Leaders Have a Passion to Learn

February 20, 2023

by John O. Burdett

Now more than ever, leaders are readers. And they go out of their way to share the learning involved with those around them.

Learning How to Learn

Those who don’t read are no better off than those who can’t read. Indeed, now more than ever, leaders are readers. And they go out of their way to share the learning involved with those around them. We are also talking about a special kind of learning – challenging oneself, pushing forward, reflecting on what works, embracing risk and kicking performance up to the next level.

Traditional learning is all about gaining knowledge and/or skills. Expertise is essential but continuously learning how to learn is even more important. This speaks to moving to the edge of one’s comfort zone. It captures a leadership approach where stepping into new space is obligatory. It’s about letting go of the past and coming to terms with taking emotional risk. Curiosity is the start of it, acquiring new skills is part of it, but learning how to learn is the heart of it.

Without truly challenging the status quo, things are destined to stay the way they are. Without reflection, there is no learning. And without constantly exploring new ways to learn, there is little hope of learning faster than the competition.

Tomorrow’s organisation will be a team of teams. And forget the notion that the team is made up of people you meet with regularly. A boundary-less mindset, connect-ability, collaboration at a distance and enabling people with ideas to bump into each other is the only game in town. As for consensus … we don’t have time! Ensure that team members get their fingerprints all over the issue. Encourage candour. Draw out disagreement, but once the decision has been made – full agreement or not – commitment is assumed. Learning how to learn.

Even when hiring people like you, the “interview” is an inadequate tool. Throw millennials, iGen and gig employees into the mix and its reliability goes down. Think short-term projects, reviewing past work, tracking down past colleagues, temporary assignments, meaningful reference checks and having the candidate deliver a presentation to the team. Learning how to learn.

The Difference That Makes a Difference

Learning is drawn out of the experience … but it starts with a question. The better the question, the richer the experience that explores that question … the more impactful the learning.

Marshall Goldsmith, the legendary executive coach, pays someone to call him every day. She listens while he reads through and answers the same 32 questions that he responds to … every day. Tomorrow his digital assistant will, no doubt, do the same thing. With a bonus: changing tone, intonation, pace of delivery and, if warranted, language to reflect the mood.

What does a passion to learn look like? It starts with a great question. It implies constantly challenging the way things are. It demands reflection. It becomes a habit through self-discipline.

Listening, meanwhile, is nothing less than the, all essential, lubricant of learning. As for follow-up, without it, what we are describing is little more than “a nice conversation.” Follow-up means not only following through … but sharing the learning with the team and beyond.

And the difference that makes a difference: Pass both the process and the learning content to those whose behaviour you seek to change. It’s a matter of more “power to” and less PowerPoint … especially when seeking to draw the best out of recent generational cohorts to the workforce. Nurture the assumption that, ultimately, how we learn is more important than what we learn.

This article is an extract from “Tomorrow’s Leadership Will Be Different“, © Orxestra® Inc.

John O. Burdett is founder of Orxestra® Inc. He has extensive international experience as a senior executive. As a consultant he has worked in more than 40 countries for organisations that are household names. John has worked on organisation culture for some of the world's largest organisations. His ongoing partnership with TRANSEARCH International means that his thought leading intellectual property, in any one year, supports talent management in many hundreds of organisations around the world. Get in touch with John O. Burdett »

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