I’ve noticed a common characteristic among the leaders I respect, admire, or simply follow online.
While they have a lot on their plate, while they manage large organizations, budgets or teams, and while they exert a considerable amount of influence, they still make time to learn.
Great leaders are always learning.
And it’s not an accidental byproduct either. It’s an intentional, schedule-commanding, on-purpose kind of thing.
My friend Jeff Henderson is a lead pastor of a rapidly growing church, but he’s always reading and concisely brings in people to talk to his team. Jeff arranges field trips and learning experiences for his staff. Jeff has a lot on his plate, but he takes the time to learn.
This is something I’ve noticed about high-level leaders: They have more on their plate than most people, but they also make more time to learn than most people.
Learning is one of the keys to personal growth as well as organizational growth. If you want to do better, reach more people, or lead at a higher level, learning is your ticket.
Here are three things to learn about learning.
#1 – Leaders should learn from one another.
We have a membership program that includes coaching, resources and community. One of my favorite parts of the program is the personal interaction that comes in the private Facebook group. Leaders share what they are learning and ask questions to other leaders.
A stubborn leader tries to power through a problem. A wise leader seeks counsel.
Someone else has figured out what you’re trying to figure out right now. They have been there and gotten through it. Or they have been there and it’s beat them, but either way, you can learn from them.
#2 – Leaders should learn from anyone.
Leaders should be able to learn from anyone, regardless of their background. Truth is everywhere. Help is all over the place and a wise leader knows how to contextualize it.
I worked with a pastor for a few months helping him clarify mission and vision. This particular leader had just stepped into his role after a career teaching math. When I met him, I told him I didn’t like math all that much. Of course, he responded that he heard that quite often.
“People don’t like math like geometry and calculus because they don’t think they are going to use it in life,” he said. “And teachers frequently tell students to pay attention…this is important…you’re going to need this.”
“Well, that’s a lie. Most people really aren’t going to need this kind of math later in life. And I tell my students that. Then I tell them that’s not the point. They may not need to know this equation in their 30’s but math is about solving problems. That’s a universal trait.”
My teacher friend explained that there’s no practical, real world application for the bench press either. Nowhere in the real world will you need to pick up 200 points and put it back down ten times in a row. The point is not the activity; the point is getting stronger.
Learning is like that too.
An idea picked up in one setting has the ability to dramatically transform something seemly seemingly unrelated.
Great leaders should learn from those ahead of them, those behind them, and those different from them. Don’t limit your sources of knowledge to people you agree with or people in your circle of friends. Expand your thinking and learn from anyone.
#3 – Leaders should learn on purpose.
The leaders I admire are always learning, but it’s not just observational. It’s intentional.
It’s one thing to learn as you go, but it’s far more effective to intentionally put yourself in conversations and environments where you can learn on purpose.
When you look ahead to your next season, what do you need to develop? You might be tempted to say “everything” but what really stands out? “Everything” isn’t the right answer?
Imagine what would happen if you picked one or two key things to learn or develop this next year? Imagine if you tailored your reading, scheduled meetings and events, and intentionally learned what you needed to know.
This is why I recommend every leader create a personalized leadership development plan for themselves. It can be a simple sheet of paper or a document listing out the area you want to develop and the specific action steps you’re going to take. Here are some things you could include:
- The books you’re going to read. Don’t wait to read when you feel like it or when someone tweets the link to a good-looking book. Go search out the best books on the area you need development, buy them and read one a month.
- The conferences you’re going to attend. Chances are, there’s a conference designed to address your greatest opportunity for growth. If you’re a senior leader, here is a great option. At ReThink Leadership, you’ll hear TED-style talks from leaders like Andy Stanley, Reggie Joiner, Pete Wilson, Jeff Henderson, Brad Lomenick, Jon Acuff and more. You’ll have roundtable discussions about practical strategies and you can stick around with your family ministry team and attend the Orange Conference. It’s rarely convenient to learn, so go ahead and buy your ticket and make you travel plans.
- The people you are going to follow. Make list of people who do what you want to do well and start tracking with them. Follow them on social media. Connect with them if they offer opportunities for that. (Here’s a list of who I am following on social media right now.)
Your personalized leadership development plan could include blogs, magazines, coaching networks, mentors, counseling, podcasts and so much more. The idea is to intentionally design something that will get you where you want to go.
There are many learning opportunities available to you…focus them and get intentional.
So What's Next?
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