Self help?

I bought a book over the weekend. It was all of 10p – ex stock from my local library. Except strangely it had never been loaned, it was in perfect condition. Someone had obviously thought to buy it for the library and then perhaps someone else decided there wasn’t a use for it. The book was by the popular and respected writer Tom Rath and its subtitle is “Positive strategies for life and work”. Which you’d think is a book that might be useful to someone, somewhere. Heck this is a New York Times number 1 best seller. Oprah liked it, Deepak Chopra too and if you prefer your recommendations a little more robust then Martin Seligman is also a fan.


When I worked for London Underground I was given a 360 degree appraisal. Most people in leadership roles got one. It was a useful process for me and opened my eyes to a few things. Based on my scores the L&D team had suggested a reading list, much of which was to be found in the company library. I duly trotted down to the library after work one day. Having been assessed about halfway through the corporate programme I wasn’t too optimistic that any of the books I needed would be there. Still I thought it best to get my name on the wait list.

When I got there the librarian couldn’t have been more helpful. Absolutely the books were in stock, many of them in new editions bought by the company to support this process. I selected the first 3 on my list and flicked through. None of them had been taken out.

I moved on to some of my second choices. As I recall these were hardy standards such as Covey or Drucker – the doorstop books as I like to think of them. No new editions needed here, plenty of stock already in the company. Most of them last taken out several years before. Approximately at the date of the last big corporate initiative in leadership.

Barely used.

I guess you could account for the difference between then and now saying that these days we all prefer a snappy TED talk or a colourful infographic but I think there is also something deeper at work.

There is an assumption that most people within organisations are crying out for some investment, they want the deeper knowledge, the development that good training brings.

Do they?

I mean undoubtedly some of them do but most? I’m not so sure that’s the case. I’ve seen plenty of instances where people have acted counter to the values / aims / mission of their company. Quite a few where people have knowingly failed to discharge their legal duty. Even some where people have distinctly set out to do harm to colleagues / the organisation as revenge.

So I guess my question is should we help those who won’t help themselves?

I don’t know the answer but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.



About Jon Bartlett

I'm a coach, blogging on things that occur to me, that I want to share and any other fun stuff I find lying around in the real world.
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6 Responses to Self help?

  1. pwillcox says:

    Hi Jon. Thank you for a brill post to start my day 😀 it is an interesting area, how much will an individual drive their own development and/or take deliberate action? At the risk of plugging my own post, my last one ‘learning to walk’ focussed on how impatient leaders or organisations can be about their people’s capability gap(s). At the same time, the point you are raising here (I think) is how determined and/or purposeful are the individuals at taking action themselves. What that then brings, is a question about how we create the culture where learners will take the purposeful practice and do the activity that will drive their development and at the same time the managers of those people take a supportive, patient and compassionate approach to assist that development. Thanks again Jon.

    • Thanks for your comment Phil

      I’m not sure how determined or purposeful organisations can expect people to be so I think cultural emphasis is truly important. I’ve worked in orgs where people wanted time off in lieu for anything outside their job description & in orgs where management had unrealistic expectations of what staff would do in their own time so can see both sides.

      For me the cultural change needs to also happen in schools. I’m not a fan of education only preparing kids for work – business studies lessons etc need to balanced with things which give joy & pleasure through learning.

  2. lellielesley says:

    Great post. Sadly I think a lot of people taking workplace training don’t actually want to be there and they often expect the course to spoon feed them the information. If trainers suggest they have to do something themselves and go out of their own way in order to support their learning, they will be unlikely to do so. This applies to homework as well – have been on courses when there has been expected additional self-study (E.g. e-learning or practice exam papers) to do between taught sessions and inevitably the percentage of people doing this is very small. For some it could just be lack of time (kids to put in bed, travel, tiredness etc), for some they may have found it unhelpful and given up, but I think for many they simply couldn’t be bothered.

    I would note that many libraries these day have self-service machines and no one to stamp books, so sometimes it can be hard to tell if a book has ever been issued, even if it has many times. You may also find that some people have sought the materials elsewhere (preferring to use their kindle for example), so there may actually be a few more people reading than initially thought.

    • Hi Lesley, thanks for your comment.

      I’ve found a similar attitude but then my question is should the trainer pass the delegate if they haven’t met course requirements? Similarly should the org run a course with extra work required without some arrangement for time of in lieu / study in work time. After all that sort of situation takes people in to overtime very quickly.

      I know most orgs would say that people need to demonstrate commitment beyond the job but in many orgs that isn’t a two way street – for example approaches to long term sickness.

      Tricky stuff indeed.

  3. Some people come alive in a workshop when they realise the selfish gains to be had. Relevance is key – we need to meet personal and professional learning needs. Reading a book, doing workshop prep (as Leslie mentions) can be cumbersome in our instant-gratification-so-busy world. As Phil says – learners need to be self-directive and organisations (especially managers) need to support it. Overcoming resistance can be key to any L&D job. It can mean rewriting what “learning” means at work. Perhaps what needs work is in fact promoting it as desirable self-help. Not forgetting that “Commitment to ongoing learning” isn’t in many job descriptions. Huge can of thought-provoking worms, Jon.

  4. Fantastic post!

    I love ‘self-help’ / business books and tend to listen to a lot of audiobooks. (Approx 3-4 hours a week). I’m really glad to see books being promoted as ways to support gaps identified through 360s too – as so often the answer given is ‘go on a training course’.

    All the best,


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