Feeling like you need to power up your learning at work in 2019, but concerned that you don’t have the time to dedicate to a class or year-long mastermind group? Have your good intentions for new behaviors at work and at home already been lost in the swirling vortex of your day-to-day responsibilities?

I get it.

As an executive coach, the most common obstacle I hear when talking to leaders about investing in their own or their team’s development is time. “We just need to come up for air,” and “next year we’ll be able to focus more deeply,” are phrases that fill my inbox.

What if I told you that material, powerful professional development could be fast and (dare I say it?) fun?

I spend my days deeply immersed in professional development. I read books and write articles. I deliver workshops and psychometric assessments. I work with clients and teams over weeks and months to craft and deliver development and change plans. Those are valid and effective ways to expand professional horizons, deepen learning and strengthen performance. I believe in the power of those efforts. But development doesn’t only happen that way.

When I looked back at all the learning I invested in last year, I discovered some of my most powerful development experiences weren’t formal professional development exercises at all.

Here are the top five experiences that accelerated my learning in 2018:

5. I saw myself in a new way.

I took the Insights Assessment and in less than 2 hours had a deep, nuanced picture of what motivates me, what colleagues perceive as my strengths, and best of all, how I get in my own way and derail under stress. New, fresh perspective gained in a single afternoon is hard to beat.

4. I changed my scenery.

I traveled to Havana and London in 2018. I walked different streets, managed different logistics, and surrounded myself with people who spoke, ate, and thought in unfamiliar ways. I got lost (literally and figuratively) in these worlds, exploring and remembering what it was like to be immersed in something new and learning constantly.

3. I listened to the stories of people who are different from me.

Like many of my clients, I have very little free time to read. So, I make use of the time I have in excess: I listen to books in my car. This year, I listened to Tara Westover’s best-seller Educated and Michelle Obama’s Becoming. Both reminded me of the power of learning about and talking with those we perceive to be ‘other.’

2. I tested a long-held belief about myself and got really uncomfortable.

A friend invited me to join a 28 day reflection challenge called Me and White Supremacy. For 15 days, I demurred based on my beliefs that 1) I am not a racist and thus wouldn’t benefit from the provocatively named challenge and 2) who has 28 days to write on one topic? My friend called me out on my sideline behavior. In or out, she challenged. I jumped in and am a different person for it.

1. I kept practicing my new (and not so new) behaviors.

I started 2018 with shiny bold commitments in my calendar around exercise, reflection and meditation. They didn’t stick, in the perfect sense. But, I kept moving my body, even after weeks of sluggish inactivity. I journaled, even though it was sporadic. I started and continued and restarted my meditation practice. I didn’t let the times I failed to meet those shiny new year commitments derail the big picture progress. I kept at it, imperfectly.

Want to be a different, better leader next December? Take your vacation, at home or abroad. Follow your natural curiosity and learn about yourself and others in a new way. Keep doing the stuff that makes you productively uncomfortable. These small efforts take less time than you think and together make a powerful impact on your leadership.


Danessa Knaupp

Danessa Knaupp

Danessa Knaupp is an Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant and Principal of Avenue 8 Consultants. Her work spans a variety of industries. She has led large Fortune 100 multifunctional teams as well as supported entrepreneurial start-ups. She brings a flexible and creative approach to solving the complex problems that executives face.

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