Why successful leaders should never stop learning
Successful leaders are shaped by their love of lifelong learning. It is learning and development that fuel their strategies and they believe that each opportunity to grow their knowledge improves their organisation’s prospects.
Whether they learn in a formal or informal setting, successful leaders and managers hunt for new insights and information that help them towards their goals. By gathering new information, analysing it, and testing it, they drive their business or organisation onwards. They adapt to changes and evolve new strategies based on the knowledge they have accrued.
Great leaders have an insatiable thirst to know, in intimate detail, what works well and what is coming next. They also want to discover how they can continue to get the best out of their people, people they know they can learn from as they build for the future.
Aside from the lifelong learning courses in management we provide at The Academy of Leadership & Management (ALM) – where we share the latest management techniques and tried and tested strategies that deliver results – there are opportunities for leaders and managers to learn in the workplace from day-to-day interactions. This has real value in terms of developing sector-specific business strategy.
Develop skills and character as a leader
Firstly, there are clear opportunities to develop skills and character as a leader. Successful leaders coach their teams, they don’t simply tell them. They provide a role model for team members, showing their willingness to get their hands dirty when it’s needed and to step back when it’s not. And they treat their team as real people, not simply a unit that delivers outcomes. That corner office might be a sign of success, but spending more time out of it than in it is a sign of a great leader, who engages with their colleagues.
Those colleagues will have a lot to say about a business, and getting their perspective is hugely important to successful leadership. While the management team might think in broad strokes, people on the front line see the fine detail. Learning how policies and strategies play out in the real world provides insights that feed in to better ideas for the future. It’s true that you really do learn from your mistakes.
Leadership is also not necessarily about where you are in the hierarchy. It is more about who you are and what you do. Great leaders make the most of this, allowing their people to lead when it is most appropriate.
Keeping a weather eye on rivals is also important. Keeping abreast of what the competition are achieving and how, allows managers to tailor their strategies and business practices to take advantage. It’s much the same with monitoring successful organisations in other fields. Asking how Amazon achieved its dominance or how Virgin Atlantic went from nowhere to one of the coolest brands in the sky can provide inspiration. Who better to give you that info that the people who deal with them all the time?
Mentorship schemes and business clubs
Nearer to home, there’s much to be said about the benefits of joining mentorship schemes and business clubs. These are populated by people with experience, who are willing to share what they have learned and form new business relationships.
All of these opportunities rely on one trait that all successful leaders share. While each of them is an excellent communicator, able to express themselves in terms that suit their industry and their customers, being an excellent listener is just as important. Without listening, without looking, and without analysing what they’ve observed, they can’t learn and they can’t act upon those learnings.
It is the actions a person takes that make the difference between a successful leader and a failure. And it is only by committing to lifelong learning and development that a leader can adapt those actions to fit the changing times and the needs of their organisation.
At ALM, we supply leaders with the tools to effect that change – but those leaders have to be learners first to make that leap.
As the former CEO of Intel, Andy Grove, said: “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” I’d argue that’s wrong. Instead of “paranoid”, read “learners”.