As I started Financial Management several weeks ago, I admittedly felt a level of pressure to do well in this class like I hadn’t experienced in any other course before. My anxiety mounted as classmates commented on how this class should be easy for me. Fear that if I didn’t perform well, especially in a subject that I’ve had a successful career in for 17 years, would somehow damage my credibility amongst my peers, Roberts faculty, and my coworkers got in my head. Now that I’m out and on the other side of that course, I’m relieved to report that I ended up doing exceptionally well but it wasn’t because it was easy. It was, in fact, one of the most challenging classes I've experienced but the challenge it provided, coupled with the amount of knowledge I walked away with, made receiving my final grade that much more rewarding.
Now, why am I flaunting my success and sharing this experience with you? Well, it's not at all to be boastful or arrogant. It's actually because I’ve come away with a significant reminder. As a leader, I need to be actively learning at all times because I don’t know it all and I never will. It doesn't end at degree completion or successful test scores; it's never-ending. I believe as leaders, we all need those moments of discomfort; a challenge, to make us grow and become better.
Before I go any further, I have three questions I want you to ponder.
- Think about the last time you were challenged or had to work extremely hard towards something you achieved.
- How fulfilling was that achievement?
- Do you truly believe you know everything within your field?
If not, are you doing anything about it?
If so, are you being honest with yourself?
As leaders, we must never grow too comfortable and begin to think we know it all, as this is complacency at its core. In my experience, this is the start of a downward spiral in individuals and organizations as others quickly speed by learning the new and exciting things the ever-changing world has to offer. I'm sure you've heard of Kodak's story, and it didn’t end well, did it? Just like that, their success was gone. John Maxwell (2018), one of my favorite authors and business leaders, states: “They (leaders) never feel they know it all. They are not afraid of having to unlearn some things and relearn others” (p. 223). We have to remain sharp in our field and even consider exploring and learning more in fields outside of our area of expertise. We need to expand our horizons, something I often challenge my husband, kids, and friends to do when I sense they’re getting stuck in a rut. When we do this, we not only have more to offer to those around us, but we also gain a sense of renewed energy and our accomplishments become even more rewarding in the end.
Tips for a lifelong learner
So, back to my Finance Management experience. The level of learning, knowledge building and challenge I felt in those seven weeks was invigorating and made me realize that there are layers within finance that I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of. It created an excitement around the field that I haven’t felt in a very long time, and honestly, it was the kick that I needed. Although I'm not currently interested in the business side of finance (i.e., balance sheets, P&L statements, cash flow statements, etc.), some of you may recall that I recently changed career paths to become a Financial Advisor. I passed my Series 65 licensing exam earlier in the Spring, and I continue to learn from other seasoned advisors. My years of experience in the field have given me quite a head start in my new role, but there’s much more for me to learn as it relates to advising clients. Due to constantly changing regulations and the needs of different generations, learning needs to be built into the day-to-day responsibilities of the position. However, I need to pursue it with my own motivation, not because anyone is forcing it on me. I, like you, don't have extra hours to commit to this learning, but what I've found is that if I'm intentional about it, treat it as a priority, and create a habit, the time magically appears. So, I want to give you some tips based on my experience so you can embrace learning without it tapping into too much of your time or your wallet.
Spend Time Reading
First of all, I believe reading is one of the most valuable ways to expand and enrich your knowledge base. There is no shortage of topics available, and it not only further educates you in the subject or field but also boosts your communication and writing skills. Be a bit cautious though, and make sure you’re reading from credible sources. Do some research on the author(s) beforehand and be aware that everyone has a bias. Also, with things ever-changing, make sure the subject matter isn’t outdated and is still relevant. Lastly, before you go out and purchase a book, look at what you have sitting in your current home library. Some of the advice in these books you already possess is timeless and will make better sense now as you've matured in your career. It might be worth rereading or relearning.
Utilize Other Informational Sources (podcasts, audiobooks, webinars)
Now, I acknowledge the fact that reading isn’t for anyone; I used to fall into that camp myself. However, plenty of options are available, particularly in electronic format. Audible, an online audiobook provider is one of my favorites, and I often rely on it to get me sanely through my hour and a half daily commute time. There are podcasts that you can listen to as well. I'm amazed by the available subject matter, and it seems like the “who's who” in the industry are all jumping on board to put out content regularly. Webinars are also an excellent source of knowledge, and the visual element adds a bit of flavor to the content. I’ve found several that require signing up for a specific time, however, they will often send out a recording to anyone who signed up after the live version. This flexibility is nice for the busy leader. People/organizations put out webinars on their websites, but plenty have been recorded to YouTube and are available for anyone. It just takes a bit of research to find the content, but it’s out there.
Now, I hate to break it to you, but there are many people out there that know more than you do, so networking is also a perfect opportunity to expand upon your level of knowledge and share your knowledge by learning from one another. Networking inside your field has its benefits, but I’d also challenge you to network outside of your area as well. I've found that my clients don't always want to talk about finance, and there are times that my knowledge of wines, the Finger Lakes region, boating, and even hunting and fishing have struck up a great conversation that solidified our professional relationship. Again, expand your horizons! Plus, what better way to find your next challenge than to talk to people and get their ideas?
Further Your Education
My last suggestion is a little more timely and costly, but it's worth mentioning because it's what ultimately brought me here to Roberts Wesleyan in the first place. Consider investing in furthering your education. I can’t even begin to express how much the MSL (Master’s in Strategic Leadership) program has changed my life. It’s grown me as a wife, a mom, an employee, a leader, a volunteer, a friend, and a neighbor. I realize it’s a time commitment, and it comes with a cost, but it’s worth considering. Talk to your employer, as they may even be open to assisting with the cost and time as well. It doesn’t have to be a Master’s Degree either. There are other programs available, such as certification and professional designation programs within your industry.
So, that brings me to my last point. To stay cutting-edge in knowledge and make sure challenges are in place, leaders need to set new goals all of the time. Just because one goal is completed doesn’t mean the job is done. Leadership is a never-ending journey, and if others aren't setting the challenges for you, it’s your job to make sure they exist, and they must be measurable (i.e., I want to get my Master’s degree before I turn 40). So, in my case, it appears I will fulfill my current goal this November. Although at this point, I’d love nothing more than to erase the weekend 5:30 A.M. alarm from my iphone permanently and binge-watch all the Netflix and Hulu seasons I’ve missed over the last 14 months, I know that I won’t be content without a new challenge. That said, I’m already setting the stage for my next set of goals, and if it all plays out, more time, reading, learning, and tests will ensue over the next two-year period of my life. Although it's a bit frightening, I can honestly say I’m as excited as I was when I decided to pursue my Master's degree. So, challenge accepted!
Now, think back to those questions I posed in the beginning. Do you think you are doing everything you can to be challenged and build your knowledge? My guess is no, so hopefully, I’ve given plenty of examples to show that it’s not hard to continue learning and hopefully have convinced you to challenge yourself from time to time. So, get out there and start digging around; you'll be shocked at what you find. Furthermore, you'll be shocked by the amount that you thought you knew but you actually didn't. Like finance, for me, whatever career you are in or want to begin to explore, the amount to learn is never-ending. Find that hunger from within to get out and learn. Develop a habit to learn. Your hard work will lead others to look up to you for the credibility you will build over time, which in my mind will be a very rewarding thing.
Maxwell, J. C. (2018). Developing the Leader Within You 2.0. Nashville: HarperCollins Leadership.