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How Managers Can Support More Effective Learning

This article was based on episode 181 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get the guest bonus when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join.

How we learn has deep implications for how we show up at work. For many of us and our team members, much of our youth was spent learning from books and lectures, with clear instructions on what to do and how to do it. Yet as adults in the workplace, we need a different set of skills in order to learn how to interact with colleagues and direct our efforts independently.

Tom Tohnkin is an award-winning researcher, author, and CEO and Founder of The Conservatory Group with 25 years of experience in Corporate America under his belt. He joins me to discuss different ways of processing information in the workplace.

LEARNING HOW TO LEARN SOFT SKILLS

We all need to develop both “hard skills” (things we do with things) and “soft skills” (things we do with people). The biggest mistake Tom sees managers making is to try to teach the soft skills using hard skills methods. For hard skills, it’s easy to read a book, take an online course, or do a Zoom training to gain specific skills. Unfortunately, those methods don’t work so well for soft skills.

To learn soft skills, we need 2 things: (1) a lack of psychological safety, and (2) the ability to change the context or catch our brain off-guard. Put simply, we need to be able to learn in real time and to get honest feedback from our peers.

In order to do this, roleplaying scenarios works the best. Say, for example, you want to teach your teammates how to keep a meeting conversation on track. You need to have them roleplay running a meeting. But here’s the catch: it needs to be in front of others and something must force them out of any preconceived script. For example, in the middle of the role play, someone gets really emotional or acts totally distracted from the conversation.

People often avoid learning soft skills like this because, quite frankly, it’s uncomfortable! We don’t want to make fools of ourselves in front of our colleagues. But practice is the only way that our brains are wired in order to improve our soft skills. So go have some awkward fun!

Luckly, our brains are elastic and always learning. There is a part of the brain, called the conative brain, that accelerates our ability of knowing what to do and then doing it. This is what drives our instincts. It turns our thoughts and emotions into actions. To execute better in any situation, no matter your tendencies and skill set, you need to increase your intuition so that your automatic behaviors are aligned with your desired behaviors.

MATCHING MANAGER-EMPLOYEE STYLES

Some workers prefer a highly self-directed, autonomous style, while others desire a lot of guidance and direction. Likewise, some managers prefer a more authoritarian-directed approach while others prefer to take on an advisor-like role, offering greater autonomy to their team. Neither approach is right or wrong, but rather it’s a matter of optimizing the fit. Friction occurs when a manager’s style is in opposition to their team member’s preferred style.

As the manager, you can work with your teammates to develop their self-directedness as well as adjust your style to better optimize your working relationships. Tom is a firm believer of building on strengths. He recommends leaning into what you do best and then looking for ways to adjust that don’t require a significant behavior change.

Our brains all operate in different ways. We can continue to grow ourselves and develop our team members so that we learn new skills in ways that deeply integrate them into our brains. As we do so, we empower our team members to become self-directed learners and take ownership over their future.

KEEP UP WITH TOM:


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This article was based on episode 181 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

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