“I’ve really been out of my comfort zone these past two weeks. It felt like I was learning a new job from day one. But I’ve learned and grown so much!”

So said a client of mine on a coaching call earlier this week. She’d just finished a secondment on a high-profile project in an area of her business that she knew very little about.

I was curious about what sort of things she did to help her to learn and grow during the secondment:

“Well, seeing I didn’t have the experience or knowledge that I usually rely on, I had to trust rely on other people to give me the information I needed. I tapped into the support networks around me, and through that I built some wonderful trusting relationships. I also asked a lot of questions – some people might call them naive questions – and I found that having a ‘beginner’s mind’ helped me learn a lot more quickly than if I’d tried to pretend I knew what I was talking about.”

In other words, she allowed herself to be vulnerable. She opened up to ‘not knowing’, and connected with people that she needed to trust. Brene Brown gives a great TED talk on just this idea.

Growth happens in the crucible of experience. Or at least that’s where the potential lies. Sadly, I see way too many people who, when confronted with what I’d call a ‘heat experience’, just try to get through it. They see it as an experience to survive through, rather than one to learn to thrive in. What a lost opportunity!

What might happen if we could learn to embrace, or better yet, seek out, the tough experiences that will allow us to grow? Research by the Centre for Creative Leadership, amongst others, suggests that this practice is critical to developing more effective leadership. In particular, learning from heat experiences helps us to develop a broader perspective, and a wiser mind, that can help us lead effectively in complex, ambiguous contexts. Which is, frankly, what leaders at all levels are facing these days.

We instinctively know it’s true. So what can you do to make the most of heat experiences? Here are some ideas to try out:

  • Have a beginner’s mindset. See the experience as an opportunity to grow. Ask yourself “what could I learn from this experience?” Be open to ‘not knowing’ and discovering more about yourself.
  • Pay attention….to how you ‘show up’ in the thick of the experience. How do you respond when you’re feeling the heat? What choices do you tell yourself that you have? What assumptions and beliefs drive your behaviour? What might you do differently?
  • Connect with useful people. Not just people who can help you get the tasks done. Just as important are people who can help you step back, test your assumptions and understanding, and make sense of what you’re feeling, thinking and learning.
  • Teach others. One powerful way to consolidate your new learning is to teach others about what you’ve learned from your experiences. You gain and they gain.

Got a story of your own to tell about how you’ve learned from ‘heat experiences’? I’d love to hear about it.


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