As the old Stealers Wheel song tells it, “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.”
Have you ever felt like the center of everything good and everything bad in your organization? Learners come to you for information and knowledge, and leaders come to you for advice. When things are going sideways and people leave, “It’s because there wasn’t enough training.”
Sometimes, we feel like we just can’t win, but we can – we just need to realize that being stuck in the middle isn’t bad. I challenge you to think of the middle as a target, with you as the bull’s eye. You have impact that goes up, down and laterally throughout your organization. What you do has a ripple effect. You are influential, and you should use your influence to make an impact.
Here are some foundational factors to consider.
1. Remember Your “Why”
What makes you passionate about learning? What drives the love you have for imparting knowledge or designing courses? You have an inner drive that changes energy and grounds you, which makes you authentic and believable. This drive, my friends, is solid gold. It is your groundwork for building discussions and sharing information. It will keep you focused on the work that you must do to accomplish goals and lead from the middle. When you let your passion for what you do shine through conversations and collaborations, people become aligned, groups synergize and enthusiasm is contagious. When people share what they learn, it drives enthusiasm and retention – but it only works if you know your why.
2. Be a Connector
Malcolm Gladwell first coined the term “connector” in his book “The Tipping Point.” The benefit of being a connector is that you know a lot of people. Training and development professionals are natural connectors, which means that you are not alone. What learning networks are you already connected to? Are you in LinkedIn groups? Do you belong to professional development organizations? Where are you being fed?
If you are not, there’s your first problem. You can gain countless benefits from sharing the joys, as well as moments where you just want to put your head in your hands, with others who do what you do. Build relationships, and move your own learning bar forward. In turn, you will be able to help others. Throughout this process, you are building influence and keeping learning at the forefront.
3. Give Back
I have not always been a learning professional. Over the years, as I have built my career, countless people have given me their knowledge and time. They inspired me to stretch outside my comfort zone, add value and be of service to others. Sharing knowledge rather than hoarding it helps empower and equip the next generation of learning professionals. Tell stories, and share lessons learned and situational knowledge. Help others avoid pitfalls by sharing your failures as well as your successes. Most of all, be authentic.
Trying to do this job in a vacuum will only frustrate you. Ask for help when you need it, and be willing to offer your own hand when asked. You may think they are clowns and jokers today, but tomorrow, they may be in a position to impact your growth and your opportunity. Recognize that your thinking may be faulty, and center yourself. You are the bull’s eye.