Education competencies: Personal learning and development

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success. View all competencies .


Is personally committed to and actively works to continuously improve himself or herself; recognizes the need to change personal, interpersonal, and managerial behavior; actively seeks feedback.

Proficiency level

Level 1: Basic Level 2: Intermediate Level 3: Advanced Level 4: Expert
Participates in activities for self-improvement Works to continuously improve himself or herself Is personally committed to continually improving himself or herself and rigorously pursues multiple means to do so Is dedicated to continuous learning and self-improvement, and aggressively undertakes activities to enrich intellect, to build new skills, and to hone existing skills
Recognizes the need to develop personal, interpersonal, or managerial behavior Works to deploy strengths, compensating for weaknesses and limits Readily gets involved in activities that will challenge and stretch current skills and intellectual prowess Continually expends his or her talents and gifts to the fullest, participating in a variety of events and pursuits designed to build on strengths
Is aware that different skills and approaches are required for various situations Picks up on the need to change personal, interpersonal, or managerial behavior quickly Actively seeks feedback from others to determine areas in which he or she can best improve Earnestly garners feedback, and acts upon it to improve perceived weaknesses and limitations and to build a repertoire of skills
Is responsive to reactions of others regarding his or her influence and performance Watches others for their reactions to his or her attempts to influence and perform, and adjusts Learns from success and failures, and helps others to benefit from their experiences Is a role model for those who strive for personal excellence
Reacts to changing demands Reads changing demands and responds accordingly Monitors conditions to anticipate the need to change Demonstrates mastery of agility in meeting changing conditions

Overdoing personal learning and development

  • May be seen as too changeable
  • May shift situationally too easily and leave the impression of being wishy-washy
  • May confuse people with constant efforts to improve and change, and by being so adaptable
  • May err toward doing things differently rather than remaining the same
  • May be a self-help development junkie, susceptible to self-help fads
  • May be too self-centered, spending too much time improving and too little time acting and performing

Essential questions

To improve your proficiency, ask yourself the following questions on a regular basis:

  • What training or enrichment courses, seminars, or conferences can I attend to broaden my perspective or to hone my current skills?
  • What can I learn from my recent successes?
  • What can I learn from my recent setbacks or failures?
  • What do I need to work on and improve? Can I benefit from a multisource assessment (such as a 360º Assessment)?
  • What questions must I ask to gain a better understanding of something?
  • What new techniques can I experiment with in my job?

To avoid overdoing personal learning and development, ask yourself:

  • Am I perceived by others as too changeable and wishy-washy?
  • Am I overly obsessed with self-help fads?
  • Am I spending too much time learning and too little time performing?

Interview questions

  • Describe a period of time in the past two years that demonstrates your dedication to continuous learning and self-improvement.
  • Describe a situation that demonstrates your willingness to challenge and stretch your current skills and abilities.
  • Feedback is an effective step in personal learning and development. Describe several instances in which you proactively sought feedback and then acted upon the feedback to improve.
  • Describe a situation that showcases your ability to learn from successes and failures and help others do the same.
  • An aspect of learning and development involves demonstrating agility during changing conditions. Share a time when you found this most challenging.

