|Management Self-Development - A Guide for Managers, Organisations and Institutions (ILO, 1985, 282 p.)|
|Chapter 6. Some other opportunities for self-development|
In this chapter we will look at five classical and quite traditional ways of developing yourself as a manager - namely:
(15) courses, including correspondence courses;
(16) packages and programmed texts;
(17) special projects;
(18) joining associations and professional bodies;
(19) writing for journals;
(20) teaching and training others.
Going on a course is perhaps one of the best known, most commonly recognised methods of self-development.
In fact, as this book shows, the course represents only one of a large number of approaches to conscious, systematic self-development. Going on a course may have several disadvantages over other methods, including:
- expense; both financially and in terms of time;
- inconvenience; you can only go on a course when the course is being run, and you have little or no say in that (whereas most of the other methods can be done when and where you want);
- irrelevance; few courses are designed around the specific needs and issues of participants. They tend to be subject or discipline-based, rather than being built around real life problems and self-development questions.
However, we are not trying to say that courses have no place in one's self-development. They certainly can be useful. To make them useful, though, it is a good idea to ask several questions.
- why do I want to go on the course?
- what are my real motives?
· to learn certain things? Why? How will these help me?
· to obtain a qualification? Why?
· for prestige, or will it really help me? How?
· to get an opportunity to go overseas?
· for a rest, or break from work?
- will going on this particular course achieve these aims? What makes me believe this?
- what alternatives are available?
- what are the entry requirements? Can I meet these?
- how much will it cost?
- do I have this money? Can I justify spending it in this way?
- are there any sources of funding? (e.g. my employer; government; training fund; external aid agency);
- how long will the course last? What will be the effect of my being away for that length of time?
- where will it be held? How will that affect me?
- who else will be affected if I go on a course? In what way will they be affected?
Quality of the course
- what evidence is there that the course will achieve its stated aims? (NB: courses are big business these days and as such are being strongly marketed. Many false and misleading claims are made about all sorts of courses, particularly, we are sorry to say, in the field of management training);
- do you know anyone else who has actually been on the particular course? What does he or she say about it? Is there a continuing relationship between your organisation and a particular institution or course?
- if it is a qualification course, try to obtain figures of the pass/fail rates. Reputable institutions should give you these if you ask. If the course is overseas (e.g. in the United Kingdom or the United States), try to find out how many "foreign" students attend the course, and how their pass/fail rates compare with those for local students. It is a sad fact that quite a number of institutions these days are making up numbers on their otherwise undersubscribed courses with overseas students, for whom the course is not really suitable, but who may be charged higher fees than local students;
- find out about facilities for overseas students, such as accommodation and arrangements for practical project work.
The same points apply to selecting a correspondence course, although there is probably not so much money or time at risk. On the other hand, learning by correspondence is much more difficult than most people imagine. One of the problems is that most correspondence courses do not give enough guidance on how to study and learn but concentrate solely on the subject matter.
Before taking up a correspondence course, ask for a sample lesson. Also, ask the correspondence college if there is anyone in your part of the world who has done the course, so that you can get in touch with him or her to get their opinion of it. Sometimes the lessons take the form of "model answers"; although these appear useful at first sight, they can become quite a hindrance. "Model answers" will probably enable you just about to pass an exam, but in no way will they help you become an outstanding student. Although harder work, it is better not to be given model answers to learn, but to have to work out your own essays and ideas, with proper feedback from correspondence tutors. So ask for a sample lesson, do a sample assignment, and get a sample feedback.
Many correspondence colleges offer a discount if you pay the whole fee in advance. Unless this is particularly attractive, it would be better to pay by instalments so that if you find it does not live up to its claims you will have minimised your financial loss.
In some countries there are a growing number of programmes which combine correspondence courses with radio or television programmes, local discussion groups, and so on. These may well offer a much better and more effective way of learning than a correspondence only approach, especially if this is being conducted from some form of institution thousands of miles away.
When doing a correspondence course, you have to decide when and where to do your studying. It is very important to try to study at regular times, with a definite timetable (e.g. two hours every night; or three hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays; or every Sunday morning). The amount of time you spend will naturally depend on the nature of the course; a good correspondence course will advise you on this. In fact, many students think that such guidance is exaggerated (i.e. too many hours are recommended). However, very often in practice you will find you need to spend more than suggested, rather than less. Surveys have also shown that the majority of correspondence students spend far less time studying than they originally intended - so keep this in mind in preparing your plan.
Since taking on a correspondence course really is a major commitment, you are advised not to do so until you have really thought about your long-term plan for self-development (see chapter 2 and appendix 4 on "biography work").
As already stated, irrespective of the total amount of time it is very important to plan to work regularly - make yourself a timetable, and try to stick to it. Of course, unforeseen events will sometimes force you to deviate from it. When this happens, try not to panic, but catch up as quickly as possible.
Your timetable should include:
- how many hours a week you will study;
- how these hours should be spaced out;
- what times of day you are going to use, which depends on times available, and your personal preferences and circumstances; some people work best early in the morning, others late at night;
- how they will be divided amongst your subjects;
- how long any one period of study should be - in fact, between 45 minutes and two hours; you will need a break before working any longer.
Where you study will again partly be determined by your circumstances. However, in general, it is far better to work at a table or desk, rather than lying down or sitting in an armchair. Do not forget that much of the time you will be taking notes. Remember, too, that it is very difficult to concentrate if there is a radio or TV on, or children playing, or other distractions.
Correspondence study is a difficult and, often, a lonely process. Take heart! Nearly all correspondence students get depressed and feel like giving up - so you are not on your own!
