Leaders should always be learning

The importance of self-development

Sir Isaac Newton, one of the greatest mathematicians and physicists in history, said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

There’s a story that surrounds that statement. But what’s remarkable about Newton’s genius is that he was largely a self-taught learner. Nurturing his mind became a lifelong passion.

Over the past 22 years, I’ve had a front row seat to watch and work with many business leaders from a wide range of industries. No two were exactly alike. Yet the most effective leaders shared a common belief and dedication to continuous self-development and lifelong learning. 

Unquestionably, leadership skill-building activities such as pursuing more challenging responsibilities, participating in industry events, connecting with key stakeholders, reading books, attending seminars, and conducting research are all important. 

However, to “see a little further” toward highly effective and influential leadership, there must be action steps to structure and implement a self-development and learning process. Consider this intriguing quote by Dee Hock, the founder of Visa, “If you look to lead, invest at least 40% of your time managing yourself.”

Learning nourishes the mind

Leaders gain several important benefits through lifelong learning. Those include:

  • Improved competency and confidence.
  • Generating better ideas.
  • Improved problem solving.
  • Being more prepared for the unexpected.
  • Greater perspective and discernment.
  • A higher level of relevance and adaptability. 

All those skills can be shared with others to build a stronger team and culture. 

Real world storm forecast

Resting on past successes might not be enough to fend off competitors, anticipate changing consumer needs or deal with the unexpected, such as supply chain disruption, inflation, worker shortages, market crashes or even a pandemic. 

Looking over the horizon to move your company forward has become more difficult, particularly if you’re “stuck in the weeds.” Business consultant Peter Drucker said that only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion and underperformance. “Everything else requires leadership,” he said. 

In practice, what does leadership self-development look like?  

It includes skill building in areas of effective communications, strategic risk-taking, culture improvement, talent development and team building. The process starts with an investment of time in structured learning, together with subject matter experts, and access to leadership-level educational resources. 

Yet, we all can only go so far on our own. 

The next step in self-development includes participating in a business-focused peer advisory forum and a personalized leadership coach or executive mentor. 

They challenge your thinking. They poke holes in your strategies. They review your decisions before you act on them. They analyze root causes of a problem and your solutions, without being judgmental. They encourage new ideas and solutions without strings attached. 

You’re no longer isolated in the corner office.

The world is short of leaders

The world abounds with managers who control things like quality, time and money. Leadership is more about motivating and inspiring people, a big difference. 

Leadership is best used to empower others. That results in greater trust toward the leader and among peers. It can become a virtuous cycle of trust given back to the leader, then back again to the team. 

If you don’t have trust, you have nothing.

Bob Davids, a successful entrepreneur and author of “Leadership without Ego,” said leadership is a gift. “You can’t buy it or sell it. You can’t trade it … you either have it or you don’t. You need to be in touch with the people you lead, and you need to be in their shoes.”

What great leaders do to be better

The journey of self-development and learning should be a choice, not a directive. Along the way, a leader understands that honesty, openness and vulnerability are part of becoming a great leader, particularly when equipped with the skills of self-awareness, self-reflection and self-confidence.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle was the voice of reason for Alexander the Great, while on his way to becoming king. This “voice of reason” relied on the significance of slowing down to think and taking time to process issues. Today’s leader, particularly those who aspire to greatness, need this, too. 

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

George Satula is an executive leadership coach working primarily as a Vistage chairman, leading three CEO mastermind groups in southeastern Wisconsin. He is also a speaker and leadership development consultant. He can be reached at (262) 786-7400 or George.Satula@VistageChair.com.

No posts to display