Figuring it out myself in my head in a dark room alone.

When I was in grad school (nearly 10 years ago now), one of my courses was called “Learning to Lead.”  It was a practical course on leadership and management that spanned throughout the entire 18-month program alongside more traditional courses on product development, finance, and engineering methodologies.

In Learning to Lead I and II, students learn the basic concepts about leadership, management and teamwork. The uniqueness of this course is within the teaching methodology, which has been developed to accelerate the advancement of self-awareness and interpersonal competencies. Specific topics covered in Learning to Lead 1 include: personality types (Myers-Briggs type indicator assessment), best practices in forming and maintaining team performance, giving and receiving feedback, individual and team creativity, communicating to inspire and influencing without authority. Topics in Learning to Lead II include systems thinking, team decision making, communication across cultures, shared visions and organizational change.

We often took assessments to determine our styles and preferences, because that self-awareness is central to leading well.  One of the assessments we took was about learning styles, through the Center for Creative Leadership.  This assessment evaluated what tactics I used when I was learning something new.

  • Accessing other people
  • Taking Action
  • Thinking
Center for Creative Leadership model of Learning Tactics.  Taken from Amazon book preview.

Center for Creative Leadership model of Learning Tactics. Taken from Amazon book preview.

I thought of these as: Asking for help, Figuring it out hands-on, Figuring it out myself in my head in a dark room alone.

And as it turned out, I never, ever, asked for help.  I occasionally tried to figure it out out hands-on, and I nearly always tried to figure it out myself in my head in a dark room alone.  In retrospect, it wasn’t super-surprising: being trained as a mathematician, it’s often about just sitting in a room and figuring it out.

But when I learned this, the moment I had was “OMG, everyone else is working together and asking each other for help, and here I am trying to whack through everything alone.  I’m missing out!”  In fact, I remember thinking that everyone else had this advantage toward their succeeding that I was ignoring: relying on each other.  Mathematician or not, how did I miss this in school?

And thus began a change in how I tried to approach problems and learning.  I started asking people at work for help, for their opinion, to explain things to me.  And it was great!  My colleagues didn’t even seem to notice that I was any different, and I was getting more help.  But it was always deliberate.  I had to think hard about reaching out to collaborate with people.

Fast forward to my start at Infinio.  New environment, new tasks, lots to learn.  In some areas, it’s felt very natural to ask for help.  In other areas, specifically content creation, it’s been harder to access others.  There’ve been a few projects where I’ve shown Alan some of my work, and just 20 minutes with him has made it twice as good as when I started. I don’t know why that’s so hard to do every time.

It’s not that I don’t want the feedback.  Part of it may be that I have the idea that having the level of experience I have means that my work should be pretty complete when I do it on my own.  Which of course is ridiculous – even the greatest authors have great editors.

I think it boils down to the fact that I’m neither inclined nor trained to access others and I will always need to work to ensure that I’m doing it.

One thought on “Figuring it out myself in my head in a dark room alone.

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