When you encounter difficulties, try not to give up; rather, use the difficulties as opportunities for learning to learn. Careful analysis of your difficulties should enable you to gain considerable insight into your blocks to learning; this feedback can then be the starting point of a cycle of development, using the self-assessment and planning processes described in chapter 2.
If possible, choose a correspondence course with two-way communication (e.g. a counselling system, or telephone teach-ins). This may not be possible in many parts of the world - but why not try to establish such a system of your own? Try to find some fellow-students, and form a self-help group (method 27). Or ask your local college or management institution to set up a counselling service (see also chapter 10).
The main processes of correspondence study are reading, notetaking and writing essays. The first two of these are discussed elsewhere (methods 10 and 11).
Writing essays is a skill in itself. In brief, the following guidelines may be helpful:
- make sure you understand the essay topic; analyse the title and ask yourself some related questions, as though you were an examiner testing yourself on the topic;
- as you read and research an essay, keep this question in mind, and ask others as you go along; write all the questions down, as a reminder;
- keep a little notebook with you, and jot down any ideas relevant to particular essay(s) as they occur to you. This will often be at unexpected moments, and keeping a notebook like this is a guard against forgetting these often creative and brilliant ideas!
- when you see something written, make a note of the author, the title, publisher, date, page number;
- plan the essay, either in a logical flow, or using a spidergram (method 11);
- use a structure such as
· main body;
- write in an appropriate style, using everyday language if possible;
- when it is written, put it aside for a few days, then re-read it and amend it if you want to. You may have to discipline yourself to rewrite it to improve it.
An increasing number of "packages" for self-development are gradually becoming available. What do we mean by "package"? They usually come in the form of a book (sometimes a loose-leaf manual), consisting of a number of suggested exercises and activities, that are designed to help with various aspects of self-development. In that sense, this book can be seen as a package.
Programmed learning books and packages differ from this one in that they are usually more concerned with theoretical, subject matter rather than with personal skills. They present this matter in a particularly structured, logical manner, which requires the user to make some form of active response (usually by answering a question) before moving on to the next bit.
There is a rapidly growing number of audio-visual, video, and computer-based programmes and training packages. These can incorporate quite clever features, and can have a lot to offer for self-development, although it is important to think about the relatively high cost, reliance on imported equipment (that is likely to go wrong without expensive maintenance facilities, and that itself depends on electricity supplies that are often erratic), and dependence on equally costly imported programmes. None the less, this is probably an important area for the future.
Another way to widen your range of experiences - and hence to increase your opportunities for self-development - is to undertake special projects at work.
Of course, you may feel that you are busy enough already, without taking on anything extra. However, it is certainly worth looking into the possibility of carrying out a special project.
What might this involve? Well, it all depends. Talking with your boss or other colleagues should highlight all sorts of areas or problems that need investigating. Try to choose something that is of real relevance to your organisation - look for areas where things are going wrong; or cost too much; or where important changes are about to take place. If there is a management services specialist in your organisation, he or she might well be able to give you guidance here.
If you are working with a self-development or action-learning group (see chapter 8), then doing a group project can be particularly rewarding.
There is also an increasing use of project work on courses; again, this may be done individually or in a group. Some of the phases that a group goes through are described in chapter 11. They are presented there for use by management trainers, but if you are a member of a trainer-less project group, much of what is said there will be of relevance to you.
An excellent way of encouraging your self-development is to join some form of association, professional body, or whatever seems appropriate.
At the very minimum, this will put you in touch with other people who have similar interests to your own. Most such associations also produce regular journals and newsletters which can be a source of contacts, ideas and information (about people, courses, new publications).
You can also become a more active member, taking part in meetings and conferences, writing for publications, organising visits, and so on.
You may well know which associations exist in your locality. If not, you should be able to find out by talking with colleagues, looking in newspapers, enquiring at relevant institutions.
If there really is not a relevant association already in existence, then why not try to form one yourself? Call a meeting of people who might be interested, see if, between you, you can get it off the ground. That very process will be very good for your self-development.
As well as reading various journals and magazines, why not try writing for them? Most are extremely pleased to receive contributions - particularly from managers in organisations. Many journals seem to attract articles only from academics. Whilst some are happy with this, a large number would also be very pleased to publish contributions from real, practising managers.
If you want your article to have a reasonable chance of being accepted, it is important to bear in mind the style that seems acceptable to the journal in question. By reading several issues, you will get an idea of the sort of material they are looking for, the preferred length, whether it should be theoretical, practical, or both, and so on. Every journal has its own "personality", and you will have to bear this in mind.
If your article is rejected, do not be too disheartened. The fact that you made the effort is in itself an achievement - and anyway, you will probably have learned a lot in the process of writing it.
An excellent way to develop yourself is by training and teaching others. As an effective manager you will be doing this as part of your job, on an everyday ad hoc basis. But why not consider offering your services to give sessions on training courses as such, either within your organisation or at a local college or institution?
Alternatively, you may have some skill or interest not directly associated with work (e.g. sport or a hobby). Again, a local college, youth club, or other community venture might well be only too pleased to have you work with them.
This work might involve direct coaching or instruction, or you might bring your managerial expertise to help run a club, committee, voluntary body, or whatever. So you will need to decide whether you want to train by giving direct instruction, or by working with others who can learn from your example.
James, D.E. A student's guide to efficient study. London, Pergamon, 1967.
Leedy, P.D. Read with speed and precision. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1963.
Morgan, C.T.; Deese, J. How to study. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1957.
Rowntree, D. Learn how to study. London, Macdonald, 1970.
Woodley, C.H. How to study. Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1959.
Details of some relevant packages are given in the further reading at the end of chapter 3.