Leadership and Learning Go Hand In Hand


Being a leader doesn’t require you to have an especially high IQ, but it does require that you are willing to learn. If you do not train yourself constantly to learn about humanity, business, places, and ideas, you are asking for defeat. Leadership and learning go hand in hand.

As one CEO weighed in: “Even if you’re number one, you’d better learn something new, and you’d better keep challenging yourself, or they are going to forget about you.”

People who are intellectually curious and constantly learning have greater economic value to themselves and their organizations. They become better leaders. The more you learn, the more you are capable of leading. 

No matter who you are or what your background or current circumstance is, one thing is certain: you can always learn, explore, and experiment in new arenas. You only need to be reasonably intelligent and insatiably curious. You can never know too much, and you can never have too much information and insight. Leaders never stop learning. 

Want to be a leader? "Being a leader doesn’t require you to have an especially high IQ, but it does require that you are willing to learn." Read more about how Leadership and Learning Go Hand in Hand. Click To Tweet

Leaders Never Stop Learning

Leaders Never Stop Learning

Please note that when I’m talking about learning, I’m not talking about a formal education— going back to school or getting another degree or certification. Rather, what I’m talking about is an attitude of interest towards the world. As one CEO told me, “I want smart and creative, but that doesn’t mean I’m looking at their GPA.”

Most of your learning will be what happens after your formal degree. The whole world of information is available to you. You get to be the kid in the candy store again, picking out the brightest, most interesting topics you can find. 

Why keep learning? First, it’s good for you and your brain! The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine reports, “Studies have found that people who remain intellectually active are less likely to develop dementia.” 

  Learning elevates you at work as well. As you educate yourself, you will:

  • Stay relevant.
  • Enhance your problem-solving ability.
  • Have something interesting to say.
  • Contribute more to your family life.
  •  Advance your career
  • Get more information with which to make better decisions.
  • Challenge the status quo in yourself and others.
  • Have a more qualified opinion—; a different and broader perspective.
  • Better understand others.
  • Gain new strategies and methods.
  • And more…

An attitude of ongoing learning helps you in whatever your current position is, but just as importantly, it will prepare you for the job you don’t have yet.

Someday you might land that bigger job, and, when you do, you won’t have the time to prepare for the problems that will inevitably strike like lightning. If you have regularly been learning new skills, considering new ideas, and looking at situations from different angles, you’ll find that you have been training your brain to react intuitively to whatever situation or problem arises. 

Your constant learning will set you apart from other colleagues, managers, and friends especially those who maintain a stagnant state in which they are not constantly learning new things. 

So learn a little (at least) about everything that you can. Take advantage of every opportunity your supervisor offers (and ask for more). But most importantly, make learning your responsibility. Leaders don’t wait for others to take charge, so don’t wait for someone else to tell you to learn.

An attitude of ongoing learning helps you in whatever your current position is, but just as importantly, it will prepare you for the job you don’t have yet. Click To Tweet

Take Charge Of Your Learning

Your goal is to keep learning all day, every day. Constantly learning new things isn’t just nice to do; it’s a must-do for anyone seeking lasting success. 

You have a right to wake up smarter every morning. Each time you add something to your brain, you add to your self-worth. The most successful CEOs in the world spend at least five hours a week learning. They know that good leadership and learning go hand in hand.

Make learning a habit that you practice intentionally. A good nighttime exercise is to jot down at least one thing new that you learned today. If you can’t, you have to come up with two tomorrow! 

You have a right to wake up smarter every morning. Each time you add something to your brain, you add to your self-worth. Click To Tweet

Talk To People

Talk To People

It dawned on me early on in my career that the top of the business world would be the best to place to learn from, over academics (although there’s nothing wrong with that route). I had read an old Chinese Proverb:, “A single conversation across the table with a wise man is worth a month’s study of books.” So I decided to learn from the best in business. 

I ended up sitting “across the table” for thirty years, interviewing, shadowing (not stalking), developing friendships with, and gaining mentoring relationships with Fortune 100 and 500 company CEOs and executives, entrepreneurs, a few politicians in the Washington Beltway, and even some people in the global community. I learned from the cream of the crop. 

My goal was to find out what those successful leaders and executives did to make it to the top of their profession as compared to comparably talented coworkers —so that I could both use that information for myself and teach it to others in turn. 

But I have also learned a great deal from people who weren’t at the top that I’ve been able to apply it to my career and life. Seeking out information from people in your industry and career path is vital, but learning from anyone and everyone else is what will really differentiate you from the competition.

Talk to people you don’t know, do know, shouldn’t talk to, or normally wouldn’t. And actually talk. Don’t just text! Talking to people will not only make others feel valued, but it will also help you learn about the different ways that people think. 

You build up your own comfort level and self-confidence when you engage with others you normally wouldn’t. It is painless and interesting; and you just might acquire some new or helpful information. One CEO I know mans the customer complaint line one day a month for at least a couple of hours. 

These conversations won’t just happen. You will have to engage and ask questions, but you never know what people have to share until you ask. Use your conversations with people to enlarge, connect, or improve on what you know. 

Open your mind in the conversation. Don’t try to shine with your wit. Help those you’re speaking with shine with theirs. Really listen to what they have to say.

If you pay attention, you’ll always learn something.

Read Voraciously. 

Read Voraciously

Read, read, read. Read books, magazines, industry publications, or blogs (like this one, for instance). Read what you can, when you can, how you can, even if it’s speed reading or via audiobooks/podcasts.

One young woman in the fashion industry told me she listens to podcasts at triple speed. (You can always slow down and go back over what you’ve read or listened to if  you want to improve your understanding of the material.) There’s always a way to make time for learning.

Read on a wide variety of topics – don’t limit yourself to your industry. But no matter what you’re reading, read it with a purpose. Don’t read words for information alone, but rather, to help you make sense out of patterns. Read for contrary opinions, and read just to ruminate. 

Use Your Learning to Do The Unthinkable – Thinking!

Use Your Learning To Do The Unthinkable - Thinking!

Continuous learning should trigger thinking. That’s the whole point of it! 

Unfortunately our broad use of technology too often debilitates our thinking. I once saw a product advertisement with the tagline:, “You don’t have to think.  We’ve done it for you. . . . ” And I thought that was so not right. We need to fight against that. 

At least 91 percent of people use search engines to answer questions. I’m all for using search engine tools, but talk to others, observe, and, most importantly, ruminate. Debate with someone you think is smart so that you can get the information and reasoning that others who are relying solely on technology can’t get. 

Don’t just accept what you’re told or what you read. Learn things that matter, and deduce things no one else does. Don’t just acquire information.  Think about how you make sense of it and use it too.

Continuous learning should trigger thinking. That’s the whole point of it!  Click To Tweet

Leadership and Learning Go Hand in Hand

We’re all unfinished people, and that is what is so exciting, fascinating, and freeing. Everyone of us can do more and do better. Time in this world is limited, but the things you can do in that time are not. 

It doesn’t take that much to be an exceptional leader. It just takes doing whatever you’re doing in a way that is a little more special and enhanced than the rest. You can learn a little every day, and over the course of a year you will completely alter your life and your leadership. 

So, don’t wait. Go pick up a book or start a conversation. You won’t regret it.

One excellent way to continue learning is to get coaching. If you’re interested in furthering your education through insightful, targeted advice, contact me about a long-term coaching relationship or book me for a Bite-Size Executive Coaching session today.

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