Why Great Leaders Need to Be Lifelong Learners

As leaders, we should always be learning about new things and identifying growth opportunities. That is the only way to ensure that we are fulfilling our role and that we can lead with confidence. It also allows us to help grow others into leadership roles.

It’s only through continuous leadership development that we can ensure our skills remain relevant, that we take our businesses on the right trajectory, and that we develop innovation and creativity both within ourselves and in our teams.

Our whole way of life, all the modern-day benefits we take for granted, have only been made possible because of forward-thinking leadership. Here are a few examples:

  • When Henry Ford implemented the world’s first assembly line, he revolutionized the way the world builds cars.

  • Bill Gates made it possible for businesses to work in ways that had never been thought possible in the 1960s and 1970s. 

  • Thanks to Larry Page and Sergey Brin, information is now at our fingertips. We don’t need to spend hours in a library to learn. Instead, we use the brainchild of Page and Brin, who founded Google.

  • Just a couple of decades ago, who would have thought that people would shop from home and receive their purchases within hours? The foresight of Jeff Bezos has made that dream a reality.

Leadership is a continuous learning process

Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo, and consistently ranked in Forbes list of 100 Most Powerful Women, once famously said:

“Just because you are CEO, don’t think you have landed. You must continually increase your learning, the way you think, and the way you approach the organization. I’ve never forgotten that.” 

When we are in leadership roles, we must understand the importance of continuous learning. We must be open-minded to take on different perspectives. You see, leadership isn’t something we do for a day, a week or a year. It’s a lifelong calling. 

We cannot be effective leaders if we don’t learn new things every day and remain updated on what’s happening in our field, whether it’s related to business or general knowledge.

Therefore, like leadership, learning is a continuous process. There is no end-point. The upside is vast. The downside? We must understand that what we learn today may become obsolete in the future, usurped by new knowledge and new discoveries.

Why constant learning is important for continuous leadership development

Learning keeps us relevant. If we can instill a learning culture within our businesses, and turn that learning into action quickly, our businesses will always have a competitive advantage. It’s what I call life learning leadership.

Everything that makes leaders great stems from their yearn to learn:

  • Leaders need to be able to apply their knowledge to new real-life situations, and they can’t do that if they’re stuck in the past.

  • Great leaders are curious and actively look for knowledge when they need it. Instead of being satisfied with what they know, they always question the status quo and seek better ways to do things.

  • They have a problem-solving mindset which is vital in the workplace, for research, and in daily life. They think creatively – big picture thinking – to develop real-world solutions.

  • Leaders have elevated levels of self-awareness, which allows them to identify their strengths and weaknesses to improve. And how do they improve? By learning what works and what doesn’t.

  • They are constantly looking for new areas of self-development and always focus on what is best for their future. They don’t standstill. They strive to be better and do better. It’s how they stay at the top of their game.

  • They must be great listeners and communicators with the ability to adapt to different personalities for a truly personalized experience. So, they learn about others and learn to adapt their approach to responding rather than reacting.

  • Leaders are always ready to learn from others, and this is the backbone of innovation in any industry. There are always more innovative ideas to be learned from and always more expertise to be acquired.

How to continue to grow as a leader? Become a lifelong learner

We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘He or she was born to lead’. That’s baloney. No one is a born leader, just as no one is a born pilot or bricklayer. Leadership is a skill that is learned, and with the ever-changing dynamics of businesses, the only way we as leaders can ensure our leadership takes us, our people, and our businesses forward is by becoming lifelong learners.

Instead of thinking of leadership as a process, we must challenge ourselves daily to think of it like our lives – constantly changing, evolving, and growing by acquiring new skills, knowledge, and perspectives. We must continually look for ways to improve ourselves personally and professionally. When we do this, we are better able to adjust when major disruptions happen.

How do you become a lifelong learner? Here are five indispensable strategies that I’ve embedded into my life. I don’t even think about them consciously anymore. They have become part of who I am. Daily habits that just happen.

  1. Make a list of personal continuous learning goals

What is important to you today? What might you need to be able to do tomorrow?

Take time every month to consider how your world is evolving, and what new skills or knowledge will help you to keep pace with it, or even to lead the changing environment. What will be relevant in your business next year? What knowledge will help you achieve your personal goals?

Continuous improvement in areas such as teamwork, management, and communication will help you to deliver a more genuine and inspirational leadership.

  1. Read a lot and stay on top of the latest trends in your industry

You’ve got to learn to love reading – it’s what the most successful CEOs and business leaders are exceptional at. According to a survey by Fast Company, CEOs read an average of a book a week.

Warren Buffet? He spends 80% of his time reading.

Bill Gates? Commits an hour each night to reading.

Mark Cuban attributes part of his success to reading.

The list goes on, but you get the idea.

  1. Attend seminars, conferences, and workshops

As a leader, one of your main roles is to bring people together to share ideas and collaborate on projects. One of the best ways to hone your leadership skills is by attending seminars, conferences, and workshops. You not only learn from others, but you gain great insight into what people and companies in your industry are doing.

These events are also great for networking and improving the breadth, depth, and quality of your personal network.

  1. Seek out constant feedback to aid your learning and development

Leaders need to surround themselves with feedback, whether it is positive or negative. Feedback is crucial for your growth as a leader. But how do you find valuable feedback? 

Surround yourself with people who are honest, unbiased, and willing to give constructive feedback on your leadership capabilities. A coach or mentor will be able to provide this feedback. They will have wide-ranging experience of leadership coaching, give tips on leadership style, and help you improve as a leader.

  1. Reflect on your successes and mistakes to continually improve your leadership capabilities

Take time for reflection each day. Consider what you have done well, and what you have done not so well. Think about your daily and weekly successes and failures. Ask yourself what you could accomplish better next time, and how you could do so. Don’t get stuck in the past, but learn from your mistakes, build on your successes, and grow as a leader.

Commit to life-long learning to achieve your leadership potential

Commitment to life-long learning is a mark of authentic leadership. It is not about the latest new skill, but an understanding that one’s future success relies on continuous improvement of skills and knowledge. The most effective leaders are those who possess a willingness to learn and grow, are open-minded and curious, and humble enough to accept and learn from feedback.

Would you like to learn more about embedding continuous learning into your life as a leader? Then book me for a consultation.

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