“How did I miss that?”
I thought to myself as I walked out of the boardroom after being challenged by one of my leaders on a product feature I had neglected to consider.
I was frustrated and embarrassed. The stories of excuse and blame immediately filling my head.
Before I let them complete take over I took a deep breath. Then I paused and realized something…
I should be nothing but thankful. This is a perfect learning opportunity. And a natural consequence for surrounding myself with incredibly passionate colleagues, all of whom are driven and much smarter than me. Every ounce of feedback from this team, good bad and ugly, is an opportunity to get better.
For most of us pushing the limits in our unique pursuits of greatness this scenario is a daily occurrence.
And it all comes down to a choice.
To put up our wall of frustration, blame and ultimate protection of ego, or humbly embrace the learning that is on the other side of that challenging feedback.
Unfortunately we almost always choose the latter.
Paradoxically, it is equipping ourselves to leverage these challenging learning situations that ultimately provides us our greatest growth and impact advantage.
Here are five strategies to build that learning equation in your life.
1. Build Your Tribe
The best leaders and learners know that the people they surround themselves with is the foundation of their success.
Don’t be offended when you look around realize everyone you’re surrounded by are smarter, more specialized, and can see things you can’t.
Be grateful – you’ve just unlocked the enabler for massive mindset shifts and step-change learning.
Seek out people who love what they do. Who see the world in an entirely different lens. Who make you uncomfortable and challenge your thinking.
And who genuinely want to support you through each step of your own journey.
2. Establish Learning Cultures
Just because you have smart people around does not mean personal growth will fall right in your lap. Yes, learning by osmosis counts for something, but that’s minor league compared to building a learning culture.
Once you’ve built your tribe, you need to active it.
A learning environment is ultimately a safe and supportive one – and the fastest route to building this culture starts with you. Encourage sharing, feedback, differing opinions, and debate. Be vulnerable in your approach to facilitating team dynamics and create a level playing field where everyone can come to the table as equal peers.
You have more than enough opportunities to model this culture as you receive critical feedback yourself.
All eyes are on you as a leader – and the bar will set directly based on your choices and decisions.
As you look up to your leaders and role models proactively build a learning expectation. Where I know I have weaknesses in my professional skillset I often ask my leaders to poke holes whenever and however they can.
Identify the unique mastery each of your colleagues possess in their skill set and create explicit expectations to how they can continually challenge you.
3. Pause. Breathe.
In the heat of the moment the last thing you want to do is admit you were wrong, you didn’t know, or couldn’t see what was being discussed.
This is the pivotal moment.
This is where nearly all of us fall down and succumb to the tug of our ego.
Believe it or not it is this negative trigger initiated by our pride and ego that can actually serve as our biggest ally.
We just need to do a little abstraction.
Next time you find yourself in the heat of confrontation or feedback acknowledge that knot in your belly and fire building behind your eyes. See it for what it is, an indicator of many things but not a dictator of how you choose to act.
In this moment of acknowledgement reframe the dynamics, leverage the learning equation, and re-join the conversation with a positive vulnerability and intention to drive learning and growth versus frustration and anger.
4. Acknowledge your fear.
Fear is a volatile catalyst.
It can drive our greatest performance and equally trigger our most paralyzed state.
We cam always feel fear approaching. Heartbeat quickening, deepening of breath, the dry swollen throat and that gross knot deep in your gut.
It’s uncomfortable, but we are at our best when we go there.
Stop listening to the story your ego is telling that “you need to know everything, that you are expected to know or do everything”. When we push the limits of high performance and exponential growth, this will never be the case.
So, the next time you encounter a moment of battling fear – accept where you are. Look for opportunities to partner with those around you to build up your knowledge and understanding in this space.
Immediately following these rich and challenging learning experiences we need a chance to absorb and internalize what just took place.
The next time you conquer this powerful learning equation I encourage you to take a couple of minutes to stop everything and reflect.
What would you have done differently had you relived this experience knowing what you know now? Do you need to dig deeper into this topic to fully understand the exchange that just took place? How can you build the expectations in your team to continually coach you up in this area?
Sink into that feeling of pride. You’ve taken back the power and the direction forward is all yours.
One Small Growth Opportunity at a Time
I sat back down at my desk and let out a small grin. I realized that underneath the tough feedback in the boardroom was a lesson and framework to view my role and how I lead my team in a totally new light.
One small lesson that will profoundly change the way I approach my work.
One small lesson that will compound on every small lesson that has come before it and each new lesson to come.
Imagine had I decided to give into those voices telling me I was too good for anyone’s critical feedback and put up that wall of protection around my ego.
No thanks, not for me.
How’s your ego doing?