Carol Kinsey GomanWant to add real value to your team, your company, or your profession? Want to stay influential and relevant? Want to enhance your reputation as an effective and transparent leader?

Then learn to unlearn – and share those lessons.

Not that it’s easy to do so.

We become psychologically attached to the status quo because it is familiar and comfortable. But even more difficult than fighting off the inertia of comfort, we find it hard to let go of the past because it is there that we’ve experienced personal success. No one likes to contemplate letting go of the skills and behaviours that “got us here.” We much prefer the experience of mastery.

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That’s understandable. It’s basic human psychology. But it is not an attitude that helps us move forward. One of the greatest challenges for anyone who wants to remain successful in an ever-changing environment is identifying the practices and attitudes that need to be unlearned to adopt more productive new behaviours.

Here are a few questions to consider:

  • What do I do best? (What skills and abilities am I most proud of?)
  • Where have I been most successful in the past?
  • Which of my current skills, abilities, and attitudes will continue to serve me in the future?
  • What do I need to unlearn? (Which skills are becoming obsolete? What practices — attitudes, behaviours, work routines, etc. that worked for me in the past are no longer valid?)
  • How does feeling competent stop me from doing things differently? (Where are the comfort zones that I’m most reluctant to leave?)
  • What new skills, behaviours, and attitudes do I need to adopt to stay valuable and relevant?

As a leader, you can help team members thrive in this rapidly pivoting work environment by first identifying those skills and behaviours that you personally need to learn and unlearn. Then address the topic openly: Talk about your own problems with letting go of past competencies; be candid about the feelings of awkwardness that come with leaving your comfort zone, and let people know why you chose to make these changes.

This is also a great exercise to do with the entire team; identifying practices and attitudes the entire team needs to learn and unlearn to better serve the future.

Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence. For interview requests, click here.


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