Leadership Development

To Learn, Realize Success Is a Moving Target

Embracing change is essential to learning, but actually changing is the hard part.

This article is the third in a series focused on the need for continuous learning. Read Part 1, originally published in the July/August 2018 issue of Chief Learning Officer. Read Part 2.

It’s easy for most people to understand the premise of a moving target. Our markets move. Our landscapes move. Our environments move. Everything around us is moving, and we must move as well. We must continually change to survive, but to be successful, we must continually learn.

The notion of movement and change as essential to learning is all fairly easy to understand and agree with. What’s much more difficult to understand and to do is to actually change — to change perspective, our approach, our mind or our behavior.

Those who learn the fastest can affect and adopt change the fastest and, in turn, create an advantage regardless of how competitive the industry or market. Think about the top two or three market-leading organizations in your industry. Those organizations are in those positions because of their ability to see, forecast and predict market needs; change current thinking and perspectives appropriately; and deliver quality and excellence in products and services. They’re unique. We all surely know and appreciate the importance learning plays in creating this uniqueness.

By the way, did you note your own organization as one of the two or three market leaders? If not, what aspects of learning are holding your company back? As noted in Part 1 of this article series, it could actually be past success. Or, as discussed in Part 2, maybe the leaders of the organization have forgotten to enter into all situations as learners.

During a conversation I had with author and executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, he explained the connection between learning and success. I asked, “What is a defining characteristic of a great leader?” Without hesitation, he said, “All of the great leaders I have coached have the following in common — they all have the ability to change because they’re all learners.” In anything they do every day, they want to learn about what’s going on around them and how effective they’re being through their leadership. Regardless of your situation, context, project or role, “go in as a learner,” he advised. That’s what the best leaders do. They focus on continuous learning because they know that’s a needed variable for continuous success.

Marshall’s point — to go in as a learner — is a good reminder for us, because sometimes we can forget about learning. We don’t forget about its importance, but we forget to make it happen. Why? Most, if not all, of us have had (at least some) success in life and career. That success can hold us back due to blind spots that manifest into a success delusion.

According to Marshall, this delusion can occur because successful people have four key beliefs: I have succeeded, I can succeed, I will succeed and I choose to succeed. These beliefs are all quite positive. They’re optimistic. Each belief can serve as a force multiplier to affect more success, growth and accomplishment. However, they can also turn negative and create misalignment between where we are today (current level of success) and were we aim to be in the future (desired level of success). They can create a success delusion, which is a phenomenon where you think you’re a higher performer than you really are.

Similar to Marshall’s success delusion, best-selling author Stephen Covey’s research in his book “The Speed of Trust” uncovered a self-perception delusion in terms of our integrity, intent, capability and results. Out of a possible score of 100, most people view their integrity at 93, but when others are asked to rate their perceived integrity of that person, the score is just 63. When it comes to intent, we self-score at 91, but others score us at 59. It’s no better when it comes to capability or results: Our self-scores are 88 and 82 compared with others scoring us at 44 and 45, respectively.

In short, our success delusion can blind us to the fact that we may not be nearly as good as we think we are, and thinking of ourselves more positively may unintentionally inhibit our motivation to learn, our desire to move, our ability to change and our capability to succeed. This, in turn, can cause serious liabilities to us personally and to the teams of people with whom we work and lead. For this reason, if you’re not learning, you’re in trouble. Success is a moving target — you can’t rely on your past success. Rely instead on your ability to learn.

Tim Rahschulte is former CLO of Evanta, current CEO at the Professional Development Academy and professor of business at George Fox University. His latest book is “My Best Advice: Proven Rules For Effective Leadership,” which he co-authored with Ryan Halley and Russ Martinelli. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.

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