Feeling Disillusioned at Work? You Should Celebrate!

A disappointed young woman sitting at the table and clutching he Feeling disillusioned at work hardly sounds like something to celebrate. How could anyone feel good about low competence and low commitment? In fact, wouldn’t you want to hide it?

In The Ken Blanchard Companies Situational Leadership® II training program, we teach that a Disillusioned Learner (D2) development level is part of the natural progression of learning any task that involves some challenge.

We all typically start a new task or goal with a level of interest, excitement, and sometimes unrealistic expectations. Most people overestimate their transferrable skills. “This will be easy” is a typical comment from people at development level one (D1), the Enthusiastic Beginner. It is easy to be optimistic when you don’t have a true understanding of what it will take to be successful. I have a tee shirt that reads “Confidence is the feeling you have when you don’t fully grasp the situation.” That is a classic description of an Enthusiastic Beginner.

We move to the Disillusioned Learner stage when we know enough to be discouraged—and that is a good thing! It is a much more realistic place, even though it is not fun. At this D2 stage you may feel frustrated with your lack of progress or even overwhelmed with what it will take to move forward. You get stuck on a problem because you don’t have the knowledge or skills to solve it yet. If you ask your leader for help, they may be so focused on not micromanaging you that they simply express confidence in you and tell you that you will succeed. Nice—but not helpful at this stage.

So why celebrate disillusionment? The best reason is that it means you are learning something new and challenging yourself! If you are an expert at everything you do, you are not learning. Disillusionment also means you have more knowledge about the task than you did at D1. It means you are moving forward even though you may feel like you are in reverse.

But celebrating disillusionment does not mean you should linger there.  Here are some suggestions for helping yourself move through the D2 stage:

  1. When you feel discouraged, frustrated with your lack of progress, or stuck on a problem you can’t solve, remember that you are at D2 and this is a normal part of the learning process. There is a way through it.
  2. Keep forward momentum by seeking out what you need when you are at D2: You need someone to listen to your frustrations and not judge you. You need a mentor who will show you how to solve a problem and ask you for your ideas. And if you have an idea that is off track, you need to be told why it may not work so that you can learn.
  3. Keep your eyes focused on your goal. Imagine how you will feel when you are fully competent, motivated, and confident about your ability to do the task.

With some persistence (and the right leadership style from a knowledgeable manager) you will move through the D2—Disillusioned Learner stage, on to D3—Capable but Cautious Performer, and finally to D4—Self Reliant Achiever.

And while you know that you will experience D2 again as soon as you challenge yourself with that next big learning opportunity, you’ll also remember how you got through it last time. Lifelong learners know how to welcome D2 and see it as simply a short pause on the road to D4.

Enjoy the journey!

About the Author

Kathleen Martin

Kathleen Martin is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies. You can read Martin’s posts as a part of Coaching Tuesday here at Blanchard LeaderChat for ideas, research, and inspirations from the world of executive coaching.

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