What the Classroom of Life Taught Me About the Board Room

By Janice Tanaka

“Go to school, get an education, and then get a job you love.”

Many of us grew up hearing that as the path to success but, while I would say today that I am successful, some of my most valuable lessons didn’t come from my schooling.

After almost two decades in human resources and talent development, there are four key skills that I could have only learned in the classroom of life.

Life taught me how to R.E.A.D.

Resilience. The ability to get back up again, no matter how many times you’ve fallen.
I learned this one when I applied for a job I desperately wanted but didn’t get. And when I worked painstakingly on a project that fell flat. Even by miscommunicating something that caused a sticky misunderstanding. Over time I learned not to dwell on the failure, but to extract the lessons and then try again.

Empathy. The ability to understand what it’s like in the other person’s shoes.
Working in the hospitality industry in Hawaii taught me this one. Often visitors save for years for their dream vacation, so when it rains it can really put a damper on their trip. While I couldn’t control the weather, what I could do was make suggestions for them to enjoy Hawaii undercover, helping them to make the most of their time there. This kind of consideration is key in nurturing relationships, both business and personal.

Agility. The ability to read and respond (not react) to situations quickly.
It is crucial to be able to quickly assess a situation and employ the initial steps to pull out of crisis mode. For example, when your laptop crashes minutes before a big presentation, knowing how to seek alternatives (borrow another laptop) and/or adjust materials (printed copies) will save the day. It will also spare you an emotional breakdown.

Drive. The ability to be self-motivated and have a growth mindset.
Your drive is what moves you through overwhelm and apathy; it pushes you to be better, do better, and have richer experiences. I’m always seeking new ways to be a better leader for my team: getting a mentor, attending a conference, or simply being a better leader outside the workplace so I can be a better leader inside.

I remain a proponent of higher education.
But we must admit… there are some things you just can’t learn in a classroom.

Janice Tanaka is an accomplished HR and L&D professional with over 15 years of experience in varying industries including hospitality, manufacturing, sales and public service. Janice has empowered hundreds of employees and leaders through personal and professional development workshops, coaching and speaking engagements. She enjoys karaoke singing, dancing, yoga, food and travel. 

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