Great Leaders Are Great Learners

Today’s leaders need to be extraordinary learners. Fortunately, it is not as hard as it sounds.

The need to learn is a byproduct of rapid change and the knowledge explosion. If you want to be a leader and a significant contributor to your organization, you have to realize that the knowledge base you have today will not serve you well in five years. In just five years you will be drifting towards out-of-date. Think about older employees. You can easily tell the difference between seasoned employees who are still staying on top of their field and those who have started winding down. Those who have one foot out the door towards retirement are no longer current, and they have lost their creativity. Leaders can fall into the same trap as they become caught up in the heavy work load often required of managers. When that happens, you are actually not a leader anymore. Leaders need leading ideas because an essential component of leadership is the ability to take people places that they wouldn’t go on their own. If your team can continue to move along without your new insights, new perspectives, and sense of new possibilities, you may be managing aspects of the operation but you are not leading.

I personally think that strong leaders need to be extraordinary learners driven by curiosity. What trends might be affecting our company? Is there a better way to run our team meetings? Who are the top thinkers in our field, and what are they thinking and doing? What can I learn to become a better communicator? Where can I get the best information on developing my health and fitness and reducing my stress so that I can come to work more energized? What are the leading edge technological developments that could affect our production, marketing and information handling? Who is taking our business or profession in a whole new direction? There are many important questions for leaders to consider. You don’t need the detail on all of them. That’s why you have employees who are technical and content experts. What you need is the big picture, and enough insight to make good decisions to improve and refocus your operation.

One of the best ways I know for leaders to stay current is to keep their whole team aware of leading-edge knowledge. One of my clients does this by working with their team to develop a list of topics that could impact their ability to lead their field. Each member of the team is responsible for reading in that area, and having expert knowledge of developments and trends. Twice a year each team member makes a presentation to their team and the leader to share their most significant learning. In between presentations, they routinely share great articles and ideas they find. In addition, leaders need to organize their days to incorporate reading, and I would encourage all leaders to learn how to use library services and professional databases to search for information on topics of interest. Most people have no idea how easy it is to do this given online library access, and if you don’t want to do it yourself, have your assistant or another staff member learn to do it for you.

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