The author believes; to say that leaders are “born with it” is trivializing the issue. Continuous learning is at the core of any successful leader.
Those in charge of leading teams and companies, essentially hold the future of the organization in their hands. How else is an organization to grow sustainably, if they are not continuously developing their leadership pipeline?
But, individual attitudes to learning differ widely. Some thrive on continuous learning in multiple areas, some are passionate about a few areas and develop deep understanding in their chosen fields, others have a more utilitarian attitude and consume knowledge only on a need-to basis. With such complexities arising, it might seem daunting to develop an organization-wide culture of learning. However, various new performance management and gamified systems can help learning become easy and meaningful for employees as well as help them fit learning into their lifestyles. There is no longer a need to “make time” for learning, because now, short, easily consumable content can be delivered directly to the employees at a pace that suits them. The sources of learning have also expanded rapidly, ranging from the traditional classrooms to e-books to the latest blogs. In short, there are no longer any acceptable excuses to lag behind.
Learning on the go
The need to continue learning is often correlated to a person’s ambition or a drive to rise up in their ranks. Learning for learning’s sakes seems to serve less purpose. This is one argument against the need for leaders to make learning investments. However, this ignores an important and underrated aspect of human nature: to participate in discussions, to seem interested, to be interesting, to be looked up to or to be respected. Our recent industry-wide Employee Engagement Report in India, reiterates the importance of senior leaders having a clear vision and communicating this vision clearly to the company. This is why insatiable learners make great leaders as their ability to form and articulate a forward-thinking vision is vastly superior.
Similarly, it is often assumed that since leaders have already attained an elevated position, their expertise has been validated and there is little left to teach them. But at the speed that technology and the business landscape are evolving today, it would be very hard for a leader to keep pace without updating themselves regularly with the latest developments in the field. With the rise of systems thinking and the increased emphasis on the capacity for creative thinking and problem solving, an end to knowledge simply does not exist.
The one-dimensional views of finite learning have long since been out of style, along with the command and control system that supported it. The old pyramid-shaped organizational structure has been disrupted in favour of flexible, flat, sometimes informal networks, as has the concept of what it means to be a leader. Technical know-how (once considered the only way to establish credibility as a manager) is now just one part of the many attributes considered essential for a leader to get results. In the current corporate reality- presentability, communication skills and the capability to inspire teams and individuals are all valued at par with hard knowledge. All things being equal, it is those people who have managed to master the softer side of leadership that really stand out in the workplace.
There is a quote that we use in one of our Dale Carnegie Leadership Development Programs which captures the employee mind-set quite succinctly: “If you tell me what to do, I will do it to protect my job. But if you inspire me to do it, I will do it to the best of my ability“. Today leaders are not only judged on their results, but also on how well-supported and encouraged their teams feel. This is one of the most important reasons why learning never ends, no matter what level you have reached.
To say that leaders are “born with it” is trivializing the issue. It is an established fact that with the right training and practice, anyone can develop that seemingly elusive and magnetic quality which captivates, influences, and inspires others. The point is for leaders to recognize the importance of continuous learning and to consistently take advantage of learning opportunities.
About The Author
Pallavi Jha is the Chairperson & Managing Director of Dale Carnegie Training India, Walchand PeopleFirst Ltd. She has diversified exposure to various management practices in areas such as training and development, HR, consulting and business restructuring. She is also a prominent voice for women’s role in leadership and the Learning and Development industry.