Many talented and successful people feel that they no longer have anything new to learn in their chosen professions. Instead, they believe that the abilities and knowledge brought them as far as they have come will be enough to carry them to continued success.
In contrast, there are also talented and successful people who are determined and who work hard often, and who spend a lot of time and effort to learn new skills and maintain their existing ones. They display the most current knowledge of new technology and ideas. Having employees who will improve themselves beyond the standards of the company-sponsored training is critical to an organization that aims to be innovative and constantly improving.
For example: Eleven years ago, Ben got a summer job working in the mail room of a local business, before starting college. The company had been in existence for over 60 years and at that time was led by Jack, a long-time employee and something of a “company legend,” in part because he had started his career in the mailroom there. Three weeks into the job, as Ben made his way from the basement to the top floor, the elevator stopped and into it stepped Jack. He smiled at Ben, introduced himself, and mentioned that he started out in the mail room. Ben was a little star-struck, but as they both exited the elevator Ben asked if Jack had any advice for him.
“Never stop educating yourself,” Jack told him. “In fact, come into my office and let me elaborate. I have 15 minutes before my next meeting.” Following here are the five pillars of continuing education that Jack detailed to Ben:
1. You are responsible for your education. You alone are responsible for your education. Whether or not it makes sense to invest in a formal education, there are free and for-fee learning opportunities available to everyone. The public library and the Internet are two obvious examples.
The people you meet are more invaluable sources of education. Spend time with people who can do things that you cannot do. It may mean volunteering to stay late to observe someone, going to lunch with more experienced associates, or finding a mentor.
Also, you can learn much by taking on challenging assignments that are above your skill level. Discuss the help you will need to be successful and your company’s leaders may reward your initiative by providing an experienced staff member to oversee your on-the-job training.
Anything can be learned, provided you have the imagination to identify how to learn it and the will to work hard to see your plan through to completion.
2. No entitlements. Time in service should be no guarantee of advancement in a successful business. Rather, that time investment is rewarded by the value of what one learns with his or her experience. In other words, if you put in your time, you are guaranteed nothing. So, use your time wisely.
As your time with the company continues, seek lateral transfers or increased responsibility that does not necessarily provide a corresponding increase in title or income. Realize you are making yourself more valuable to your employer and view the stretch assignments as an investment in yourself.
Although we seem to be living in an age when entitlement is asserted and expected, each of us must take care of ourselves by earning the success we desire, rather than counting on others to confer it upon us.
Keep Going. You're Not Finished
3. You cannot rest on your laurels. Many talented people feel that their best accomplishments are sufficient to secure their current positions, that they have nothing new to learn in their line of work, or that they cannot improve upon their past accomplishments. In short, they have become complacent. They decide they don’t need to put in more effort and so, consciously or not, they stop striving for success.
When you reach a goal, celebrate your success but identify your next goal and begin to take action toward it. When you stop moving forward and rest on your laurels, you are actually falling behind all the others who continue to move forward.
4. Stay current. In addition, you need to stay current with industry trends: read the technical, commercial, financial and professional literature devoted to your industry, in print and online. And learn more, too. If you aim to move into a management role, read books, columns, and blogs about leadership. New trends enter the workplace frequently, and unexpectedly. Understand what others are writing and speaking about so you can stay current with the trend.
Joining industry and trade associations is another way to educate yourself on current trends. Socialize with the people who share your interest, your profession, and your goals.
You have the choice to be aware of and to lead the change your hope to accomplish, but the opposite of that choice is to try to catch up (or even worse) to resist the changes as they present themselves.
5. New and old generation. An important organizational issue in many industries is the challenge of getting several generations of workers and professionals to work well together. Each generation has different learning experiences, knowledge bases, and working styles. This is a reality you may not change, but you have several options for handling. The first is to do nothing, because it is your fellow employees’ responsibility to get with the program. Or, second, you can leave the problem to your company’s leaders to implement a program they hope will fix the problem. The third, higher percentage choice is to educate yourself on the differences between generations, the issues these differences bring to the workplace, and some things other organizations are doing to address similar problems.
You can use this information to change how you interact and to the extent you can, help your company improve their processes.
Ben took Jack’s advice to heart. After graduating from college, he got a job with another company in another field. His education did not stop when he left school. He subscribes to industry and management publications, newsletters, blogs, etc., has joined a professional association, and seeks out challenging assignments and develops relationships with other successful employees at his company. He has been identified by the managers of his organization as a “high-potential employee” and is one of the youngest employees at his level. Ben’s future is bright. He has a chance to be a “legend,” too, one who started his career in the mailroom.
Walt Grassl is a speaker, author, and performer. He hosts the “Stand Up and Speak Up” on the RockStar Worldwide network. Visit www.WaltGrassl.com.