Once you stop learning, you stop being high potential
Raechel Pefanis, BA, MDiv, MSW, RSW
IFC Certified Professional Coach (ACC)
Over the weekend I heard this quote come over my headphones as I was listening to a podcast and doing my yardwork. It made me stop and repeat it three times, as something about that sentence cracked the sky of my mind with a beam of articulation that I’d been trying to get to without success.
I am guilty of a recent bout with mental stagnation. An embarrassingly long season recently got a hold of me and caused me to stop any meaningful learning. Of course, during that time, I didn’t frame it as such. I called it “too busy” to read, and in the moment, would blame my being soooooo ”demanded upon” that I couldn’t possibly take time to lift my head and learn something. That would take too much time (this, of course, was me and my exaggerated sense of self-importance). And, at the time, I would have said that these frames were hand-to-the-heart honest explanations for why I hadn’t read a book in a while, or genuinely listened to any ideas outside of my own. But they weren’t honest. In fact they were very dishonest. I was bullshitting myself. I hadn’t stopped reading because of true demands that couldn’t be slowed down; I had stopped reading because I had told myself subtle stories about how while I didn’t “know it all,” I didn’t need to prioritize learning right now. Don’t be too hard on me; you have the advantage of hearing that articulated. I did not. We rarely know the mistakes we are making right in the moment, and this is particularly true for mistakes with our egos.
Clearly, we don’t do anybody any favours by neglecting our own learning, or by being superficial about our learning. Why is that? Because, when we learn, we certainly do add skills to our toolbelt, but more importantly, learning inspires us. When we are inspired, we become gifted innovators, strategic superstars and persuasive orators. Everyone wins when the leader gets smarter. An inspired professional unlocks directions, resources and love from others that are far greater than any of the same things that come from a professional low on inspiration, one who depends on power, routines and money to get the same things done. One of them is a high potential. The other is quite obviously not.
When we prioritize books, podcasts, listening to speakers, and engaging the world in a listening stance, rather than a “telling” one, we unlock a million little things that add value to our work performance. In doing these things, we position ourselves to ask questions instead of barrelling forward with misplaced self-assurance. We frame something like we did when we were rookies, rather than as exasperating experts. We hear a concept fresh again, rather than dismissing it as old news. Most importantly, when we are in a learning mindset, we give other people the floor, rather than taking up all the space. Then, when we do these things, other people begin to trust us, and want to spend more time with us. In short, they want to put us into the high potential pool around them, whether it is at work or anywhere else.
I’m reading a lot more these days, and it is serving me far better. But here’s the thing. I don’t think it’s really about the learning. Rather, the learning -the book, the podcast- is the outcome of a professional that is in the right headspace, whose brush with inspiration is about to unlock the “million little things” that make her smarter, stronger, more savvy (aka, the “high potential”). The book, the lecture, the podcast is simply a way for her inspired, brilliant mind to catch a wave and ride it.
So, mindful moment. “Decide” is the death of indecision, so decide right now to find a half an hour in your week to learn something. Go put it in your calendar, before you close this window. And if you need a suggestion, you can read more from Jay Conger, the podcast I referenced, in his 2018 book The High Potential’s Advantage: Get Noticed, Impress Your Bosses and Become a Top Leader.”