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LEADERS LEARN




The saying is, “The moment you stop learning – you stop leading.” A key to lifelong learning is to view everyone you meet as a potential teacher. This is a learning mindset, an attitude that predisposes you to be open to new experiences, to believe you can and will learn, and to intentionally grow and develop from your experiences.

 

When you are meeting new people – enlarging your circle or maybe even changing your circle – each interaction is an opportunity to re-evaluate and test old assumptions and gain new perspectives. Learning from others is the fastest way to fill gaps in your experience. A learning mindset is like a set of prescription eyeglasses through which you view the world and your experience. If I operate with a mindset that leads me to view work projects or tasks as things I need to do in order to fulfill my job responsibilities and to succeed, then I most likely will focus on producing the desired results “on time and under budget,” using my current knowledge and skills to accomplish the goal; all good things. But with a learning mindset, I am more likely to view work projects and tasks as opportunities to learn something new, and I will focus on expanding my current knowledge and skills as I take creative action. I will see opportunities to learn in all aspects of my work life.

 

Since most of us spend more than 95 percent of our work time working, not in training programs or workshops, time on the job represents our best and most accessible opportunity to learn –growing from our day-to-day experience. We just need to know how to use our experience to grow and develop. This is where learning practices come in. How can we do this? Here are some tips I have gleaned from a variety of leaders who are actively doing it.

 

Turn your awareness switch to “on.” Make a choice to be intentionally aware and looking for opportunities to learn, grow, and develop from today’s experiences. Remind yourself during the day. Pay attention to how you respond to challenges and surprises.

 

Be intentional about learning. Make it your goal to learn from every aspect of your day-to-day experiences. Take five minutes at the end of each day to reflect and identify what you learned. Make a note of it.

 

Experiment and try different things. Resist the urge to criticize, judge, or push back on new and different ideas or ways of doing things. To keep learning as a leader always means going into uncharted territory. If you don’t proactively choose it, you will lag behind in significant areas.

 

Broaden your information sources. The broader your sources of information, the more effectively you will learn new skills. Failing to keep learning as a leader means you will be less able to adapt to changing external environments.

 

Understand how others learn and facilitate their growth. Leaders are in the business of change, so understanding how people change and grow is an essential skill. It is easy to assume everyone knows how to do it effectively, yet most people neglect to consider what it involves and how to do it. These elements will help you help others.

 

Learn the ideal process of learning. Inviting others to take these steps and making it easy for it to happen will develop leaders who learn.

 

Experience. Open your mind to what is happening in the moment, and pay attention to your feelings, intuition, and your five senses. This part is concrete, present-centered, and completely subjective. Ask, "Am I truly present and aware of what is happening right now?"

 

Reflect. Pause to make sense and connect your feelings to your thoughts. Take many perspectives and allow time to process. Ask, "Am I considering many perspectives and viewpoints?"

 

Think. Detach to look at things objectively. Apply logic, language, and facts. Ask, "What does the evidence show?"

 

Act. Reach a conclusion and take some action to try something that creates your next experience. Ask, "What action can I take now to test this out?"

 

Pay attention to your approach to the learning process. Are you guided by your gut-level feelings of experiencing? Do you sometimes allow them to overwhelm you?  Or are you logical, somewhat detached? Do you jump into acting to get things done on time, often before taking time to know that you are moving in the right direction? Or does your drive for perfection prompt you to linger in reflection, sometimes missing opportunities? When you have a favorite approach, it is likely you will overuse your preference, turning a strength into a weakness. A “both/and” approach will help you and your team. 

 

Apply the learning process to life situations. Once you understand the learning process and recognize your own preferences, you can apply it to all leadership and life situations. Your willingness to understand your own approach to learning is essential before asking your staff to do the same. When you recognize your leadership strengths in your learning approach, you will also see those skills that will allow you to raise your leadership effectiveness. Then you will be able to reach your big goal: moving your team to positive and fruitful action.

 

 

 

 

 

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