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Leaders, Are You New to L&D? Stop Making These Mistakes

Updated: Apr 7

This is the first blog post in a series about leadership for L&D leaders; however, much of it applies to leadership across industries.


As the new manager/director/leader of an L&D team, you have limited knowledge and expertise in learning and design. You assume that the deadlines, expectations, support, and time provided are reasonable, but you're becoming increasingly irritated and confused by the growing gap between yourself and the team.


The scenario I provided might be more or less dramatic than what you as a leader are experiencing, but I can tell you it does not scratch the surface of the discontent and irritation your reports feel. So, let's focus on what you need to stop doing and what to do instead.


#1 Don't: Cling to your knowledge & expertise comfort zone i.e. your old job.

For example, I worked for someone with a lot of experience in meeting planning but none in eLearning. Anytime I tried to talk about eLearning strategy or goals with her, she would turn her attention back to her computer or grow silent and end our meeting. I've had a long time to think about this, and I've seen this tactic across industries, not just L&D. People seek promotions or receive additional responsibilities beyond their expertise, and they want to hide behind their previous knowledge to feel effective and in control. It's not okay.

Do This Instead: Commit to learning about the various roles and how each impacts the team and the organization. 

First, and, I can’t believe I have to tell you this: no one promoted you to do the same thing you did before the promotion. Not even close. They promoted you because they wanted you to contribute beyond the scope and complexity of your last role. You don’t get more money, title, and respect through the wash, rinse, repeat cycle.

Second, you can learn and expand your expertise! No one is asking you to start building triggers in Storyline or conducting a full-scale task analysis. We are asking you to fully appreciate the layers and nuances of learning and design and how they contribute to the organization’s success.

Set up a series of meetings with team members and say honestly, "I'm trying to learn more about your work, if and why you like it, and what it means to the team and the organization." Be honest that you have a learning curve and plan to do your best to get up to speed with everyone's patience and support.

Again, this is not about wasting time hovering over your employee's shoulder trying to do every task within their job. It is, however, about respecting what they do, the effort, creativity, discipline, and time it requires to do the job. If you don't take the time to learn more, you will inevitably fall into Don't #2.


#2 Don't: Jump to conclusions before grasping the issue, if there even is an issue.

Back to number one. Yes, you're eager to feel productive, in control, and respected by your team and peers, so you jump in with directives, suggestions, and a road map. The problem is that the directives may not be doable because, remember, you don't know this function, and you don't do this job. The suggestions are condescending, and the road map leads us in the wrong direction even though you've got an excellent GPS: the team. 


Do This Instead: Ask questions and ask them the right way.

No one expects you to have all the answers. They may not even be asking you anything. It shocks me how hard it is for some leaders to engage in a conversation without pushing advice onto others. This can be particularly galling when the leader has no idea what effort goes into the other person's work. It's also insulting to proclaim what or how long it takes to do something you've never done. You want to incite disrespect? Okay, do that. 


There is a right way to ask questions, too. Ask from a position of curiosity, not dubiousness. For example, whenever I told my meeting planner boss how long something would take, and she didn't like the answer, she would pepper me with questions, suggesting there was an easier way to do it and that I must be complicating things (she later admitted that she tended to do that). The result? I went on vacation for a few days, and she tried to do an aspect of my job, but she flooded our learners with confusing emails that jammed our education inbox. I would not and did not fix that mistake. 

People seek promotions or receive additional responsibilities beyond their expertise, and they want to hide behind their previous knowledge to feel effective and in control. It's not okay.


#3 Don't: Interrupt, interject, or provide misguided "solutions" to imaginary problems when meeting or collaborating with your team. This is an extension of number three. Again, this is about taming your need to feel in charge and control. While it may stem from good intentions, it's problematic. It feels like you're silencing your employees and that you don't care to hear their ideas and concerns. More importantly, it can undermine your credibility because when you give incorrect or misguided directives or advice, your employees will remember it for much longer than anything brilliant you did or said. Chalk it up to the negativity bias.


Do This Instead: Actively listen. 

Instead of "Let me hurry up and solve this for you, try:

  • How do you feel about this?

  • Do you feel in control or need me to support you somehow?

  • Why do you need more time?

  • or Tell me more.

Let me acknowledge that this is challenging for many people, particularly those who are naturally anxious, nervous, impatient, or restless. Again, It can also be challenging for those out of their comfort zone. You might feel a sense of unease or anxiety well up at being presented with something you don't feel entirely in control of, and your instinct might be to swat it away fast. I recommend a quick practice I learned from Sharon Salzberg in her book Real Happiness at Work, if you have any of these inclinations. Before almost every meeting I go into, I take three deep breaths to clear my head. It calms and grounds me, and it helps me concentrate. 


#4 Don't: Project your work style, preferences, and professional biases onto your team members. 

You might love having meetings at the end of the day, but if the person you're meeting with mentally checks out after a certain time, then you've got a problem, and it's not them. You might like to meet spontaneously to "talk it through" with people, but if the other person is ill-prepared for your on-the-whim catch-up, you're not getting the best of them. 

This is another thing that requires some self-awareness and humility. The truth is that we are all biased towards our way of existing in the world, even when it doesn't work for us—it makes sense to us! I struggle all the time to understand certain people's processes. Still, it's usually not my business as long as they are successful without inflicting psychological or emotional harm on others. 


Do This Instead: Pay attention to each person's rhythms & find a happy medium.

You may never want to meet early in the morning, but can you meet with the other person before 2 pm? Instead of pushing your preferences onto your team, observe each person and assess if they are getting the results, being a team player, and enjoying the work. If so, back off and leave them alone. If you think someone is underperforming or unhappy, then go back to Do #3, and ask them about it from a place of curiosity. During a challenging moment in a project, my current CLO asked me, "What would it take to make it a fit for you?" The question was thoughtful, but its intention and openness won me over. It made me trust her. I know that I can talk to her. That's what you want, too. 


In my next blog post, I'll tell you what your employees really need from you and how you can offer it.

Let's hear it. Are you a new leader within L&D? What challenges, if any, are you having? How are you dealing with those challenges?



Hey, I'm Kandice

I'm a learning expert with tons of experience managing, designing, and developing learning programs as a solo learning leader. I love sharing my ideas and thoughts on how I do it and manage to enjoy it...most of the time. 

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