Learning experiences are not always pleasant. Learning requires acquiring new knowledge, skills, or behaviors by stepping outside of the comfort zone of current knowledge, skills, or behaviors. There is tremendous opportunity to learn from a critical career experience as long as we remain present and open to the feedback that the experience can provide.
First Management Role
Becoming a first-time manager is an experience unlike any other in your professional life. Exemplary management and leadership is much easier said than done, thus, even the brightest and most capable people make many errors in judgment during their first year. Discovering those errors, learning from the lessons offered, and then making the necessary behavioral changes is what transforms us into effective leaders. In contrast, ineffective leaders never receive the feedback, acquire bad habits, and miss a ripe opportunity to learn to do things differently.
Leading a High Profile Project
Leadership of any kind is a balancing act of control—it requires discovering the right amount that keeps the project quality up and on time but not so much that you wind up micromanaging. Going through the experience of finding that optimum balance has both obvious and not-so-obvious learning implications. We already know we cannot be good team leaders without first being team members, but through this experience we learn that we don’t know how to be good team members until we have been team leaders. Through experiencing an increase in accountability and responsibility, we become stronger performers ourselves even after we are no longer in the spotlight.
Starting at a New Company
Coming into a new company can be quite a culture shock. The first 90 days are overwhelming as we try to figure out what’s what and figure out the language, norms, and practices that are like second nature to the rest of your colleagues. To perform well, you must adapt. But when you assimilate too soon and too easily, you miss the opportunity to harness your outsider perspective to bring innovative value to your new role. We don’t know what we don’t know. To uncover blind spots and introduce change requires persistence, patience, and excellent communication skills.
Of course, we can learn something from any and all of our career experiences. But doing something very different, or much more difficult, presents a unique opportunity for transformational change.