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Lessons Learned From a Lifetime In L&D


Thu Dec 03 2020

Lessons Learned From a Lifetime In L&D

For the last 35 years I’ve owned and operated a successful boutique talent development organization focused on diversity and inclusion, cultural competence, global mindset, and virtual workforce management. I have also been a professor of sociology 34 years.

In all of that time, I’ve learned a number of important lessons that I’d like to share. For those of you beginning in L&D, you may discern some tips or danger zones to avoid as well as some guidance to help you on your journey. Those in the midst of your careers or who are veterans of our field may see this as an opportunity to stop and reflect on where you are and why you are committed to this career, in particular.


Seek out diverse points of view. I have learned the most from people who are not like me. That learning comes as a direct result of my curiosity about others. My mottos is to always be interested, not interesting. You cannot learn while you are speaking. (There is a reason why we have one mouth and two ears.) Taking risks to expand your learning universe will result in unplanned learning and opportunities. This can be done by joining resource groups at work, meeting people at conferences who have different skills or backgrounds, or seeking out news and information from global sources. Always stay curious.

Be accountable for what you do. The more you put into your work, the more you will get back. Treat every project as if you own it. Your enthusiasm, commitment, and authenticity will show through. Your goal is to exceed your client’s and participant’s expectations.

Be humble and remember that you don’t know all the answers. Some of the smartest people you will ever meet are sitting in front of you and your hidden agenda is to find them, nurture them, and have them share their wisdom and experience with you. Look for the potential in each person. This will result in unanticipated opportunities. If you are in the position of hiring trainers, always hire people who are smarter than you. If you are an external trainer, or want to become one, never meet a client thinking you already know the solution to their problem. Instead, ask questions and listen deeply. One client who has asked me to deliver diversity training at three of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies told an audience of diversity leaders that the reason she kept hiring me was because I “asked the right questions and gave her no BS.” I found this to be one or the greatest complements I ever received.

Be open to new ideas and constructive criticism. After more than 20 years of university work, I conducted my first corporate seminar at the AT&T School of Business. My most important takeaway from the VP for learning was to make it more “fun” for the participants. Apparently, my professorial style did not meet the expectations of the largest company in the world in 1986. I sought out some of the best corporate facilitators I could find, attended their programs, and learned that “telling ain’t training.” My instruction style is now highly interactive with many simulations and storytelling.

Build your network. Join professional associations for learning and talent development professionals, and seek guidance from those you meet. Always look for opportunities to network. Attend as many conferences as you can, or offer to speak or volunteer at professional meetings. You never know who in your network may come to you with an opportunity. I have even acquired clients by serendipitously sitting next to them on a flight or striking up a conversation with someone sitting next to me on the bus from the hotel to the conference. Try to avoid burning your bridges behind you.


Treat your clients as gold. Your clients are your salesforce. For 35 years of my successful training and talent development organization, no one did any marketing or business development. We are committed to our client’s success; they share our names with others or bring us in when they transfer to other companies. Be willing to share insights with your client even if doing so doesn’t directly benefit you, because your client’s success is your success. Once while helping a U.S. client work more successfully with a newly acquired Dutch company, we learned that our clients were having major disagreements regarding their exhibit at a major international tradeshow. By digging deeper with the client, and at no cost to the client, we came up with a solution to objectively measure their tradeshow performance. This solution resulted in years of training opportunities for us with 41 new clients. Another strong recommendation is to partner with your clients whenever you can. Invite them to join you to co-facilitate a session at ATD’s annual conference or offer to co-author articles with them. Become a trusted member of your client’s inner circle and help them with their career goals and job opportunities.

Be generous with clients and colleagues. Offer your ideas freely to your clients. Opportunities for training and requests for proposals will follow. We always provide free subscriptions to our cultural diversity web-based learning tool, Culture Wise, with each training engagement. We might make more money by selling these subscriptions, but we know that this offer demonstrates our goodwill and commitment to our clients’ success. Likewise, sharing your ideas and best practices with your colleagues will increase the likelihood for future collaboration.

This is a small sample of the lessons I’ve learned during an unplanned lifetime of teaching and running a global training organization. These lessons have helped me help others around the globe. I’ve had experiences I could never have imagined, learned from some of the smartest people in our field, and built lifelong friendships with clients and colleagues from vastly different backgrounds.

What lessons have you learned? Share in the Comments below or email me directly.

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