I started my career in operations. It was a great laboratory for learning how to get things done and deliver results. Like everyone starting any new discipline, it also required constant new learning. As I became more experienced, I developed different habits of mind and mindset. This is normal. But it turns out these more “experienced” habits of mind and mindset can, if we are not careful, get in the way of upgrading our knowledge.
It’s clear that clients still like to hire people who have “done the job” before. They want the candidate to already have the requisite skills and experience to quickly perform. Though I understand this, I don’t think it should be the first thing, or at least the only focus of the candidate they choose.
Given the state of workplaces today, the skills I recommend that you look for in most (if not all) applicants are curiosity, learning agility and compassion, for self and others.
Curiosity is the foundation needed to learn everything. If we think we already know, then we are much less likely to be curious. The lack of curiosity in our society is like an epidemic and I see it migrating to workplaces. Most of us now live in bubbles determined by our socioeconomic status (among other things). This is bad for anyone who wants to expand and grow their business and employees. Growth requires curiosity.
Curiosity has a universal language and presence. We know when someone is curious or has a strong opinion because even if they don’t say anything, it shows up in their body. You can test this by thinking back on the feelings and sensations you observe in your body when you are genuinely curious. Then think about what it feels like to know and be right. The presence and mindset that most of us have when we think we know, usually serves as a big barrier to sensing what we don’t know, listening to others and being open to alternative data. What we don’t know is expanding exponentially every moment.
Work is changing and technology is changing even faster. To be really skillful at something can become a roadblock to being quick to understand what we don’t know, the humbleness to recognize it, and the agility to learn the new skills fast. Knowing how to learn is a whole set of must have skills. Often the more experienced a person is, the less they remember how to learn and how uncomfortable it feels to be incompetent. This last part leads to my third, and maybe most important must-have skill: compassion for self and others.
If we all need to be willing to learn constantly (and we do), then we need to develop greater comfort with the emotions that accompany “not knowing”. Not knowing is hard for most competent adults. But like every skill, the more we practice being curious and learning agility, the more we can grow our comfort with the inherent ambiguity and discomfort of not knowing something. Even better, we may learn to find greater joy in learning when we start to better balance the ever-present inner critic.
If you are worried that being compassionate will mean you have to lower your standards, expect less of others and that you and your team will not perform as well, search out Kristin Neff’s research, or get her wonderful book, Self-Compassion. She has studied the benefits of self-compassion and they are substantial for human beings and organizations of every type.
So, while you search for a digital native or a sales leader who has the track record you need, also inquire about the candidate’s curiosity, learning agility and ability to be compassionate to themselves and others. You will find someone much more prepared for the future and maybe even next month.
Moira Clarke founded Leadership Consulting Partners 19 years ago to help companies advance their leadership and people systems. If you are reading this to the end, and you find value, please say so and share with others on LinkedIn and Twitter. Thank you!
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.