Three Primary Reasons
One key hallmark of a sustained leader is that they never stop learning. There are several reasons for this. First, as your mother may have taught you, the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement. No matter what you studied in school, there is far more you didn’t study. The opportunities to learn more, to diversify your knowledge, and to find cross relationships among diverse topics (the foundation of all innovation) is endless.
Second, you learn more from life than from school. As life continues, there are never-ending sources of things to learn – about people, about life skills, about our competencies, about other cultures, and about other ways of thinking about and approaching the issues of society.
Third, our society and our technologies are advancing at an ever increasing rate. Not only is there so much “known” knowledge to learn, new things are constantly being discovered and developed in all fields. There are an increasing number and types of things that can be learned.
Modes of Learning
Apart from the substantive knowledge that is being expanded, the modes of delivery are making the knowledge extensively accessible. There was a time in the lives of many people alive today when, to learn anything, you had to go to a library, buy a book, or attend a class in person to learn anything new. Now, with the internet, podcast, webinars, online classes, so many other delivery methods from which new knowledge and information is dispensed seem to be expanding every day as well.
Thus, anyone who does not seek strenuously to be a constant learner will, by default, fall further and further behind. This might be happening to us all in any case, but you should still strive to make the effort to learn new things.
Build Your Talent Stack
Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, has written extensively on the need to constantly build your “talent stack.” He even offers several hundred mini-classes, usually just a few minutes long, on a variety of topics that seeks to expose his audience to a broader range of topics and issues and provide a framework within which they can be thought about and discussed. Much more of this is needed and every leader should be availing themselves of as much of it as they can.
In Sustained Leadership WBS I define the concept of being a constant learner in this way:
1.3.1 Constant Learner
WBS Dictionary: Arborists tell us that a tree is either growing or dying. There is no status quo for trees. The same is true of the human mind. You are either growing and expanding it, or it is shrinking. Regardless of your field, background, education, or profession, nothing is static. The sustained leader recognizes this dynamic and works to stay current. This starts by being a constant learner. All learning begins with the gathering of facts and enough humility (1.3.3) to recognize that there is something you need to learn. Facts are provable. They can be verified. One key fact about yourself is the things that you know and you are aware that you know them. Another fact is the things that you do not know. The most dangerous “facts,” however, are those about which you are mistaken and you are not aware of your error. These are the hardest ones to identify and fix. The only solution is to be in a constant learning mode, to be open to learning new things, and be open-minded enough to change your views or positions based on new facts. A proper self-assessment (18.104.22.168) informs this and guides you toward a learning plan. Much learning comes from being observant (22.214.171.124), a great deal from reading, and even more from life experiences. This element also means that you retain what you learn; it is genuine learning and not just rote memorization. It must be available to you to apply when the appropriate situation arises. The sustained leader strives constantly to build on their prior knowledge and experience in every way possible.
Knowledge is an excellent thing to collect. It is wrong to treat it solely as a hobby where you only collect all you can. Knowledge doesn’t have any real value, other than perhaps in the Jeopardy game show, unless and until it is converted into wisdom by being applied. You incorporate your knowledge into your thinking. You apply critical, systemic, and strategic thinking to every new piece of data that comes your way. Can you trust it? Is it credible? Is it repeatable? Is it applicable to anything new? Does it enhance predictions?
Your Unique Knowledge Set
Put any new knowledge you gain to the test and put it to use. We are all differently learned as we are differently abled. No two people will ever learn the exact things or apply them in the exact same way. Each of us is a unique individual and come to leadership development from a unique perspective. Things to be discovered from applying your knowledge to new situations, to the process of creating wisdom, are unique to you. You may be the only one in a position to discover new things and improve the lives of others when learning new things. Don’t waste that uniqueness. Maximize it by expanding your knowledge at every opportunity. Be a constant learner across the broad range of things and topics there are yet to learn.
Raise the Learning Bar Every Day
It should not be your goal to gather useless facts or to learn how to do every job of every member of the team, but you should strive to be smart enough to know how to ask outstanding questions of every member of the team so you can assess their ability to perform and deliver what they promise. The floor of knowledge required to do that rises every day. Like the Red Queen given to us by Lewis Carrol in Through the Looking Glass, sometimes you may have to run as quickly as you can, yet remain in place. Gathering knowledge in an increasingly fast-paced world requires you to keep learning just to stay current. If you want to get ahead, you have to think about being like a tree. If you are not growing, you are dying.
We must be constantly growing in knowledge and wisdom. When we stop that, we begin the process of death and no one should ever seek to hasten that.
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