Why Leaders Should Be Learners
By Steve Graham
View original publication on www.cornerstone.edu
What comes to mind when you think of a leader? You may think of certain characteristics or personalities that good leaders tend to have.
A key characteristic for leaders to have is the willingness to learn and grow in their own professional development. This readiness to learn may not always come easy. You may think you know the right answer and unwilling to hear of other perspectives. Here, we share four steps in the value of having the willingness to learn as a leader and how it has an influence in your company culture.
Leaders set the tone for an organization. As a leader, you must be agile in your responses to the ever-changing marketplace and business climate. You’re charged with growing organizations. Learning is a huge part of this growth process.
This growth-focused learning can take various shapes within an organization. It can be organic, formalized, personalized or on-demand. Whatever the shape, learning needs to be part of a leader’s commitment to improving both personally and professionally.
One big lesson of learning is how to use failure. Sorry, but the old saying, “failure is not an option” is not realistic. Even though failure is not something we desire, it is always a reality.
Part of the commitment for leaders to be learners is being comfortable with vulnerability. As a leader, you don’t have to have all the answers. Being able to admit that you don’t know, with confidence, makes you more of an authentic leader.
Leaders must lead the way in this commitment to vulnerability. You’ve got to go first. According to Patrick Lencioni, in his book, “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business”: “The only way for a leader of a team to create a safe environment for his team members to be vulnerable is by stepping up and doing something that feels unsafe and uncomfortable first.”
Take the first step and be comfortable with vulnerability.
n addition to showing a commitment to learning, it’s important to remember that as a leader, you act as an example in your organization.
Leaders who value the impact of learning on growth and talent retention drive an organization where learning is part of the organizational DNA. When you set the example in your commitment to learning, you create organizations that are serious about learning. How you are able to use failure to learn can set a good example for others to use these important lessons for improvement. It’s about how you view failure is what can either encourage progress or hinder future success.
In the field of academic medicine, M&M conferences (morbidity and mortality conferences) are used to examine failures and medical errors. These are powerful sessions in being able to learn what went wrong in a particular situation and find practical answers to correct problems and improve medical care. The key objective of a well-run M&M conference is to identify adverse outcomes associated with medical error, to modify behavior and judgment based on previous experiences and to prevent the repetition of errors leading to complications.
If the medical field can find immense value in learning from failures, shouldn’t more organizations do the same? Yes! Leaders who are learners set an example and establish the value of learning within an organization.
There’s a reason we call it “lifelong learning.” Learning should never end. It is an investment in time and money.
Many leaders give excuses of why they cannot take time to learn. Learning should be a priority, not an option. Professional development is an investment that successful leaders embrace.
According to Dr. Brad Staats, associate professor of operations at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business says, “Today’s fast-paced, ever-changing, global economy requires us to never stop learning or we risk becoming irrelevant. Savvy leaders recognize this means investing in their own learning journey, so they can develop the processes and behaviors required for ongoing success.”
Learn to Listen as a Leader
Like showing commitment and being an example, coaching is also an important part of the learning process learning. It enhances your ability to be a better active listener as you lead others.
Listening is a fundamental part of success as a leader. In his bestselling book, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” well-known executive coach Marshall Goldsmith states: “80 percent of our success in learning from other people is based on how well we listen.”
But there’s a difference between hearing the words that come out of someone’s mouth and actually listening and understanding what he or she says. Are you hearing more than listening? Listening takes practice. Listening is a skill to learn and focus on to become a better, more successful leader.
When looking for ways to become a better listener, executive coaching can be a great practice to begin. Executive coaching is part of sound leadership development and can help you become a better leader. Coaching can be incorporated to help you become more self-aware and learn to be more approachable and authentic in your influence in your professional and personal life.
Learn to Lead
When coaching is used with other learning initiatives, it helps to develop a deeper purpose for you as a leader. Developing the complete leader involves being committed, setting an example and making an investment in self and others. Focus on learning as a strategic resource in personal and professional development.