I’ll be the first one to admit that I get a bit over-zealous about the virtues of ‘Ike loa (the Hawaiian value of learning), believing that learning is all peaches and cream. This isn’t the first time I’ve been wrong, and it won’t be the last.
Our conversation started with wanting Focus
A manager said to me in his coaching call (shared with his gracious permission):
“It’s so hard for me to focus on learning the right things about my job. I know my boss wants me to learn more about this financial stuff, but I keep getting distracted by wanting to teach it, and not by wanting to learn more of it.”
Me: “I’m not sure I got that. Can you say it again?”
Manager: “My boss and I agree on the value of learning. I don’t think we agree on what I should be learning right now, or if I should be learning more about this at all. Our priorities are different. She wants me to learn more about our financial picture than I know now, but I’m still working on what I already know, and I want to teach it to the rest of my staff before I jump into new learning.”
Me: “Have you explained that to your boss yet?”
Manager: “Yeah. Um, well, I think so. Maybe not exactly in that way. I don’t think she’ll want to hear it.”
Me: “We can’t know that. We might need to give her the benefit of the doubt on what she wants, or doesn’t want to hear. We’ll get back to that” Tell me more about what you want to teach your staff first.”
It was an interesting conversation. We continued to talk a bit about needing to bring his boss back into the conversation to better understand this subject of learning relevance, and to be sure they each understood each other clearly. We also started to talk about how learning and teaching differ, and how learning can be pretty stressful for him. When you learn more, that comfortable place where “ignorance is still bliss” slips away. Suddenly, you have to handle what you have newly learned about!
However here is the tough thing about saying “No, not now” to new learning: You don’t know what you don’t know yet. It didn’t dawn on him that his boss may want him to learn more to help him and not overwhelm him. There was the very real possibility that he was refusing to learn something which would lessen his stress and not add to it.
That said, it became increasingly clear to me, that he may really need to say, “No, not now” and have his boss be okay with that. Turns out he was “getting distracted” by one of his strengths!
Are we talking about the same thing?
It got a little more complicated” and interesting! This might turn out to be more than one conversation he will have with his boss, and should.
For this manager, learning more than he was ready to deal with wasn’t just overwhelming him, he thought it was pure mission creep, and not at all conducive to him helping his team better their performance. Before we spoke, he had decided he needed to talk to his boss about that instead: That mission creep was the real issue he grappled with in his day-to-day juggling act, and that “more learning on mission creep” wasn’t going to help anyone. Not her, not him, not his team.
I agreed that he needed to speak with her again for true clarity, and to unload some of his stress about it, for he feared (but he wasn’t quite sure) that she would still expect him to handle his existing learning and new learning simultaneously, and sort them out afterwards.
My response was, “Well, if she does feel that way, you’ll discover that you don’t agree on what mission creep is.”
We had to separate the two issues, and not call overwhelming learning ‘mission creep’ or “different priorities” when it was simply learning that he couldn’t handle yet. However for him, fessing up to not being able to handle it was a little risky: His boss preached about the merit of continual learning all the time. (Sound familiar?) As he blurted out in his coaching call,
“Aw come on Rosa, who in their right mind is gonna tell their boss they just can’t handle learning?”
There are times we ALL can’t handle learning
To be okay with that, you need to define when you love it (or when it helps you feel strong) and when you hate it. Put a name and a description on your distaste for learning when it begins to happen, so you can correctly identify your resistance.
Then once you define it, sharing that knowledge of self-awareness with your own boss is a really great idea! For that’s what it actually is: Resistance you can identify and work with as your own self-awareness of when work (or learning) is working for you, and when it’s not. It’s not a refusal (a won’t disguised as a can’t —and yeah, bosses hate those. Don’t we all?)
‘Learning’ is as cool and sexy a buzz word as ‘leadership’ is, yet similar to leadership, learning fits in a very BIG bucket: A lot of different learning efforts can be in that bucket, coming in a multitude of colors and stripes —some of it highly relevant and mission-critical, some of it distracting, and possibly mission-creep.
In this particular case, I think there is a fascinating, and mutually beneficial conversation which needs to happen between my manager client and his boss, where he explains to her how teaching his staff
- helps him lighten his work load in a good way, as he practices his innate talent as a teacher. He is truly the Alaka‘i Manager who wants to work with his people, and not with the systems and processes he can coach them into learning better.
- helps him feel fantastic about sharing his knowledge with others, simultaneously adding to their skill sets in a very exponential way.
- lowers both his stress level and his resistance to new learning for himself, so he too can achieve stress-free high-performance.
We named his resistance this way: For him, learning is an input which simply needs teaching someone else as his learning output, and when you’re a manager, that is actually a great thing. Not all managers love to teach, and not as much as he does! I bet his boss would love to know more about his love of teaching if she isn’t fully aware of it, especially given the way his teaching aligns with workplace need: It is highly relevant.
He happens to be a teacher who needs a workplace to receive his teaching, not a classroom.
Let’s talk story
Interesting discussion, don’t you think?
When else can learning be overwhelming?
Can you separate whatever is within your learning bucket, so it is more manageable for you?
How would you name your own learning resistance when it appears?