Newsletter #2: Should I / shouldn’t I

A friend mentioned that he was toying with the idea of doing an MBA at the age of 48. Actually, by the time he registers and the semester starts he’ll be 49. And then you think, “well I’m almost 50, why bother?”

If you know my story you know my experience with the MBA. Skip this but if you’ve read it, but I’m the only person I know to do an MBA by accident. The short version is that I went with a friend (not the same one I’m talking about here, but co-incidentally, theyvsharevthe same name now that I come to think of it) to the open day at GIBS for moral support. I was running my own business, and I really didn’t think I would gain anything by spending 2 years in a classroom working for a certificate I didn’t need because I wasn’t going to my to work for a company anyway. I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I learned from business school was life changing, and profound.

Some of the most valuable lessons I learned were these:

Even a company with no staff needs a leader. Leadership is widely misunderstood by those who haven’t yet begun to learn about it. Being a leader doesn’t necesarily mean you need a team of followers. And having a team of followers doesn’t necessarily make you a leader. Most of us are at the same time leader and follower. Without a strong sense of direction, actions are misaligned and misguided. A little effort to move in this direction, a change of heart of a loss of vision and the next action takes you in a different direction. One thing is true though. You can’t lead others unless you can lead yourself, and the journey of leadership more often than not is a journey of self mastery. I’m not talking about plunging your bare hands repeatedly into buckets of burning hot sand. Self mastery is knowing yourself, knowing your limits, knowing when not to give up, and knowing when to walk away.

I could talk about leadership for hours. In fact I’ve facilitated eight-hour leadership sessi bs for the university and the response from the classes is always the same – it’s like lifting the scales off eyes that have been open but unable to see.

You’re never too old to start learning. At the age of 36, I was in the oldest 1/3 of my class at GIBS. Often, I wondered what I was doing there. There were about 70 of us in the room. Most people were middle and senior managers, many senior execs and one or two CEO’s. I felt a little out of my depth being the only entrepreneur in the class, and not a very successful one at that.  My business was on the verge of closing down, and I had zero sense of vision or direction.

I wish I could quantify the value of the learning that took place in that classroom. Not so much the hundreds of pages of articles and text books I read and learned and debated – essentially you can do that kind of learning anywhere – but the personal growth that took place as my mind evolved. It was as if my life had been a ship I was steering from the cockpit, but I’d never stepped onto the deck to see what the ship looked like, nor did the ship have a rudder or a working engine.

There was one recurring thought as I made sense of dozens of issues I’d never fully understood until I made that journey, one recurring thought that plagued me: why did I wait so long before I started learning? How different life would have been if only I had done this five years earlier.

It’s never time to stop learning. Once the journey of learning begins, one thing becomes abundantly clear. There is so much still to learn and there’s so much of what I already know that I still need to master. When my son was 13 he started playing drums. By the end of his grade 2 exam he became convinced that there was nothing more he needs to learn and that he knew everything. Isn’t that most teenagers?

But the more he progressed and the better he became the more he realized there was still to learn and the more humble he became about his talent.

Once you begin learning you’ll get bitten by the bug. It bites subtlely and it bites hard. The more you learn, the more you’ll realize you want to learn.

I’ve spent many days in the back of the classroom listening to lectures delivered by my colleagues at the University and although I’ve heard it before, there’s always something new I learn each time.  You can look at the same thing many times over but you notice different aspects each time.

Take humility with you when you graduate. It will open en your mind to discover new things.
Most people in management positions weren’t promoted because they’re good at being managers.


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