Learn like a high flyer

Career development / Learning and development
Sarah Hobbs
By Sarah Hobbs | 10th April 2019

One of the main things that makes high flyers stand out is that they have a different attitude and approach to learning. There is a focus and intensity around learning - and putting the things they've learnt into practice - that you don't see from others.

So what can you learn from high flyers about how to stand out as a fast track learner?

1. They are doing it, not just talking about it

When I interact with high flyers I'm always struck as to how informed and well read they are. Many people I meet are able to discuss the latest thinking or book that everyone is talking about. But deep down you strongly suspect that they haven't read the book or investigated the issue, instead they're repeating what they've been told or picked up in passing. High flyers however devour new topics and thinking, and constantly test it and assimilate it into their world via practical application.

2. They're thinking about what's next

Based on my previous point, high flyers often surprise me by how far they've delved into and read around the topic. Because of this, they've often picked up the next new issue that is going to hit soon. Frankly, sometimes it's really tiring and I wonder where they find the time! But when dealing with high flyers, you quickly realise that it's this passion for excellence and pursuit of the 'new edge' that makes it effortless for them. They are the early adopters who test out and play with ideas, taking the risk that others don't.

3. They're constantly looking for great people to learn from

Everyone is better at something than we are. Once you catch that, you realise that you need a very different attitude to the people around you. Whoever they are - dull, interesting, unpopular or political - they are bound to have some insights and skills that you can learn from. High flyers are always on the alert for the people who'll become their faculty of advisers. Whether it's the PA who is connected with everyone; the person who is skilled at getting support in a political environment; the person who builds high performing teams; the nerd who is into the latest mobile tech. Find out people's passions and engage with them; respect everyone for what they know and can do.

4. They take action to maximise learning

Many people focus on easy learning - the so called 'low hanging fruit' - and stop there. Sometimes it's as simple as taking the action that others think about but don't action: "I want to ask that question in order to understand this better - I don't mind being first to speak", "I'm going to be at the front of the queue to speak to the presenter and pick her brains" or "I'm tweeting the author to find out more".

5. They deliver!

When high flyers learn something it's not just an exercise in abstract thinking - they find the action in it and apply it. They are not armchair theorists; they experiment, try things out, and changing their approach. They realise that that won't get something new 100% right at first go, but they push themselves to work out how to get better and better - and get through the pain barrier to a new higher level of performance.

6. They make a habit of throwing themselves in at the deep end

Research shows that successful leaders said that 70% of their most important learning came from grappling with difficult challenges in the workplace. So it makes sense that you learn fastest if you constantly put your hand up to take on challenging situations that others shy away from. One of the clearest ways that high flyers stand out lies in the way that they are willing to take on a challenge even where they don't yet know how to solve the problem. They are willing to take a leap in the dark; they bet on their own ability to ask questions, to enlist the help of others who have experience, to get mentors, coaching, suggestions, or practical help. Essentially they take on the challenge because they know that once they have no choice but to learn fast - they try things out, learn from mistakes and eventually succeed. (Ask the millions of parents who take home a first baby every year - once you're committed, you learn fast!) If you want to learn like a high flyer, throw yourself in the deep end - once you have done this successfully once, it'll never be so scary again. You'll realise that you when you are up against it, you actually have plenty of strategies to figure out what needs to be done, and you'll find that lots of people will put themselves out to help you if you only ask.

Take Away: Learning isn't just about collecting nice things to know. Step up to a challenge - this will immediately put all your learning options into sharp focus - and drive all the other high flier learning behaviours.

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