What to do when… your skills are aging (as you are)

Sticky situationsIn your heyday, you were hot. You could cold-call with the best of them, your headlines were the talk of the town, and managing projects was your specialty. You even taught the CEO how to use email. You were on top of the world.

manontricycleNow, 20 years later, things have changed. Cold calling isn’t working like it once did, you have to use this fancy online software to manage projects, and social media — don’t get me started. I’m not sure how it happened, but somewhere along the way you went from the rebel without a cause to the old guy yelling at the kids to turn down their music. Times have changed, and you need to change with them — but how?

This discomfort can get even worse if the skills you are trying to learn seem to come naturally to your 22-year-old intern — now you aren’t just grumpy, but you are feeling threatened. If I can’t do this, and the intern can, what does that say about me?

But hiding your head in the sand is not an option either. If you don’t keep learning, the zones of incompetence will just get bigger and your zones of competence will get smaller.

Here are 4 ways to keep learning.

  1. Be curious.
    When you feel that grumpy, threatened feeling coming on — switch to curiosity. Make it a habit to ask, “Tell me more…” when someone’s talking about something unfamiliar. “Where can I find out more about that.” is another terrific question. No one gets offended by curiosity and it can often take you someplace wonderful.
  2. Admit you don’t know it all.
    Of course asking those questions and opening yourself up to learning means you have to let people know you don’t know everything. The world is changing fast, 20 years experience doesn’t teach you everything you need to know. It’s OK to say, “Hey, that wasn’t the way I did it — but I want to hear more about how you are thinking about it and how you might approach this. Would you explain that to me?” I think experienced people feel like that would undermine their authority, but in most cases it creates more respect. People understand that things are changing and they respect your willingness to go to that uncomfortable place of learning something new.
  3. Ask someone to teach you.
    If you realize that there is a greater gap in your understanding than can be had in one sitting ask for more. Try Reverse Mentoring, where you and a younger team member commit to working together and sharing knowledge on an ongoing basis. Not only do you get to learn new skills, you also build a bridge with your younger workers. They teach you a new skill, and you show them some vulnerability — making you more approachable, and leadership seems more attainable to them.
  4. Get out of the office.
    Sometimes it’s easier to learn in an environment where you don’t have so much at stake. Getting out to a conference, meet-up, user group meeting, or other gathering can provide a context where you can learn from others, but you don’t have the barrier of “being the boss”.

While you may have fallen behind the times a little bit, it’s never too late to catch up. The same skills that put you on top of your game years ago can help you rise again.

What are you doing to keep your skills fresh? How could your younger team members help you?

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