After 23 years of work I am still learning about what I do well and what I enjoy, and trying to become a better learner. Dealing with the challenge of senior management at Engineers Without Borders pushed me to be real about life and work and led me to decide to give up an amazing job at CEO level, even though I’d be trying to get to that level for five years. I hope the experience has changed me – I certainly think I’m on the right path now.
You’ve probably been introduced to concepts and tools that are supposed to help you understand what you’re good at, what’s good for you and what motivates you: learning about ourselves in context of work is a feature of lots of professional training. In my 23 years since leaving university I’ve been assessed in terms of my favoured Belbin team role preferences and my Margerison-McCann team preferences too, my learning style (using the Honey and Mumford questionnaire), and my Myers Briggs personality type indicator. These assessments and their accompanying guidance have given me access to approximate descriptions of what is special and different about me and I have been able to take some of that information on board, depending on how true it seems to me and particularly how useful it seems.
Trouble is, it’s rarely seemed very useful. I have often liked how my type has been described: a “reporter-advisor” sounded like a good person to be, the “activist” learning style was surely pretty macho, and description of my ENFP personality type as “champions” confirmed much that I had long suspected of myself. Liking the descriptions just hasn’t taken me very far though, there hasn’t seemed to be very much that I can do with what I’ve been told about myself. What liking the descriptions has definitely done – coupled with seeing plenty of other people go “oh yeah” when they hear their results - is strengthen the idea that I have a specific personality type, that there are some things I should be focusing on - because I’m good at them, I enjoy them, or I could be better at them - and this sense of being a specific personality type has been central to the process of learning about myself in recent years.
When I say that the various assessments haven’t taken me very far, I mean that they haven’t guided my decisions about the work I do. I can’t lay the blame at the feet of Belbin, Honey, Briggs et al, because really it’s been about me not fully considering the evidence about myself when making my decisions. I haven’t listened enough to feedback and criticism, I haven’t looked hard enough at what I’m successful at and what I fail at, I haven’t thought enough about what I enjoy and what I don’t enjoy. Instead, I’ve been motivated by dreams and rewards, thinking what I want is what’s right for me and putting too much faith in my talents and resilience.
What that means, in a nutshell, is that I’ve been slow to learn from training and from life’s feedback.
I think this failure to learn is probably common, at least to people of my personality/style/role, and probably for all sorts of people. Learning speeds up when events push us to adapt, which was what happened to me at Engineers Without Borders. The circumstances of working there, commuting from Nottingham to either Cambridge or London, and the demands of a busy senior role, forced me to acknowledge that doing what I want my life to be without enough consideration of who I am – a cycle crazy, Nottingham loving, deeply emotional, extroverted team player and family man – won’t lead to success or happiness. We all have to acknowledge who we are as well as where we want to get to, and plan our lives around both. In actual fact I’m finding that by focusing on who I am, and downplaying where I want to get to, becoming something that I want to be seems closer than ever.
If you haven’t accessed assessment tools to help you understand you and work, I’d recommend giving it a go. I’ve posted some links below for you to read, you could then badger your boss or HR department to bring a trainer in or google for a certified practitioner of these arts (and ask me for contacts if you don’t come up with anything). But please recognise that these theories and tools are just a framework that can guide your understanding of yourself. You’ll need to look for a range of evidence about you: what people say about you, how they respond to you, what you enjoy doing and what you hate, what you’re successful at and what flops. What you think and feel about these things should be your guide.
Part of my work now is training, and you can help me with four mouse clicks by completing this multi-choice survey about partnership.
Any thoughts on what you'd like from my next blog article? Please comment below. Thanks for reading :)
(* EWBers will know that there is something called the EWB Challenge, a fabulous educational programme for your engineers. You can check it out at http://www.ewb-uk.org/ewbchallenge)