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Presence - Your present - A box called learning

She sank her head into her hands. Could her week have got any worse? That was the third member of staff to resign, the board meeting had not gone well yesterday and sales had dropped to an all-time low after a social media storm started by a customer. She knew that plop sometimes happened but this was a bad sequence of events. Not quite the pile of Christmas presents she asked for!

Sound familiar? I guess we have all had weeks like that. When I had those kinds of weeks that not even a soap opera could write a script like it, I would sometimes lighten the mood with senior staff by calling them ‘NFH’ – ‘Normal for Here’, moments. Sprinkling a little ‘this is unbelievable’ humour on the moment helps the team lighten and pull together to tackle what is being thrown at them. The truth is, of course, that life will throw up all sorts of curve balls. It is indiscriminate quite often. Sometimes, it is as a result of cause and effect and sometimes we may have even contributed to it. What I have learnt, that events that we experience, even these 'normal for here' weeks can offer us a gift, a present.

A box called learning

Recently, I was reviewing a series of events with a coaching client. They felt that some were bad. Some were good. I asked them, if we didn’t have a ‘good box’ and a ‘bad box’ to put these events into and we only had one box, what would we call that box? We decided that the box would be called, ‘a box called learning’.

In each event that we face, we have a tendency to see it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. This is because the brain is naturally hard wired to look out for threat or danger. So, when something happens that we perceive as as a threat to things going well, we will label them as bad. The danger with any labelling is that we miss out on opportunity to learn from them. Good events feel like there is nothing to learn from them and bad events can, if we are not careful, lead us to ‘catastrophising’ or pushing blame on others.

By looking at every situation as neither good or bad, we turn each situation into something positive. We become like a gold prospector, sifting the sieve for gold, when we ask ourselves, ‘what can I learn from this?’ Anything not of value falls throw the sieve, leaving us with the golden nuggets to learn from. Taking this approach is a gift for yourself but also a gift for those that you lead. It creates a culture of self-improvement and development. So how do you unwrap a present like that?

Culture of safety, vulnerability & courage

As Matthew Syed highlights in his book, ‘Black Box Thinking’, we have to redefine failure as a learning opportunity. To create a learning culture, the seedbed has to be one of safety. People need to be safe to review a situation for learning. The best way to start this is to create a vulnerability loop, when we as the leader model this ourselves. When we say, “what can we learn from this?” we create safety for others to do the same. Learning is the point when we move from the rock that feels safe of ‘what I know’ to something unknown and seemingly less uncertain. I often tell those I am coaching that at that moment when you are searching for new things, new ideas, it can seem uncertain and vulnerable. Learning needs vulnerability and from vulnerability comes courage. There can’t be one without the other. From vulnerability and courage comes the opportunity for learning. From learning comes growth.

Journey not the destination

So, how do we create this in ourselves? When we see each moment as a binary ‘pass/fail’ moment, we are either 100% happy or 100% sad. The trick is to develop a mindset where we realise it is the journey of improvement that is the key purpose, not arriving at a destination. Understanding that growth and development is in fact the real aim and destination. When you approach situations with this mindset it creates a freedom to learn. When you are having the ‘NFH – Normal for here’ moments, they change from being potential ‘I did this wrong’ moments to become moments of

  • What can I learn about the situation?

  • What can I learn to make us better?

  • What can I learn about myself in how I manage this?

Accept the gift

I’m not personally a great fan of getting it wrong or not doing so well. In the past, I would quietly beat myself up about not performing well. What I have learnt is this gift of a ‘box called learning’ can be transformational. As leaders, we will get things wrong. As I said to a leadership team I was training last week, “it is ok to get things wrong, . . . . provided that we learn from it.” When we see situations that happen or mistakes that we have made as learning opportunities they become opportunities for growth. What a gift!

Can we help you?

Are you wrestling with situations? Would you like help to make sense of them or to grow a ‘box called learning’ approach to them? A coach can ask you questions independently to help you gain clarity. Give us a call if you would like us to help you explore this and empower yourself.

Everyday Leader is here to empower, inspire and equip you to do that If we can help you find a way forward, through coaching, training or consultancy. Do let us know if we can be of help to you.


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