Because information is constantly changing, a commitment to lifelong learning is essential for any leader. More than just being open to learn new things, leaders are intentional in their pursuit of learning.
A leader seeks to expand her understanding of events through active listening, critical thinking, reflection, and cause analysis. Lifelong learning begins with a leader attaining and practicing skills needed for learning. Once a leader learns how to learn, she has an important framework for understanding, assimilating, and implementing new knowledge.
In interactions with others, a leader actively listens to gain knowledge and experience. In reflecting on experiences and challenges, a leader looks beneath the surface level to discover underlying assumptions and root causes. As she thinks critically and reflects about her experiences, she considers ways to integrate new information with her previous thoughts and understanding. As a next step, she experiments with her new knowledge in thought and action, thinking new thoughts and doing new things.
A leader discovers opportunities for learning. A leader views every experience, every conversation, and every challenge as an opportunity to learn. Leaders are readers; leaders systematically include reading books, journals, and online articles in their daily, weekly, and monthly routine. Leaders create learning communities and seek out others who are equally committed to lifelong learning.
A leader functions as a scholar-practitioner. A scholar-practitioner is a person who has academic understanding of a field and puts it into active use. As a scholar, a leader is well grounded in the theories and best practices of leadership; as a practitioner, he knows how to put those theories into actions to get results; he knows that different situations require different practices, and has a keen ability to discern what practices will succeed for each organization at various times. A scholar/practitioner is constantly seeking and integrating new knowledge and skills.
A leader recognizes and minimizes barriers to learning. A leader recognizes the attitudes (laziness, resistance to change) and assumptions (“I am too busy,” “I am doing fine as I am,” “I’m too old to learn something new”) that can get in the way of learning and finds ways to overcome them.
Lifelong learners are dedicated to seeking and applying new knowledge. The belief that learning is transformative and powerful compels leaders to continue on a journey of learning, growth, and change.
This post was written in collaboration with Dr. Ruth Wylie and Dr. Frank Hitt, associate deans from Mountain State University’s School of Leadership and Professional Development. We spent a fun hour discussing the topic of leadership and lifelong learning. After our conference call, I compiled my notes from our discussion into this piece. Both Dr. Hitt and Dr. Wylie are lifelong learners committed to encouraging other leaders toward learning that results in action.
This was originally posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk and is re-posted with permission.
I am the founder/CEO of the Weaving Influence team, the author of Reach: Creating the Biggest Possible Audience for Your Message, Book, or Cause, and the host of the Book Marketing Action Podcast. I’m a wife and mom of three kids, and I enjoy running, reading, writing, coffee, and dark chocolate.
Interesting post, Becky. As I read it, I found myself wondering if both the observations and language would be different if you had spent the hour with some experienced and senior managers rather than with faculty members.
Excellent! Reinforces my preliminary decision that it’s time to return to school for my doctorate… if I talk the lifelong learning talk, I’d better be ready to walk the walk.
I agree that our perspective comes from an academic point of view, but Dr. Wylie and Dr. Hitt both had extensive experience as managers/executives prior to entering the world of higher ed. The faculty in our School of Leadership bring a wide range of workplace experience.
I am curious to know how you think the post might have been different if I spoke to people currently working as managers.
I am excited to see where this journey toward the doctorate takes us. Whether learning in the classroom, or finding other ways to learn, I agree that leaders are learners.