An Overlooked Learning Opportunity for Leaders

There were times when I thought I knew more than anyone around me: fresh out of college with a diploma that said I was educated, reporting for my first assignment with a shiny 2nd Lieutenant gold bar that said I was in charge, or stepping into an HR Director role with years of experience already under my belt.

Thankfully, I was smart enough to know better.

Leaders wake up every day and step into a leadership learning lab yet far too many fail to see that and they miss the opportunity to learn from others. My leadership training came in a variety of modalities: on-the-job as an officer in the U.S. Army and in the form of classes, seminars, and certifications courses.

By far, the most valuable came from my interactions with those I lead.

Do leaders lead while learning or learn while leading?

The best leaders do both.

They ask questions to learn about the technical aspects of the work. They learn about team function. They seek out formal training on strategic planning communication, innovation, creativity and working across cultures. They ask and seek answers to question like:

  • How does this process work?
  • How are team expectations set and communicated?
  • How does my team deliver our product or service?
  • How do I support team performance?

They know that they have a unique opportunity to learn from those they lead. They embrace knowledge sharing and view every interaction as an opportunity to learn. They ask and seek answers to questions like:

  • Where do team processes interfere with team work?
  • Are team expectations clear, reasonable and attainable?
  • What are we not paying attention to now that will catch up with us later?
  • What can I do to assist the team to succeed?

Leaders surveyed in the DDI Global Leadership Forecast 2014/2015 identified a disconnect between how much time they spend on leadership development and how much time they’d like to spend. Their answers: 5.4 hours/month now, 8.1 hours/month desired. When asked where they would most prefer spending those additional learning hours: more formal learning and learning from others.

There’s a little bit of role-playing in leadership. New leaders can chalk missteps up to experience but to be successful, leaders must be full-time learners.

In Why the Best Leaders are Full-Time Learners, Kelsey Meyer writes, “I respect leaders who are continuously learning because I know they are challenging their own assumptions and bringing more knowledge to the table each time we converse.”

Leaders seeking the best opportunities for learning and knowledge sharing can look right to their very own team.

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Peter Gillis

Lisa…great post. Couldn’t agree more. In my opinion, the most important leadership skill is listening. Leading isn’t necessarily about showing the way ahead, it is about discovering the way and facilitating the trip.