Leadership Insights: April 2021- The Learning Curve

Leadership Insights: April 2021- The Learning Curve

Promotions and job changes often come when we are at the top of our game. We feel confident and ready to show what we can do. The honeymoon phase of being selected though, whether it’s an internal promotion or a move to a new organization or position, can be quickly followed by a crash when we run into the learning curve. Here are some suggestions for navigating the steep road when it feels like you are back at square one.

Expect it. I advise this for you because in all my job changes, I downplayed the reality that I was going to feel incompetent for a while until I learned the new role and established the new relationships. It always surprised me, and not in a good way. If I could do it over, I would prepare more for the return to novice and prevent it from throwing off my confidence so much. I would relax into the knowledge that it takes about 6-18 months to fully integrate into a new job. It is unrealistic to expect you will be at your peak performance when you are new-and that is just fine.


Ask for support. It will not help you to suffer in silence. When you speak up you will find relief when others can relate to your experience. You have new peers, so take the first step to reach out and start building connections with them. Seek out a mentor or an outside coach to guide you up the curve. Join networks like the RWHC Roundtables or your profession’s association to learn about resources that would take much longer to find on your own.


Feel what you feel. You may find that you feel alternatively excited then overwhelmed; pleased then regretful; smart then stupid. All of these conflicting feelings are normal, and emotional states are not permanent. If you start to feel discouraged, just notice and allow it and soon it will pass.


Set very short term goals. Call it your success plan where you identify what you want to learn in the first week, the first month, and quarterly after that for the first couple of years. Work with your manager to identify what is reasonable to learn in each time frame. This reframes the panic of “I don’t know that” to “I don’t know that yet, but I will.” When you look back on your success plan in a few months, you’ll be amazed at what you have learned.


Completely check out for a little while every day. Identify a physical activity that pushes your limits, a hobby, jigsaw puzzles, whatever fully engages your brain in such a way that you cannot think of anything else. This allows your mind to rest from the work of the learning curve, and rest is critical to the climb.


Perform an end of day debriefing. Speak or write the answer to one question that will positively impact your perspective, e.g. “Today, what went well? What did I learn? Who helped me? What am I grateful for? What do I take with me from today to tomorrow’s challenges?” These are better questions than, “What was I thinking?”

Continue climbing the curve by:

  • Asking questions. Every day, inquire about something.
  • Remember, no one that matters is as hard on you as you are on yourself. Other people expect you to be in a learning mode; join them in this expectation.
  • Carving out time for learning, not just doing.
  • Not apologizing for not knowing everything that you will eventually know.
  • Seeking out funny people, videos, etc. so that you laugh at least once a day.
  • Noticing that many of these tips don’t have as much to do with learning your new job as with keeping your perspective. Believe that you will learn the new job because you will.
  • Repetition is good when it comes to learning. It’s ok to repeat learning modules or experiences to really have them sink in.



Jo Anne Preston In Jo Anne's current role as Organizational and Workforce Development Senior Manager at the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative (RWHC) her aim is to offer to leaders straightforward tools and inspire the courage to use them.
Leading The Way In Five Mintues A Day

Lead the Way in Five Minutes A Day: Sparking High Performance in Yourself and Your Team, by Jo Anne Preston is currently available for purchase.

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