What learning is most valuable for a career in learning and development? 10 experts share all

I asked 10 learning and development professionals with 100’s of years collective experience the same question about their career in learning and development.

What learning or development have you undertaken that has been most valuable for your career in learning and development?

We are often the ones planning the development for others, but what about our own personal development? What learning is most valuable for our careers?

This article will answer that very question, and the results may surprise you… What I love about this list is the real variation in experiences and perspectives.

Let’s dive straight in and see what we can learn from this experienced bunch.

Self-Awareness

For me the biggest learning for me is developing self-awareness. Particularly through Facet5 personality profiling and then seeking regular feedback from my peers about my own behaviour.

We, in L&D, try to support the organisational people development, often in soft skills. I believe we need to be on a journey of self-awareness about our own ability. To make decisions, listen, give and receive feedback and generally communicate well with our internal clients. For me this starts with understanding our own impact on others. Whilst trait-based personality profiling is better than type based, it’s not the end. It’s the beginning of developing self-awareness in a deeper way and understanding your impact.

Credit: Craig Hiskett

Coaching

The most valuable formal learning I’ve done, that’s had the biggest impact on my career in learning and development, is gaining formal coaching accreditation. Coaching taught me how to re-frame questions, think differently about situations and start asking more and telling less. It’s helped me to rethink how I deliver learning. And is probably the most powerful skill to learn for a career in L&D.

Credit: Sophia Grainger

Asking the right questions

If I had to pick one example. I’d say that there was a specific moment in my life that has informed my approach to L&D – and it occurred years before I even considered becoming a trainer.

I was providing floor-walking support to new colleagues in a call centre. When a new colleague was unsure of how to assist a customer, they’d put their hand up and ask for help. I found quickly that many would ask the same question repeatedly, because they couldn’t remember what I told them last time. So, I tried something different.

The next time they asked for help, instead of telling them the answer, I showed them where they could find the information themselves (the company had a pretty good intranet, with policies, processes and step-by-step guides easily available). From then on, whenever someone asked for help, I asked “Where do you think you can get that information?”

I realised in that moment that most people learn better when they can find a solution to a problem themselves. Rather than simply teaching them knowledge (which still has its time and place), we should apply greater focus to encouraging behaviours that enable them to thrive.

Credit: Gavin Heryng

Emotional Intelligence

The best investment for me was the training and research I did on emotional intelligence (EI) earlier in my career. I still refer to it when reflecting on the impact I have on others in work situations and personal life. It’s been a game changer in my consultancy and coaching work. Supporting leaders responsible for delivering changes in working practices, especially in technical or highly regulated environments. 

In my experience the mastery of EI enables leaders to be more collaborative in their approach, engage at a deeper level with their stakeholders, better manage personal stress and create the right set of conditions for talent to flourish within their teams.

Credit: Nicola Johnston

Facilitation skills

I found out about the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) a couple of years ago and saw that there was a local chapter in Singapore where I live. To find out more I went along to a workshop conducted by a Hong Kong based Facilitator called Lilian Wang. I can’t even remember what the title of the workshop was all I remember is the way I felt. Lilian had such a calming presence in the room – the energy was uplifting and positive.

We did a very simple constructive listening exercise which was so powerful. We sat in pairs facing the other person and described to our partner our challenge or dilemma. The person listening was instructed to just listen, not say a word for 3 minutes while the speaker shared their challenge. The listener was asked to have what Lilian called a “juicy” face while listening meaning an attentive listening face not a stern blank expression. At the end we had to thank each other. Very simple but so special to experience being listened to with undivided attention.

What particularly stood out for me about this session? I was inspired by how Lilian commanded and held the space for everyone. We were a room of strangers but by the end of the 2 hour session we felt closely connected. How you show up to the session and what energy you bring into the room really matters. As a facilitator you don’t need to say much. You just need to design well thought out activities, pose powerful questions with some structures in place and sit back and take your cue from the attendees. That session led me to become an IAF member and it’s been a great learning experience.

