The first and most important aptitude needed to move from a maker mentality to a management or leadership mentality is that of a lifelong learner.
Now, I’ve heard plenty of people say, “I learn something new every day.” And it’s a cute adage. But watching the History Channel or scrolling mindlessly through YouTube videos won’t likely produce a leadership mindset.
Instead, lifelong learning is an ongoing, self-motivated journey of acquiring new, particularly in-demand skills. Lifelong learners develop and employ strategies and plans to acquire new career skills. These plans may involve returning to university to acquire a new degree, but they certainly don’t have to.
Many people believe that a sufficient learning strategy involves front-loading their education through a trade school or university, and then relying on on-the-job experience on the job to gain new skills. But this is not a recipe for becoming a successful leader. In fact, I don’t know of many careers where you can rely on experience alone to be successful.
Like most commodities, there are two sides to lifelong learning as a career strategy: demand and supply. On the demand side, technology have largely driven the need for continuous learning. Whether you work in a bank, hospital, or a manufacturing, all have been deeply affected by shifts in technology. No doubt, the world is changing very rapidly.
On the supply side, we’re living in the information age. The fact that you’re likely reading this article on a mobile device that didn’t even exist a handful of years ago is evidence that information is widely available. The world’s libraries are at your fingertips with virtually no barriers to acquiring new skills, ideas and methods.
During my career I’ve had the privilege of interviewing dozens of job candidates for supervisory engineering, technical and sales positions. And during those conversations, I like to find out what the candidates are doing to learn new career-related skills.
I’m interested in this because first, lifelong learners generally know more than those who don’t regularly invest the energy needed to advance their career-related knowledge. They know more information. They know more of the skills and tools that are going to help them be successful. And they’re more aware of the trends they may be moving toward them or the underpinning principles of the realities around them.
Second, lifelong learners are better at learning itself. Learning like any skill — like playing the violin or shooting a free throw — is a skill that can be improved with practice. So as I’m assessing a job candidate through the interview process, evidence like certifications, weekend training seminars, writing for trade publications, and taking on voluntary leadership roles show me that they have a high capacity for learning new skills. I can reasonably estimate that their demonstrated ability to learn will transfer to their new assignment; that they’ll find their way up the learning curve.
So how should you direct your learning efforts as a maker to move into that managerial role? Here are three ways:
First, learn about your organization and your industry. Who are your competitors? Who are your customers? Who are your suppliers? What are the technologies?
Try practicing this prior to your next visit with a new supplier or customer. It would be easy on the day before a customer representative visits your facility to look at their website. Figure out who’s in key leadership positions, new acquisitions by their company, and products they’ve recently launched. Having this information in your head is a good conversation starter over lunch. And knowing that organization’s challenges and directives will help you serve them better as a supplier.
Secondly, consider learning transferable skills. Transferable skills means that they can go from one company to another to another, and they’re still useful. An example is business accounting. Every company uses accounting, so learning it will help you become more mobile and more adept at talking to a wider range of people
Data analysis and visualization, communication skills, coding, industry-wide software application, advanced Excel skills and more are all transferable skills that will make you a better problem solver.
The last area of focused learning I would recommend for facilitating the move from maker to manager is business methods and trends. For example, understanding and interpreting financial ratios will help you see the strengths and weaknesses of a business. And spotting these strengths and weaknesses is a critically important managerial skill. Asset turnover ratio; gross, operational, and net earnings; and net working capital all tell you how efficiently a company is utilizing its assets to generate revenue and profits. And a manager who cannot connect operations to earning within their domain will be vulnerable to making significant tactical errors
Business trends – how the external environment of your organization is changing – can also open up a world to you in terms of solving problems. Marketing, analytics, economics … understanding trends in these big fields will help you see new potential solutions to your problems.
For instance, not long ago, if a company needed a new piece of software, then bought it. But now, software as a service (SAAS) has become the predominant trend for lots of good reasons. But if you’re constrained to an antiquated model of purchasing software, you’re not going to see the potential solution out on the horizon.
Erno Rubik, the inventor of the Rubik’s Cube, said
“Learning is not the acquisition of knowledge. It’s building the capacity to find new possibilities in novel circumstances, building the capacity to find new possibilities in novel circumstances.”
Building this capacity is done through the process of lifelong learning. And in fact, solving problems, generating innovative solutions, and thriving in new circumstances are the hallmarks of a successful leader.
Ray Harkins is a manufacturing professional and online educator. He teaches a variety of low-cost, high-quality manufacturing and business-related courses at Udemy.com. Follow the links below to view course details and qualify for an Accendo Reliability discount.