I think I first heard the term “Lifelong Learner” about twenty years ago and assumed, at the time that it was just one of those “catchy” phrases that universities used to attract new students. The marketing lines that talk about 21st century learners who aspire to a type of institution that graduates lifelong learners. Sounds like a plan to me.
I consider myself to be a person who is always on the lookout for learning opportunities. We can find them all around us. For leaders who run organizations, learning sometimes comes from the bottom line each quarter. It can come from personnel and realizing changes need to take place.
For leaders, there are three things to think about when becoming a life-long learner.
1. Be aware of what is happening around you
I remember sitting in class as a student. Our desks were positioned in a manner that had all students facing the front of the room where the teacher stood. Throughout the day, the teacher spoke and we, all facing the same direction, listened “intently”. Although that method has been used for decades educating students (it’s not a great method), it highlights a deficit in learning. It assumes that learning only comes from learning in one direction. Learning doesn’t happen by only looking one way…learning happens by swiveling your chair and being aware of what is happening all around you.
2. Pursue learning opportunities
I’ve heard phrases like this before, “Leaders are readers” and “If you’re not reading, you’re not leading”. I think there is probably some truth to those statements but the main point is, as a leader, are you looking for opportunities to learn. I’m a sucker for a good leadership book that tells a story of a leadership comeback, providing lessons along the way. I also enjoy attending leadership events such as the Leadership Summit hosted by the Willow Creek Church, where proven leaders, from corporate to academic to not for profit offer lessons on leadership. Leaders want to learn and want to find as many opportunities to be around other leaders as possible.
3. Be open to making changes from what you have learned
Learning, by definition has to do with receiving information and being able to use that information to make decisions and changes. That’s the thing: once you have learned, are you willing to make changes necessary to your organization. That may mean slowing a new project down or advancing that new idea at a new speed. Whatever the case, will you be open and humble enough to make needed changes, even if it means admitting you were wrong.
Not to sound like the old after-school specials, but learning can be fun. For leaders, it’s not so much about it being fun but learning has to happen and the leader has to embrace it. When I was sitting in those classes, facing the same direction, I mostly received good grades. But then, I was a student. As a leader, the stakes are higher and the grades become much more important. An “F” doesn’t cut it…leaders have to learn.
Now GO lead!
(Leadership 1K is a journal into the mission of leaders and leadership. To receive daily updates through email or RSS feeds, click on the links in the right corner)