The Attitude of Learning Leaders

Heraclitus

Much learning does not teach understanding. – Heraclitus

From Bits & Pieces a few years back is a story about musician Hoagy Carmichael. As the story goes, Hoagy once decided to take up golf. Lessons were arranged with an instructor. At the first session Carmichael was patiently shown the basics of the game: how to hold the club, how to stand, how to swing, etc. Finally, after a half hour of this, the instructor felt Carmichael was ready to drive a few toward the first hole. The ball was teed up. Hoagy stepped up to it, swung, then watched the ball sail down the fairway, bound onto the green and roll into the cup–a hole in one! The instructor was dumbfounded. Hoagy flipped the club to a caddy with a jaunty motion, then turned to the still speechless instructor. “OK,” he said casually, “I think I’ve got the idea now.”

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden said, “It is what we learn after we know it all that really counts.” Regardless of what level of success you enjoy as a leader, one thing is certain; learning is a life long process. More importantly, the knowledge that got you where you are won’t be enough to keep you there. You must never stop learning.

With vast resources of knowledge now available at our fingertips in the ever-advancing age of technology in which we live, staying ahead of the curve is more critical than ever. The way in which you invest yourself and take responsibility for your learning will make you all the more productive as a leader. Here are a few tips for going forward with an attitude of learning.

Be inspired by your mentors. Simply put, never stop being a student. Your mentors may not necessarily be up-to-speed on the latest technological gadgetry and know-how, but they possess something far greater – experience and wisdom. As technology advances and business operations become more sophisticated, it’s all too easy to be further removed from the human touch that once defined our leadership elders. What our mentors can teach us has less to do with the rapid rise and pace of technology and new media, and more to do with what we lost along the way – personal relationships. Mentors keep us grounded and remind us of the value of face time in place of Facebook. They remind us that our word is our bond, and that we treat others the way we want to be treated. Mentors are needed now more than ever and are a great source of inspiration.

Be challenged by your peers. Helpful here is a healthy amount of respect and a generous dose of curiosity. Leaders with a healthy self-esteem know that there is much they can learn from their peers. A Japanese proverb says, “One thousand days to learn, ten thousand days to refine.” When leaders learn from their peers they open themselves up to new experiences and levels of understanding. This not only helps you as a leader, but enhances the overall intelligence and performance of your team. Peers are built-in extensions of your corporate classroom. The next time you plan professional development or educational days, consider the talent pool that already exists in your organization. Utilize your peers as resources that can be of service to the entire organization. The best and brightest are not as far away as you thought.

Be motivated by your competitors. For many leaders, the competition is one whom must be pushed back. The attitude of a leader who is a learner is quite different. The question becomes not, “How can I beat them?’, but rather, “what can I learn from them?’ Gil Atkinson, the American business inventor of the automatic sprinkler system said, “Thank God for competition. Whenever competitors upset our plans or outdo our designs, they open infinite possibilities of our own work to us.” What an amazing attitude of a leader who understood the value of competition. The learning process as a leader is never ending. Class is always in session. As a leader, you are both the student and a teacher. What have you learned today?

© 2011 Doug Dickerson.

Doug Dickerson is an award winning writer and motivational speaker. He is the director of Management Moment Leadership Services. Doug is available to speak for your civic, business, or church group. Visit www.dougsmanagementmoment.blogspot.com to learn more.

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