Part of being a great leader is being a great learner. If you decide to be leader, either in a leadership/managerial role, or just leading those to your left and to your right, you must also decide to never stop learning. When you stop learning, you stop leading.
Last week my wife and I rented “The Intern.” It’s a movie with Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway. De Niro plays the part of a 70+ year old widower who is board with life and wants to have something to get him out of the house. He’s a retired VP from a phone book printing company and he decides to apply for a senior internship program at a start-up tech company that was founded and is ran by Jules Osten, played by Anne Hathaway. Ben started out as a huge underdog, as he didn’t even know how to turn on his mac when he got started. But his desire to learn and his work ethic in doing so helped propel him into a sort of leader of the interns. As an intern, he was reporting directly to the CEO when he inspired her and built a relationship of trust. His desire to learn, and ability to see situations from different perspectives helped him grow as a person and leader, but more importantly, it helped him grow those around him.
That’s what leadership is all about, growing those around you. If you can learn something and share that to those around you it helps you learn it better, gain more respect from your peers. Its also a great for building relationships and trust with those you work with. I feel very strongly that learning new skills and new ways of using your current skills is extremely important in both personal and professional development. Every year, I create a professional development plan for the new skills that I want to learn or the things I want to improve on throughout the coming year. I encourage all those around me to do the same and I try to see how I can hold them accountable to help insure success. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. Remember that leadership is a process, not a project. If you want to improve and be a great leader, you must change and grow. Time stops for no man. Be sure you stay on top of new research and the latest trends… So, how do I do that?
For me, I consume a ton of information… probably way more than I should. I subscribe to several podcasts, I have an audible subscription that I use for just non-fiction books to help me learn. I use youtube when I want to find out how to do something really quickly. I have a lynda.com subscription for deeper learning and course work. These are just a few of the ways I learn new skills and information. Of these methods, I may retain 10% of what I consume, and of that I may implement another 10%. That means I probably only act upon 1% of that which I consume using these methods. That makes them not seem that efficient. But its still helpful. If you improve 1% every day for a year, you’ll be 365% better. Stew on that for a little while….
Some other ways to learn is to get a mentor. I’ve had a leadership mentor for about 2 years now and he’s helped me learn more than I can from all of these books and podcasts which I consume. Also teaching others helps you learn. You may think you know a subject pretty well until you try to teach it. That’s when you learn all the things you thought you knew. One paradox with learning is that the more we learn, the more we realize we have a lot more to learn. Don’t let that discourage you. Stick with it and reflect back every quarter what you’ve learned and achieved. Reflection is important to insure you stick with it and continue to grow as a person and a leader. Always remember that this journey is a process and the destination is a mirage. We’ll always be striving for greater knowledge, influence and leadership.
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