When my younger daughter was a little girl, my wife and I often tried to help her with things. We very often got a consistent response from her, “Do it self!” She decided when and how she would potty train (herself); she insisted on making her own recipes when she cooked. We tried to send her for dance lessons, but she insisted she didn’t need them… because she already knew how to dance. This daughter has always wanted to experience things for herself, in her own way, on her own timetable. Sometimes it has resulted in amazing success (she can make an incredible chocolate cake from scratch); sometimes, it has resulted in pain and failure.
Why am I Telling You This?
My daughter is a highly self-directed individual. She always had that bent. In truth, all of my children are highly self-directed, but not because that is their bent. It’s because we were intentional in our homeschooling to help them learn how to learn and discover and take charge of their education. Most formal school contexts sadly teach children (and even adults) to be dependent learners. If that’s how you were taught to learn, it is time for you to unlearn that approach and become more self-directed in your learning efforts.
Self-Directed Learning Skills
Self-Directed Learning (SDL) is a complex field of study. There are many factors – social, environmental, cognitive, conative, emotional, etc. – that contribute to successful SDL. Through my own research on the subject (both academic and real-world experience), I have zeroed in on four skills a person can develop to dramatically improve SDL capability.
In our sales training we have operationailzed them thus: Sales Confidence, Professional Purpose, Vocational Discipline, and Interpersonal Communication.
Let me explain just one of those here: Sales Confidence. This skill relates to self-efficacy, which is simply one’s belief that he or she can do something successfully. Too often, a person fails to learn because he or she is too afraid to try out of fear of failure. A good learning facilitator encourages learners and helps convince them that they can be successful. There are various learning approaches to facilitate the development of self-efficacy. It’s possible to measure a person’s self-efficacy before and after the training to demonstrate improvement.
So What?
Too many sales professionals still find themselves working for a manager who micro-manages or who provides a very prescriptive way of selling. In such cases, it’s hard for the sales rep to develop his or her own style; it’s hard to learn how to adapt to unique selling situations and opportunities. When a manager encourages a sales professional to always be learning and growing, developing her or his sales craft, the rep learns how to sell more effectively. Our data demonstrates that without question the most highly successful sales reps are also the most highly self-directed – and not just in their sales world, in all their lives.
Sales Skills are Life Skills
We tell people all the time that sales skills are life skills. Learning how to be more self-directed in one’s approach to learning is no different. You can apply it to learning about your customer, an industry, a product; as well as learning to play a guitar, speak another language, or even make an amazing chocolate cake from scratch! Take some time to reflect on how you go about learning something new. Is it working for you? Do you need to try a different approach? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.