Developing the Leader as Learner – a Custom Approach to Leadership Development

September 12, 2022

I recently had an opportunity to host a leadership development session with an impressive leadership team in Chicago. When they gathered together for our custom workshop, it was the first time they had all been in the same room in two years due to Covid-19 and what transpired in the time that had past gave significant importance on the development of the leader as learner.

David, the CEO, worked with me to create a customized goal and topic for this leadership development workshop. He asked me to introduce strategies and tools to help his team be more open to new ideas, to “rethink” the way things had been done before, and to be curious problem solvers, decision-makers, and leaders. Based on these goals for the team, I curated an extremely relevant topic for leaders today – “Are You Learning as Fast as the World is Changing?

Seeing the Leader as Learner

To prepare for our session, I asked the team to read Think Again by Adam Grant. This helped them feel equipped to dig deeply into the concept of rethinking

The key point of our session was this: In a world that never stops changing, leaders can never stop learning. 

I helped the leadership team embrace their role as continuous, curious learners by questioning common responses to their current actions and situations. We interrogated the validity of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” to see that just because something has been done a certain way does not mean it can’t be done differently. 

Change-capable leaders must grow and evolve with the world. The leader’s job is constantly learning – rethinking current policies, questioning current responses, and investigating new potential solutions.

When your talent embraces their role, leader as learner:

  • Your organization’s growth strategy improves
  • You’ll see increased innovation of new products and a stronger competitive advantage
  • Leaders can “fail and learn.”
  • Past mistakes are not repeated

The Importance of Interpersonal Connection

David, the CEO, and I also developed another important objective for this session: allowing people time to reconnect with each other.

We spent a little less time “doing” and more time “being.” This time was crucial to the team – allowing them space and energy to renew their commitment to the organization and their roles as leaders.

The face-to-face time we prioritized brought up many interesting conversations, including:

  • setting boundaries in a remote setting
  • how messages can get misinterpreted over email
  • how each person behind the screen has emotions and a personal life

These discussions helped the leaders better understand their peers and themselves. 

Our custom session – focused on seeing the leader as a learner – was a perfect mix of learning and applying new concepts AND time sharing about what work and life look and feel like in today’s environment.

The Role of Soft Skills in Leadership

Not everyone will be able to keep pace in a constantly changing and demanding world and business environment. 

Really smart people are studying the “future of work” and reporting that 10% of jobs will be automated in the next year, and 50% of jobs will be automated in the next decade. Specific requirements must be met to survive and thrive in the present and near future.

Successful leaders of the future must be proficient in these 3 soft skills:

1 | Balance between doing & learning

How much time on your calendar is spent doing vs. learning? Finding the right balance between current business demands and continuous learning is hard. The fast-paced environment often distracts leaders from their best, discouraging them from being curious, innovative, active, and engaged learners.

Leaders are often head down, trying to manage customer demands, fire drills, and simply keep up. Given this reality, it is easy to lose sight of the importance of learning. But if you want to be successful long-term, it is especially important to practice continuous learning. The leaders who will thrive are consistently, intentionally learning.

2 | Intention

As leaders progress and advance in their careers, they become less comfortable learning. Not knowing something, asking questions, being curious, and reaching out to experts require them to be brave.

Not knowing the answer to a question does not make a leader unintelligent. However, not asking and not learning something new because they are afraid will cause leaders to miss on many beautiful opportunities. The access to knowledge is there, but as they get further along, they have to be even more intentional about learning.

3 | Active Listening

Active listening is a key to learning. It is essential to listen to the thoughts and perspectives of people from different backgrounds to rethink our own perspectives, biases, and judgments that keep us opening up to other perspectives and from learning. By listening more deeply – and not just responding with the first thought that comes to mind – we can respond more intentionally. This kind of mindset helps encourage a culture of learning and an environment for others to learn, share thoughts, and allow their ideas to flourish.

Developing Your Team of Leaders as Learners

Are you and your employees ready to develop soft skills for the ever-changing future world? 

If you’re interested in ensuring your team is growing and adapting to current and future demands, contact me to create and facilitate a custom leadership development session

Your team will love digging into the topic “Are you learning as fast as the world is changing?” and your entire organization will benefit from this targeted, intentional development.

Tricia Manning © 2022 All Rights Reserved.
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