Because information is constantly changing, a commitment to lifelong learning is essential for any leader. More than just being open to learn new things, leaders are intentional in their pursuit of learning.
A leader seeks to expand her understanding of events through active listening, critical thinking, reflection, and cause analysis. Lifelong learning begins with a leader attaining and practicing skills needed for learning. Once a leader learns how to learn, she has an important framework for understanding, assimilating, and implementing new knowledge.
In interactions with others, a leader actively listens to gain knowledge and experience. In reflecting on experiences and challenges, a leader looks beneath the surface level to discover underlying assumptions and root causes. As she thinks critically and reflects about her experiences, she considers ways to integrate new information with her previous thoughts and understanding. As a next step, she experiments with her new knowledge in thought and action, thinking new thoughts and doing new things.
A leader discovers opportunities for learning. A leader views every experience, every conversation, and every challenge as an opportunity to learn. Leaders are readers; leaders systematically include reading books, journals, and online articles in their daily, weekly, and monthly routine. Leaders create learning communities and seek out others who are equally committed to lifelong learning.
A leader functions as a scholar-practitioner. A scholar-practitioner is a person who has academic understanding of a field and puts it into active use. As a scholar, a leader is well grounded in the theories and best practices of leadership; as a practitioner, he knows how to put those theories into actions to get results; he knows that different situations require different practices, and has a keen ability to discern what practices will succeed for each organization at various times. A scholar/practitioner is constantly seeking and integrating new knowledge and skills.
A leader recognizes and minimizes barriers to learning. A leader recognizes the attitudes (laziness, resistance to change) and assumptions ("I am too busy," "I am doing fine as I am," "I'm too old to learn something new") that can get in the way of learning and finds ways to overcome them.
Lifelong learners are dedicated to seeking and applying new knowledge. The belief that learning is transformative and powerful compels leaders to continue on a journey of learning, growth, and change.
This post was written in collaboration with Dr. Ruth Wylie and Dr. Frank Hitt, associate deans from Mountain State University's School of Leadership and Professional Development. We spent a fun hour discussing the topic of leadership and lifelong learning. After our conference call, I compiled my notes from our discussion into this piece. Both Dr. Hitt and Dr. Wylie are lifelong learners commited to encouraging other leaders toward learning that results in action.