I recently had a wonderful conversation with a mentee of mine who is passionate about his development as a leader. Only two years into his career, he is already demonstrating a commitment to self-development that took me the better part of a decade to figure out. One of his current dilemmas, however, is worrying that he is over-consuming developmental content. He reads broadly, follows online journals and blogs, and listens to podcasts on a consistent basis. While I’m proud of his devotion to these important habits, he expressed concern that he is consuming too much and failing to retain, internalize, and ultimately apply much of what he learns. He’s not the only person I’ve talked to with this concern; this is also one that I often struggle with myself. I believe many of us are voracious consumers of a variety of great leader development content.
So, what do we (or should we) actually get from our reading and consumption of developmental content? I feel this dilemma is not unique; it is something many of us have thought about and is worth exploring.
3 Things We Gain from Broad Knowledge Gathering
In the last article published, I argued for four important self-development activities: Goal setting, feedback, reflection, and broad knowledge gathering (BKG). To summarize BKG, it is our effort to become aware of new concepts or expand our thinking on existing ones through education and research. It can include our efforts to learn more about a focused topic, like a recently identified area of weakness in our leadership, to become more informed on it before we set goals to improve in it. It can also include our routine, but unfocused consumption of content such as reading a journal, blog, or magazine. For me, receiving the Harvard Business Review (HBR) magazine and daily email alerts of their new digital articles is one way I explore new ideas or expand on existing ones though not focused on anything specific. This is one way I aim to achieve the “broad” in BKG. Add to this list reading books, listening to audiobooks, listening to podcasts, etc. and it becomes a rather robust weekly learning habit – almost overwhelming.
But what do we get from these myriad activities? I categorize the intent of my broad knowledge gathering into three basic categories. These are the benefits I aim for through my self-development pursuits.
- A full cup (inspired): A primary reason I commit to consistently consuming developmental content is to simply remain inspired. It’s not always about extrapolating every idea for consideration on how to apply, but to simply engage some thinking about leadership and be encouraged. My wife’s favorite t-shirt reads, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Consuming developmental content is an easy way to keep my “leadership cup” full to be inspired and inspiring. Keeping up with certain platforms like HBR, blogs, and select podcast shows are common ways I do this. Keeping up with these different resources is not necessarily about extracting particular lessons, but just to keep me engaged, encouraged, and inspired.
- Growth across my identities: I also consume content that is relevant to my primary identities in life. An identity can be the main roles you play or core values you hold in life. For example, a few of my primary identities include faith, my family (role as husband and father), leading and influencing in organizations, developing leaders, Army officer, and engineer. So, I structure my routine content consumption across these areas because these are what is most relevant to my life and my development. These efforts are to keep a full cup as discussed above, but also to learn and improve from. Some content I dig into is an extension of several identities, like reading military history and science fiction due to being an Army officer and leader. Again, remember broad knowledge gathering.
- Focused development on a specific need or interest: If I come to realize a new personal developmental need through feedback, reflection, or an experience – I will utilize broad knowledge gathering to learn more about that topic to become more informed on it first. This prepares me to better address the issue through goal setting and practice moving forward. I used a personal example in the previous article about self-development activities when I discovered that I needed to integrate empathy more into my leadership years ago. I poured over various content (books, articles, podcasts) to learn more about it. This set me up for success to deliberately practice and ultimately embed it as a core component to my leadership approach.
Relating back to my mentee’s dilemma that we opened this article with, remember not all our content consumption requires a deliberate internalization and retention plan. Sometimes it can and should simply just be about learning to stay inspired, to maintain perspective, and keep a full leadership cup.
However, it is also important to be intentional about recording, retaining, and reflecting on the content we consume through our broad knowledge gathering. Second to the concern of consuming too much content often comes the issue of how to record and retain what we learn. This is similarly important as well as challenging. While there is no right way to do this, I do wish to offer a model as an initial idea to consider in next week’s article. This is my personal system of capturing what I read and learn, recording it, retaining and organizing it, and routinely reflecting on it. So, be on the lookout for next week’s article, which provides a model for retaining and reflecting on what we learn!
Let’s keep a full cup so that we can pour into others.
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