Students of Our Craft

by: Doug Michaelides

I was sitting in a lunch joint across the table from a friend.  He was waving his hands and talking excitedly about his recent experience with a leadership coach.

“I learned a bunch of frameworks that describe the best leadership styles for different situations”, he enthused.  “Now, as I work, I’m always looking for the patterns and I find it really helps me to be a better manager!”

Then he went on to tell me that he was looking for more formal leadership training through a big management-consulting firm.

“You’ve become quite the student of leadership”, I observed.

He nodded emphatically.  “I felt like I had plateaued as a manager.  Now I have new tools and new energy.  I’m really having fun!”

I recalled fondly my days at engineering school and my MBA.  Sure it was a ton of work but it was fun to be learning.  Then I realized that the most enjoyable work I do today is when I’m learning – whether it’s learning about a new business sector, learning how to work with a new management team or learning a new technology and it’s value proposition.  That’s one of the reasons I love what I do as a consultant.

So if learning is something that excites us and gives us energy, why not be more intentional about it?  Think of every day as a learning opportunity.  Become students of our business, our work and our craft.

To be a student, it seems to me that we need to do the following:

  1. Be curious
  2. Be aware
  3. Recognize patterns
  4. Develop frameworks

By being curious, we start paying attention to what we do. After years of getting good at our job we often just work by reflex.  To become a student again, we’ll need to step back and observe while we’re in the thick of things.  At a minimum, we must take a moment afterwards to reflect on our interactions, our decisions and the circumstances that surround us.  We’re looking for patterns; for cause and effect; for understanding.  With these we can anticipate the future and be intentional in implementing more effective practices.

Being aware, recognizing patterns and developing frameworks also enable us to become scientists.  We can run experiments to test different techniques and see how they change outcomes.  This applies to the interactions we have with our colleagues (whether our staff, our peers or our bosses), how we serve our clients, how we address the marketplace and how we respond to competition.  It’s through experimentation that we get better.

The other value of the frameworks we develop as students of our craft is as wisdom that can be shared.  As students of our craft, we can become teachers, passing on our observations and best practices to others.  Those who can, do.  Those who understand, teach.  And that’s a whole other area of joy to be discovered.

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