(This column was published on FloridaToday.com 10/21/17)
By Beth Gitlin
“If you aren’t actively trying to learn, no one can help you. If you make it central to your professional life, no one can stop you.” – Ann Dwane, Co-founder and Partner, Village Global.
When I was a global sourcing director at Wal-Mart 20 years ago, I was THAT associate who was always asking questions. My favorite one was and still is, “Why?” I had a natural curiosity and high level of inquisitiveness always wanting to learn new ideas, concepts and ways of doing things, share what I had learned with others and collaborate on projects that were difficult to tackle alone.
One day, I was conversing with my boss and he looked at me in a slightly irritated fashion and said, “You have the most exasperating tenacity of anyone I’ve ever met.” WELL…I had never heard those two words used in the same sentence previously. And, the way he spoke to me indicated that he was highly irritated. I couldn’t understand what I had done wrong or why his words sounded so derogatory…. Flash forward 20 years later, and I now get it. Not everybody is a constant learner, BUT I AM, and I am so delighted to have been awarded the label of having “exasperating tenacity” that I’ve even used it in my LinkedIn profile.
Exasperating tenacity (ET) and a willingness to do extra research helped me to navigate the unbelievably challenging obstacle course of demanding the best treatment I could find when diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago. ET, along with a constant desire to improve and learn, has enabled me to endure six long years of studying while working full time to achieve a lifelong goal of earning a Ph.D. It may be seven years before I’ve completed, but I’m in the home stretch as we speak. ET, with a lot of hard work and commitment, enabled me to earn an ROTC scholarship to attend and graduate college debt free (I made $2,000 extra my senior year with other scholarships) while serving four years in the Army as a Signal Officer with other electrical engineers, even though I had just completed a BA in Japanese Studies. ET, and the ability to adapt and reinvent, encouraged me to start an international trade consulting business eleven years ago and then morph that experience to assist other women entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses.
A constant learning mindset and exasperating tenacity provide a foundation for developing 21st Century leadership.
A 2015 Harvard Business Review article suggests, “The best leaders are the best learners… Reinvention and relevance in the 21st Century instead draw on our ability to adjust our way of thinking, learning, doing and being. Leaders must get comfortable with living in a state of continually becoming, a perpetual beta mode. Leaders that stay on top of society’s changes do so by being receptive and able to learn. In a time where the half-life of any skill is about five years, leaders bear a responsibility to renew their perspective in order to secure the relevance of their organizations.”
How does one begin to foster constant learning within the organization? Here are some key takeaways:
- Value asking questions and people who ask questions
- Create empty space in your day for learning and developing your creative process. It may be an hour of yoga, reading, bicycling or just walking in the woods.
- Foster growth and growth mindsets in others – don’t judge.
People with growth mindsets delight in seeking new challenges because mistakes and failures aren’t reflections on themselves. We have morphed from a knowing economy to a learning economy. I used to say I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, but that no longer holds true. I really have an insatiable quest to learn – a trait no longer unique for self-motivated leaders. It truly has become a requirement of 21st Century leaders as the acceleration of globalization and technology continue to converge.
Finally, you’ll also see me steering and coaching a Dragonboat full of breast cancer thrivers and supporters paddling on the Banana River three times a week. These women and men are my heroes in “constant learning”. They are cancer warriors and athletes who many have never participated in a team sport, let alone dragon boat paddling, and in three short years have earned a bid to Szeged, Hungary for the World Club Crew Championships in 2018, with a few of them representing TEAM USA at the World IDBF Championships in Kunming, China this month. They represent the ultimate in ET and constant learning!
If you want to foster a growth mindset in yourself and others, replace the word “fail” with “learn”, value the process over the end result, place effort over talent, read books, watch TEDtalks on video, listen to podcasts while driving, try something new (e.g. dragonboating) or attend leadership development programs like the Athena Nextgen Leadership Development Series, an eight-month program presented by weVENTURE and Lead Brevard. For more information about the Athena Nextgen Leadership Development program and how to apply, please contact Erica Lemp, Executive Director, weVENTURE at [email protected]it.edu.
Beth Gitlin is principal and founder of BJG Global Consulting and a Ph.D. Candidate at Florida Institute of Technology. She is also founder of Heart and Soul Dragonboat Team, a community-based non-profit athletic organization that promotes health and wellness for breast cancer survivors and supporters while paddling on the Banana River. www.heartandsouldragonboating.org.
Columnist series are sponsored by weVENTURE at the Florida Institute of Technology College of Business. weVENTURE has locations in Melbourne and Rockledge. The Center is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. For more information, visit weventure.org or call 321-674-7007.