Credit: Lisa Partridge  

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Being a fitness teacher

When I became an L&D manager I didn’t actually have any L&D experience, so it was a bit daunting! I thought about what I knew that could help me and realised that my fitness teacher training and experience was very transferable:

  • How to create content and plan classes and progressive programmes that enabled people to achieve their goals.
  • I could stand in front of a group of people with different capabilities and adapt to their needs in the moment, giving feedback and coaching points without losing the ‘flow’ of the class.
  • How to project my voice (gotta be heard over that music) and deliver for an hour with no notes.
  • How to control my nerves when presenting as actually I’m really shy and hate to be the centre of attention!

I’ve learned a lot since then throughout my career in learning and development. But I can honestly say, that Exercise to Music instructor course was the most valuable of them all. Whenever I did get nervous about delivering workplace training, I just reminded myself that at least I didn’t have to do it in a leotard!

Credit: Karen Felton

Design Thinking

Years ago I stumbled upon the design thinking process, which someone explained as simple as “a way to solve problems”.

The process although complicated at first, equipped me as an L&D with a way to go from business support to business consultant. I went from receiving training requests to inquire more and understand the whole business context and the people I am working for. By undergoing a deeper discovery phase, I can come back and show more than a training solution. I can help managers and employees understand something else might be happening that is not related to skills or knowledge. And if it’s related to L&D, my solution is tailored to the specific context I have researched.

I recommend people to follow ideou. Or even better read the recently launched book Design Thinking for Training and Development.

Credit: Lavinia Mehedintu

Mentoring

My passion for learning and development started 20 years ago. When I first stood up, scared and nervous, in front of my first induction group. From that moment I knew I wanted to help to support people with their own development.

Over those years, I’ve learned so much on-the-job and through formal education. Yet the most valuable for my career has been mentoring.

I’m a huge believer in taking ownership for our own development. If we’re lucky, we may have people around us that we can lean on for support, though ultimately the responsibility lies with ourselves. Even during the points in my career where I didn’t have the money for formal qualifications. There was so much that I could do that only cost me my time and effort, and mentoring fits this bill.

I love the John C. Crosby quote: ‘Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.’

I’ve never been a part of a formal mentoring scheme. Those are great where they exist, as long as they don’t tie the process up in red tape. For each of the mentors I’ve had, I’ve approached them. Each time, without fail, they’ve jumped at the chance and felt honoured to be asked.

Each mentor has given me something different. Some have helped me to hone my communication style. Some helped me craft my leadership. Others have really strengthened my strategic thinking.

It always feels liberating for me to bare my deepest, darkest professional secrets. Then listen and learn from wise advice from someone who, in most cases, has been there and done that.

If you haven’t previously had a mentor, or feel like your learning and development could benefit from having one. Be brave and ask…chances are they’ll say yes!

Credit: Chris Mooney

Collaborating with others

One of the most valuable activities I participate in is to find opportunities to partner with other L&D professionals when creating new content or projects.

I find that most L&D professionals have their own rhythm and way of thinking. We don’t often stretch ourselves to work outside of these patterns usually. As they work fine and we’re too busy to think about shaking things up.

When doing things in partnership with others it exposes you to new ideas and their experiences about what works and what doesn’t. It drives you to be extra creative. The more different the other person the better! When ideas and approaches clash you really dig deep to grow in your ideas and understanding.

Credit: Lauren Scott

Shadowing experienced facilitators

When I started my career in L&D I worked for a Big 4 firm that used a co-facilitation strategy for all their courses. One experienced facilitator (usually external) paired with a facilitator from the client-facing business. In the beginning I was classed as a facilitator from the business. Even as I got more experienced and established I still got to share a classroom with them from time-to-time when someone from the client side of the business wasn’t available.

That start to my career was amazing because it meant I got to see amazing facilitator talent in action. A lot. I learned and borrowed from them all and they have, in different ways, really shaped and influenced who I am as a facilitator.

Throughout the pandemic this group who I respect and admire has been meeting weekly. Every time we meet, I walk away with something new in my toolkit.

Credit: Dana the trainer

Summary

What I love most about this list is the real variation in responses, from formal training to informal experiences. There are so many ways you can enhance your career in learning and development and continue to learn.

I encourage you to take one thing off this list where you want to develop further. Whether its ordering the Design Thinking book, reaching out to find your first mentor or learning more about emotional intelligence.

As you already know, there are so many ways to learn and develop. Take this article as inspiration to keep the learning alive for you in your career in learning and development.

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