In Future Shock, Alvin Toffler writes, “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Cultivating a culture of continuous learning is one of the CEO’s most important mandates. Everyone should be included in continuous learning – especially the leaders themselves.
Business leaders do recognize the value in continually training their staff. According to Deloitte research, US companies spend $62 billion training employees each year. However, this investment is usually made below the level of the CEO or owner, instead going to their key team members and employees.
Why Do Leaders Dismiss Learning?
In some cases, this could be because leaders think: “I’ve reached the top. I know everything I need to.” More often, though, they’ve just lost touch with what they don’t know. They’re running the show, answering questions, making decisions, focusing on growing their business and developing their team. Meanwhile, their development falls by the wayside.
The Peer Learning Light Bulb
When leaders step into a peer environment, it turns on a “light bulb” and re-ignites their interest in learning. Suddenly, they’re not “it” anymore. They’re not alone at the top, and their problems don’t seem as unique. The opportunity to listen to different perspectives and discover ways other leaders handle challenges helps them develop a new outlook, and keep growing.
They realize there are no new problems – there are only the ones they’ve had, the ones they’re having, or the ones they’re going to have. If a leader can gain some insight from a person who’s already faced a similar situation, odds are they’ll realize a better outcome when they meet those challenges or opportunities.
Focus On Personal Development
Knowing the number of demands on a leader’s time, I suggest focusing your time and energy on developing personal strengths. This has a trickle-down effect into all that you do. The focus is not as much on acquiring skills – though that can happen as a side effect – but on refining and understanding your natural aptitudes, applying them to projects and day-to-day work.
A Chinese proverb says, “Learning is like rowing upstream; not to advance is to drop back.” If we, as leaders, do not continually press forward and commit to changing and learning, we’re going backwards. Stagnation is a slow death; companies simply slip further and further as the competition around them moves forward. As a leader, your advantage is in your ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn, and your refusal to say: “I’ve reached the top. I know everything I need to know” AND to have that belief and attitude permeate your organization!