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  • Writer's pictureIan Gibbs

A Surprisingly Difficult Question

Updated: May 14, 2023

What would be the best investment of your time to get better at what you do?

What would give your performance the best ROI? The biggest bang for your bucks?

I ask this not out of hypothetical interest, but because it’s one of the first key questions I ask of people when they’re developing a personal learning strategy.

And most people find it a surprisingly challenging question to answer.

It’s challenging because people who’ve been through the current educational treadmill have been taught that learning is synonymous with being told what to do rather than deciding for themselves.

Think about it.

You sign up for a course and they tell you what to do.

You attend a training day and they tell you what to do.

You join an evening class and… you guessed it, they tell you what to do.

What’s more, they tell you what to do without any idea of your current capabilities - without any idea of your previous experience. Training days are usually a one-size-fits-all deal. All attendees get the same treatment whether they need it or not.

So we attend trainings or seminars or workshops, hoping it will be useful, interesting and worthwhile and reserve the right to disengage if it isn’t.

But the idea of considering for ourselves what we need to become more effective (professionally or personally) isn’t something we’re used to, let alone comfortable with.

It’s perfectly realistic for someone to be the last person aware of their own incompetences. They remain happy to deny, quick to blame or simply satisfied to live in blissful ignorance.

This is clearly not a good strategy for any successful personal development.

So, if you were interested in answering the question (what would be the best investment of your time and effort for personal development), where would you begin?

If nothing immediately comes to mind, you could start by getting feedback from…

  • coworkers

  • superiors

  • subordinates

  • mentors

  • friends and family

  • career counsellors

  • professional assessors

But if, like most people, you’re uncomfortable about talking to others about your own weaknesses, try this…

Consider your daily stressors. What causes you unrest during your normal routine? In fact, why not get a sheet of paper and make a list of them right now?

Write them all down.

It’s likely that each of these stressors involve a third party. It’s caused by a customer. Or your boss. Or the local council. Or your supplier. Or your neighbour. Or your mother-in-law, etc. You get the idea.

But stop and think for a moment - how much control do you have in each of these situations? What choices are you making in each one?

Now even though we hardly know each other, I’d bet that you could, if you chose, positively influence each situation on your list in some way for the better.

Potentially, you have the power to reduce your stressors.

So go down your list and ask yourself the question ‘Is there any way I could change my behaviour to improve the situation?’

For example could strengthening any of the following skills reduce your stress and produce a better outcome?

Assertiveness: The ability to express one's own thoughts, feelings, and needs in a confident and direct manner, without upsetting anyone else.

Clear communication: The ability to express your ideas in a way that is easy to understand and tailored to the listener.

Coaching/Mentoring: The ability to guide, teach, and develop team members to help them reach their full potential.

Conflict Resolution: The ability to identify and address conflicts within the team or organisation and facilitate solutions that are fair for all parties involved.

Decision-making: The ability to make informed decisions based on data, intuition, and analysis.

Delegation: The ability to skillfully delegate tasks and responsibilities to others, while still maintaining accountability and oversight.

Emotional Intelligence: The ability to recognise and manage one's own emotions, as well as the emotions of others, in order to build strong relationships and make effective decisions.

Innovation: The ability to generate new ideas and approaches, and to encourage and support innovation within the team or organisation.

Listening: The ability to actively and attentively listen to others, understand their message, and respond appropriately.

Negotiation: The ability to reach a mutually beneficial agreement through discussion and compromise.

Problem solving: The ability to identify, analyse, and solve problems professionally and efficiently.

Public speaking: The ability to deliver a message to a group of people, using appropriate tone, language, and body language.

Strategic planning: The ability to develop long-term goals and objectives, identify resources and constraints, and develop plans to achieve desired outcomes.

Time Management: The ability to prioritise tasks and manage one's own time efficiently.

…to name but a few.

The ones you pick are potential areas for real personal development where strengthening your skill would make a genuine improvement.

If you want to move onwards and upwards, you need to grow and develop professionally. As they say, doing what you’ve always done will only get you to where you currently are.

And to do this, to get moving onwards and upwards, you can either wait (patiently) for the ideal learning opportunity to come knocking at your door, or you can take the bovine by the extremities and proactively start putting together your own personal learning program.

It’s not as difficult as you might think.

Or, of course, there’s always the option of living in denial.

So what’s it going to be?

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