Learning in the amber zone
As a child I recall my parents juggling two priorities: wanting to keep me safe, and wanting me to learn from my own mistakes. For instance, when it came to riding a bike, they chose learning from my mistakes (which included many falls and occasional hurt knees). But when it came to touching hot surfaces, they chose keeping me safe, discouraging me from touching things which could have resulted in a nasty burn. It’s a case of assessing risk over reward when faced with that tricky area between self-led learning and telling/showing. It’s about learning to operate in the amber zone and taking the role of chief coach not chief teller or doer.
I thought of this again this morning on my morning walk with Enzo my young adult golden retriever who when let off his leash in a safe walking space ran away at speed and was soon out of sight. He is usually calmly walking behind me surveying his territory and enjoying the sniffing. I have a rule that I will only call out three times, which I did. After a few minutes of walking I could see him at a distance greeting his friend, a 1 year old German Pointer, and their owner. I calmly walked up, clipped his leash on and greeted the owner and the other dog. The rest of the walk was on his leash and with punctuation of sit/stand/stay re-training. He is such a sweet boy and wants to please, I am sure he and I both learnt lessons in patience and understanding what is needed from each other. I have seen other owners in similar circumstances losing their cool and I often think nothing is learnt in the process other than maybe just heightening anxiety and who needs more of that in our lives?
In the workplace and in life as a whole I am a great believer in learning from making my own mistakes whenever it is safe to do so. I am not a brain surgeon so hopefully my mistakes will never cause that kind of life and death risk. In my life the greatest lessons for me have often come from what has not gone smoothly.
I think one of the key jobs as leaders is to create the conditions for self-directed learning, to have the patience and faith in knowing that somebody will get the job done and will have that skill for life if we give them the time and space to learn it for themselves. That doesn’t preclude us from being available to answer questions they may have and to adopt the role of coach, encouraging them to believe in their own abilities. I know first-hand that it is tempting when we are so pressed for time to want to take over the task and just get it done. Of course this helps the first time it needs doing, but nobody learnt anything in the process and what happens next time and potentially when you aren’t there. We create dependence not independence.
I have written a few times before about how much I value life-long learning and I know I am not alone in this, colleagues around the world are committed to this too. Whilst structured learning is massively valuable, so is learning in the amber zone, where some mistakes might get made but learning sticks forever as long as the leader is available to calmly support and encourage and be on hand if required.
I hope each of us has had the opportunity to learn something new this week and maybe some of that in the amber zone. I always love hearing the experiences of colleagues, please do feel free to reach out to me and share.
Have a lovely weekend, I hope you get time to rest and recuperate.