunities for growth. Again, use the language of the Yeti. Ask, “What are the skills or knowledge I don’t have yet?” Or ask, “What else can I learn to help my career / team / company / industry?”

When you ask for feedback in this way, you’re simply looking for opportunities in the truest sense. You won’t see the responses as criticism. Plus, it helps others see that you’re striving for more. You are demonstrating a desire to build on your skills and contribute at a higher level. When others see you setting a higher bar, you lead by example.

Be a “Knowledge Transfer” Specialist

When you attend a training class or conference, apply what you’ve learned quickly so you don’t lose what you’ve learned. Pick ONE THING you can do right away. State your intention with your team.

Through the process of knowledge transfer, you can immediately multiply the return on every dollar your manager spends training you.

Find innovative ways to show & tell, blog about, or otherwise amplify what you’ve learned. When your team members follow your example, you could see real culture transformation in your group!

Recognize Growth

When you know someone has attended a conference, passed a certification exam, ask them to share what they learned with you or the group. Connect with your colleagues on Goodreads so you can share book recommendations. Give positive strokes just for the effort of learning. People are more likely to do what’s rewarded, even if you’re not their manager.

Again, lead by example with your praise. When this sort of behavior catches on, there’s a peer pressure effect that elevates everyone.

Don’t Get Complacent

Our learning is never complete. What we know today may change tomorrow. It takes all of us to close the gap between what we know today and what we need to know tomorrow. Let’s all stand together and support each other in this process. After all, your effort multiplies the more you share it with others!

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