What Really Encourages (and Discourages) Learning

Are you leading in a way that encourages or discourages learning? How open are you (really) to learning?

Mindset by Carol DweckI went to an offsite meeting for WOMEN Unlimited recently and was given a book that was absolutely the right book at the right time for me.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. is not a new release so I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it before. It is truly transformational.  And it’s based on research, which I find refreshing. There are a lot of books out there based on upon little more than anecdotes and sound bites but Professor Dweck’s is based on decades of research. Her conclusions provide such clarity, you’ll say “So that’s why…”

In short, her research shows that we develop a mindset that falls somewhere on a continuum from “growth” to “fixed” and the impact that has on our willingness to grow and achieve over the long term is incredible. As a leader, what impact do you think the willingness of your team members to grow has on your organization? On their careers? On you?

I highly recommend this book if you are interested in how you can get out of your own way, and others, and reignite that spark of learning required to achieve long-term success.

To get a taste of what’s in Professor Dweck’s book, here’s a presentation she gave at Stanford:


Going Back to School?

Recently, while traveling for business, I happened to sit next to a young professional on my flight, and we fell into a discussion. The crux of it was this: both he and his wife wanted to go back to school to get their graduate degrees but they couldn’t go at the same time.  They were trying to decide which one of them should go first.

While I didn’t presume to know what was best for he and his wife, I asked him some questions that, later, he said were quite helpful and put his mind at ease about the direction he now felt was the right one. If you’re considering graduate school, here are some questions you may want to ask yourself:

  • What do you want to do once you get the degree?  If you don’t really know, then how do you know what degree to obtain?  Graduate degrees are generally more specialized than undergraduate and if the degree you obtain doesn’t end up matching the path you want to go down, it may not actually help you much. If you don’t know what you’d like to do next, do your research. Don’t sit around waiting for the answer to come to you.  Talk to people, research careers and career paths.  A great resource is: O*NET (
  • If you do know what you’d like to do down the road, do the people who do what you’d like to do have graduate degrees? What degrees? Do the majority have them or is it uncommon?  If the majority have them, it may be the price of admission you’ll have to pay to even get your foot in the door.  If only a few have them, do you really need one?  It very well could provide you a competitive advantage to have one, but it is not a guarantee of employment, so you need to weigh this carefully. If you don’t know the answer to this question, use LinkedIn, and talk to people.  Find out.
  • Are you ready to start job searching and are you open to relocation? Graduate degrees are quite often successful in providing a springboard for one’s career, but the window of opportunity is generally most open in the year before and the months after graduation.  You need to be ready to strike while the iron’s hot.  Students who don’t look to make a move until two, three or even five or more years after they obtain a graduate, often have a difficult time.  Why? Because they are competing with others who took more initiative and showed more commitment in getting into that field while they were in school.  Who would you choose if you were a recruiter?

To be sure, graduate degrees can be rewarding in many ways, from the joy of studying a field you have a particular interest in, to building new relationships with others who share your interests and may be able to help you professionally, to the advantages it may provide in your career. Just make sure that you are going back to school at the right time for the right reasons.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any path will get you there.” ~Lewis Carroll (from Alice in Wonderland)

To degree or not to degree

Help Wanted: Degree required. 

Seen this lately?  If you’re seeking a job, I’m sure you have.  And in the not too distant past, if you were my client, I would have advised you: “Don’t let that stop you from applying.”  Because I knew, firsthand and through much observation, that due to the war for talent, companies often ignored their own guidelines.   Now, however, the tide has turned.  Companies are sticking by their guidelines much more closely.  Why?  Because they can.  

So, what does this mean for you as a job seeker?  First and foremost, it means that if the kind of jobs you are interested in consistently require a degree, if you already have some college hours under your belt and have any means at all to go back to school, run, do not walk, to the college of your choice and complete your degree as soon as possible.  If you have taken no college classes, this is a bigger decision, but still one you should very seriously consider. 

Take night classes?  Yes.  Miss out on family events?  Yes.   Strain your brain studying again?  Yes.  Why?  Because the (seasonally adjusted) unemployment rate for people over age 25 with a Bachelor’s degree or higher is currently 4.4%.  Do you hear me??  4.4%!  For people over age 25 with some college or an Associate’s degree, it is 9.1%.  That is still below the national average, but significantly higher than 4.4%.  Which odds would you like to have in your favor?  And if the national average is 9.6%, what do you think the rates are for high school graduates with no college, and those who did not complete high school? 10.0% and 15.4% respectively.  (All information here is based on the September 2010 Employment Situation report and supporting tables available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics at 

This is the reality of the world today.  People who have been displaced from jobs they were successful in for 20 years or more are now not able to land those same exact jobs – because they lack a degree!  Do I agree with this?  NO.  Employers have become lazy and begun inserting “Bachelor’s degree required” as shorthand for “needs to be able to write a paragraph that actually means something and isn’t full of errors” or “needs to be able to use logic and sound decision-making skills to solve problems”.  If only having a degree meant that!   Sadly, it often doesn’t.  But that is a topic for another post.  

As a side note, I urge employers to say what they really mean in job postings and go back to using the phrase, “degree or equivalent experience”.  But, back to my primary message, I will again, urge you – if you have not finished your degree but have ever wanted to – do it.  Make the time.  Find the money.  Seek grants, scholarships and loans if needed.  Pick a decent, reasonably-priced school and go.  It truly is an investment in your future and the future starts now.