Learning to learn

This month Tony offered me the perfect gift! An incredible new book by Gloria Flores – Learning to Learn and the Navigation of Moods: The Meta-Skill for the Acquisition of Skills. If I could re-language the gift of this book in common speak – discover and overcome the habits that undermine you as a leader and learner. Or even a live-er (someone living life) This is a must-read. Two words – download now!

In Gloria’s opening Chapters she takes the reader on a journey through some of the assessments (judgements, stories and conclusions) we hold about ourselves and others in relation to the world that can only be described as profound and confronting.  I experienced these at two levels – in relation to the leaders we work with and better still in relation to myself. In relation to the leaders we work with, I have often said that the higher we go in organisations, the more challenging it is to work with the most senior leaders.  These leaders are typically highly ‘successful’ in organisational terms, but for many, the mindset and behaviours that brought them this level of success are the very things that are eroding outcomes in more modern times.  That’s why we’re brought in.  I have explored this for some time.

For C-level clients we have far more influence in the transformational role of coach and mentor where we can embark on the kind of journey and dialogues required to cultivate new habits and behaviours.  And it’s often a private gig – rather than one revealed in the public view.  I have wondered why and why this format is preferred. I have had CEO’s say no to group dialogues or request a pre-session ahead of group work so they know what’s coming. I have had them decline group training for fear of losing face.  I’ve had them opt in to a public course rather than participate with peers.  I have had them sit with folded arms, playing on i-pads.  I have had them identify that they’ve ‘read the book’ they ‘get it’ and the practical application of it is not really required – when what we work with, is all in the doing! Gloria has shed some light on these observations… She answered this question in a way that confirmed what I have noticed for almost two decades in practice and this quote by Chris Argyris backs it up. ‘In “Teaching Smart People How to Learn,” Chris Argyris writes that smart people are often the worst learners. Perhaps, he speculates, “… because many professionals are almost always successful at what they do, they rarely experience failure. And because they have rarely failed, they have never learned how to learn from failure” (Harvard Business Review May-June 1991). Consequently, when they are criticized or don’t do well in something, they get embarrassed and defensive, and tend to blame others and shut down. They are not open to learning. (p.6)’ And behind being ‘not such a great learner’ we have seen the things Gloria describes – moods that close others down, and assessments that limit the leader’s capacity to lead.

Gloria then poses a series of assessments that seem like common truths in a corporate existence, but whose very adoption generates unhelpful moods and behaviours – ones that diminish possibilities for leaders and the people they lead. Here’s a taste:

It is important to be competent

  • It is important to know the right answer.
  • Making mistakes is bad. People will judge you negatively if you make mistakes.

It is important to be efficient

  • We must “get” things right away.
  • Results have to happen quickly.

It is important to be independent and self-reliant

  • Don’t be a burden. Don’t ask for help.

It is important to be useful

  • If we don’t contribute, we are not useful. We will not be accepted.
  • If we don’t know how to do something, we can’t contribute. If we can’t contribute, then we are of no value to our team.

It is important to be prepared at all times

  • We must minimize or eliminate uncertainty.
  • You must be in control of the situation. The more knowledge you have, the more in control you will be.

I see the moods of anxiety, and resignation creeping around these assessments and the behaviours of moving to advocacy or silence sliding above them. I see the world we have learnt in – the decades of the 1990’s and 2000’s fostering these unhelpful lenses, and see the lead up to the 2020’s as a time of unravelling and collapsing as we necessarily peel back our self-generated assessments, take responsibility for our moods and learn to navigate change and disruption. When we learn more about our provocations and habits and empower ourselves to explore and modify our response, over time we will  be better learners and leaders. So, for a few weeks now, I have been unravelling my own assessments.   To be honest, this book landed at a perfect time for me.  I was beginning to doubt my courage and capacity to create our new business model.  My perfectionistic standards have long been known to me, but in recent times, their influence has been evident as we take on staff and I translate my ‘expectations’ to requests and workflows.  Hello assessments!  I see you!  Thank you for coming to visit me as though you were truth.  I see you limit what’s possible and now that I know you, I’m declaring you a frenemy! Because you’re old and familiar, you feel comfortable and safe.  But now I see you’re like an addiction and I’m taking my steps – mindful steps to intervene in my old habitual pathways. My moods tell me you’re lurking.  It is my key moment of influence.  From now on I seize these as opportunities – to move towards discomfort and re-create new and helpful assessments that serve my direction and focus.  In this I am Liberated.

Thank you Gloria

Should you wish to purchase a copy of Gloria’s book, here are the details: Flores, Gloria. Learning to Learn and the Navigation of Moods: The Meta-Skill for the Acquisition of Skills . Pluralistic Networks Publishing. Did you enjoy this article?

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