Learning on the job

Learning on your own: These self-development remedies will help you build your skill(s).
  • Observe, listen, be a student of people: Watch others’ reactions to what you are doing while you are doing it. Ask others for direct feedback, both during and after. Try to predict what others will do or say before they do it. Look for behavior patterns to better adjust to their responses.
  • Observe others: Watch others who are good with interpersonal transactions or transitions and tense situations. Note how they react to and monitor problems; ask questions, make statements, and state things in hard, moderate, or soft ways. Ask them for their rationale in these situations. Relate the information to your behavior.
  • Work from the outside in: Practice thinking inside-out when you are around others. Consider what behavior will best accommodate others' learning. If you are particularly successful, avoid the arrogance of devaluing the contributions of others by working harder to observe, read about, and interview others.
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues: Watch for body language (turning away, crossed arms, staring, glancing at the watch) in others to signal when it’s time to do a process check or change course.
  • Experiment and expand your repertoire: Mix up your delivery; ask questions, speak briefly, summarize often, explain everything you say. Try to stretch yourself; do uncharacteristic things; go to your limits and beyond. By expanding your behaviors, you can become more effective across a larger number of situations.
  • Receive feedback: Allow others to offer you course-correction information without being defensive. See yourself in a calm state, and develop automatic tactics (count to ten, think in slow motion) to resist shutting down when criticized.
  • Get an assessment: Get a good assessment (such as a 360º questionnaire) of what you do and do not do well and what others want to see you keep or stop doing. You can then spend your time developing only things you need to. Show others you take your development seriously by asking for their help, admitting your shortcomings, and trying to do something about them.
  • Categorize: Divide your skills into these categories: clear strengths (your best), overdone strengths (too much of a good thing), hidden strengths (others rate you higher than you do), blind spots (you rate yourself higher than others do), weaknesses (don’t do well), untested areas (haven’t tried), don’t knows (need more feedback). Determine what is important for your current job and the job(s) you may aspire to do next. Compare your appraisal with the success profile of those jobs.
  • Maintain your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses: Test your strengths with new tasks. Coach others in your strengths, and ask them for help in theirs. Balance your overdone strengths in important areas by focusing on the unintended consequences. Get the downside of your strength up to neutral; see that it doesn’t hurt you. Work on your weaknesses by employing stretching tasks to develop the skill, getting continual feedback, building frameworks to help you understand through courses, and cementing all your learning for future use.
  • Deal with blind spots and untested areas: Be careful with blind spots because you think you are better at something than you may be. Resist challenging tasks involving this skill until you clearly understand your behavior, have a target model of excellent behavior, and have a plan. Collect more data, and have someone you trust monitor you and give you immediate feedback. Work to clear the blind spot. Get involved in small versions of your untested areas. Write down what you did and did not do well, and then try a second, bigger version. Keep a written record of your performance, and keep increasing the magnitude of the “test” until you reach the optimum level.
Learning from develop-in-place assignments: These part-time develop-in-place assignments will help you build your skill(s).
  • Attend a self-awareness or assessment course that includes feedback.
  • Attend a course or event that will push you personally beyond your usual limits and comfort zone.
  • Interview or work with a tutor or mentor on a skill you need to develop.
  • Try to learn something frivolous and fun to see how good you can get (e.g., juggling, square dancing, magic).
  • Go on a trip to a foreign country you have not been to before.
  • Teach or coach someone how to do something you are not an expert in.
  • Take on a task you dislike or hate to do.
  • Make peace with an enemy, someone you’ve disappointed, or someone you’ve had some trouble or don’t get along with.
Learning more from your plan: These additional remedies will help make this development plan more effective for you.
  • Learning to learn better:
    • Monitor yourself more closely and get off your autopilot. Think freshly about each situation before acting.
    • Examine your past for parallels to the current situation. Note what has worked and not worked before, and apply what you can.
    • Keep a learning journal. Document the issues and opportunities you’ve faced and your reactions. Focus on how you used your strengths and weaknesses, as well as on what worked and didn’t work.
    • Analyze how you perform under several roles. Analyze how you are as a contributor, professional, parent, spouse, and/or friend. Create a list of criteria for each role, evaluate yourself against the criteria, and pick a few things to work on to improve in each role.
    • Do a career learning timeline for insights. Make a chronology for yourself, from schooling to the present, in terms of the development of your thinking and problem-solving style and your preferences. Consider impacts, breakthroughs, blocks, and development.
    • Form a learning network with others working on the same problem. Look for a variety of people inside and outside your organization. Give feedback to each other; try new things together; share successes and failures, lessons, and learning.
    • Compare notes and views on a single problem from multiple sources. List the facts, your opinions, your hunches, your intuitions, and your feelings about the same problem or issue, and check the overlap and the differences. Compare yours with the views of others.
    • Throw yourself with more vigor than usual into something new so that you will have to learn quickly. Pick something that is out of your skill and strength set.
    • Debrief someone else after a successful or non-successful event shortly after they have done something particularly well or badly. Ask them about their decisions and what they would have done differently. Glean some insights from the experiences of others.
    • Use a tutor to learn something new. Open up, listen, learn, and try new things.
    • Learn new and frivolous skills to study how you learn. See yourself under different and less-stressful learning conditions. Consider the tactics you use and apply them to more difficult things.
    • Try some new things out of your normal comfort zone. Go against your grain; do something opposite to your nature; take a learning risk.
  • Learning from experience, feedback, and other people:
    • Learn from mistakes. Focus on "why" more than "what." Don’t avoid similar situations for fear of repeating mistakes, but learn and try again. Don’t repeat what went wrong more diligently, but try something new. Look for patterns that may be causing the problem.
      • Learn by observing others. Objectively study what he or she does.
      • Learn from interviewing others. Ask what, how, and why they do what they do, where they learned it, and how they keep it current and relative.
  • Learning from courses:
    • Participate in insight events. Take a course designed to assess skills and provide feedback to help you develop self-knowledge.
    • Have an open attitude toward learning. Close down your “like/dislike” and “agree/disagree" switches. Ask questions, reflect, and make decisions about what you can and cannot use.

