Project Practitioners > Become a Student

Become a Student

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


In a leadership role, it can be difficult to step back and absorb information. You are the leader, and you must impart your knowledge on the crew or team. You have the experience. Therefore, you must know. It becomes more output than input, causing your learning to suffer.

This week, a lower belt rank took the time from rolling (the fun part) to explain a few things he learned in a class I was not present. Instead of dismissing this idea, I took a few minutes to listen and be a good demonstration partner.

He showed me two ways to perform a choke when the opponent is in a turtle position. I showed him one more way to perform a choke in the same position. When the ‘roll’ was over, he gained one option while I gained two options. Now, we both possess three options from that position.

It is not a zero-sum game. Ideas become contagious and additive. A dash of this and sprinkle of that and you create a magical dish of destruction. Project management incorporates more than technical skills. Soft skills, I argue, play an even larger role in the success of a project manager. All of these things are learned over time.

How can we become students, even though we are often in the teaching role?



During jiu jitsu class, you can tell who is there to learn and who are going through the motions based on how students are listening. Most students have their eyes forward and mouth quiet, seeing how each technique is performed. Others are catching up on the weekend or the night’s plans.

When it comes to being a student, the best ones give their attention to the lesson at hand. They pick up on the analogies that the professor is using to help explain the details. The ones who have questions immediately were the ones discussing everything but jiu jitsu.

Your understanding of a subject depends on your ability to listen and comprehend. To take information in, you must be listening. A student of the game is always overhearing two experts discuss the finer details and internalize them the best he or she can. Eventually, those tips and tricks will find a home and start to make sense.

No matter the industry or profession, something can always be learned from an individual. You may not see the connection immediately, but eventually, because you listened intently, the pieces fall into place.



Take the material outside of the space you heard about it and find out more on your own. If you think of a certain guard or position suits your game the best, start to find the best resources for that specific skill set and exploit it.

Want to play more lapel guard? Go to Keenan Cornelius. Want to pressure pass like the best? Go to Ribiero. They have demonstrated these techniques at the highest levels of the sport, ensuring their information is accurate.

Want to learn more about programming? Go to your top programmer. Want to understand accounting better? Go to the Chief Financial Officer. These resources are at your disposal just around the corner. Start slow with bite-sized chunks of information and progress from there. No one becomes an expert or master overnight.

A black belt is earned after a decade of practicing. The same goes for a project manager. Sure, you can pass a test that claims you are a professional, but the real test comes every day. Showing up day-in and day-out proving your skills against the opponent. That opponent changes making the solution change making you the best you can be.


Complete the Work

Completing the work is about action. You can listen and study all you want. Putting those lessons into practice is the true test of skill. Hearing about an armbar is vastly different than performing one. The student becomes the master through the practice and action of the skills learned.

A theory is great in storybooks. Everything works out as planned. The math lines up and elevations are perfect. Put that theory into practice, and things become tricky. Not everything lines up as it does on paper. A crew member does not perform as predicted. An underground utility pops up out of nowhere. A tenant decides to deny access for the technician.

All of these factors, and more, pile up against theory. The practice becomes the true test of skill. The fancy technique being taught on social media does not apply when a live roll occurs. A willing participant makes it look flawless. A person who resists with 100% effort is not so easy to manipulate.

If you can implement theory into practice, then learning is taking place at the highest level.



Respect not only the teacher but also the knowledge itself. As ridiculous as it may seem in the present, there is a lesson somewhere. You get out what you put in. Respecting the messenger is obvious. Normally, he or she is an expert on the subject. Therefore, built-in respect is given.

The knowledge has another layer of respect, usually earned through shared experiences or facts. If what someone is saying is so off base, the respect of knowledge is difficult. However, the best teachers have a way of relating that knowledge in such a way it makes sense to the audience.

For a teacher, respecting the audience is crucial for an effective message. If you abuse their time, they will abuse your message. The facts can be laden throughout, but since you took too long explaining something, the interest is lost, meaning your message is lost.

Respect from both the messenger and audience is crucial for the passing of knowledge.



Always be a student. Act as if every encounter has something to teach you. If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room. Begin to listen. The real knowledge lies within the nuance.

Study those nuances. Create theories of your own. Next, start to implement those theories and test them. Be objective in your study and application. Through time, the student becomes the master.

Respect for this process must be assumed. Go in with an open mind. Surprise! You do not know everything. As crazy as that sounds, it is true. There is always something to gain from an interaction. Positive and negative outcomes are learning experiences. Often, those negative results are where most impactful learning is had.

School is always in session.

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