Recommended readings

  • Bardwick, Judith M.Seeking the Calm in the Storm: Managing Chaos in Your Business Life.Upper Saddle River, NJ: Financial Times/PrenticeHall, 2002.
  • Bell, Arthur H., Ph.D., and Dayle M. Smith, Ph.D.Motivating Yourself for Achievement.Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002.
  • Bolles, Richard N.What Color Is Your Parachute? 2004: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters & Career-Changers.Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2004.
  • Brim, Gilbert.Ambition: How We Manage Success and Failure Throughout Our Lives.New York:, 2000.
  • Brooks, Michael.Instant Rapport.New York: Warner Books, 1989.
  • Butler, Gillian Ph.D, and Tony Hope, M.D.Managing Your Mind.New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • Caro, Mike.Caro’s Book of Poker Tells.New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003.
  • Champy, James, and Nitin Nohria.The Arc of Ambition.Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 2000.
  • Christian, Ken.Your Own Worst Enemy: Breaking the Habit of Adult Underachievement.New York: Regan Books, 2004.
  • Cooper, Robert K., and Ayman Sawaf.Executive EQ: Emotional Intelligence in Leadership and Organizations.New York: Grosset/Putnam, 1997.
  • Danzig, Robert J.The Leader Within You.Hollywood, FL: Lifetime Books, Inc., 1998.
  • Fulmer, Robert M., and Jay A. Conger.Growing Your Company’s LeadersNew York: AMACOM, 2004.
  • Glickman, Rosalene.Optimal Thinking: How to Be Your Best Self. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002.
  • Handy, Charles B. 21Ideas for Managers: Practical Wisdom for Managing Your Company and Yourself.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 2000.
  • Holton, Bill, and Cher Holton.The Manager’s Short Course. Thirty-three Tactics to Upgrade Your Career.New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1992.
  • Ishiguro, Kazuo.The Remains of the Day.New York: Knopf, 1989.
  • Kouzes, James M.Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2003.
  • Lombardo, Michael M., and Robert W. Eichinger.The Leadership Machine.Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc., 2004.
  • Mazzarella, Mark C., and Jo-Ellan Dimitrius.Reading People: How to Understand People and Predict Their Behavior—Anytime, Anyplace.New York: Ballantine, Books, 1999.
  • McCall, Morgan W., Michael M. Lombardo, and Ann M. Morrison.The Lessons of Experience.Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1988.
  • Morrison, Ann M., Randall P. White, Ellen Van Velsor, and the Center for Creative Leadership.Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Can Women Reach the Top of America’s Largest Corporations?Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1992.
  • Niven, David.The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People: What Scientists Have Learned and How You Can Use it.New York: HarperBusinesss, 2002.
  • Pirsig, Robert M.Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.New York: Bantam Books, 1984.
  • Prochaska, James O., John C. Norcross, and Carlo C. DiClemente.Changing for Good.New York: Avon Books, 1995.
  • Stephens, Deborah C. (Ed.), and Abraham Harold Maslow.The Maslow Business Reader.New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2000.
  • Stone, Florence M., and Randi T. Sachs.The High-Value Manager—Developing the Core Competencies Your Organization Needs.New York: AMACOM, 1995.
  • Wainright, Gordon R.Teach Yourself Body Language.New York: McGraw-Hill/Contemporary Books, 2003.

Next steps

Copyright © 1992, 1996, 2001-2003 by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This work is derived from the LEADERSHIP ARCHITECT® Competency Library developed and copyrighted by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo for Lominger Limited, Inc.

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success.

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