Learning to lead

Paul Heagen Purposeful Leadership & Living Leave a Comment

You are decaying.

Sorry, as disconcerting that truth may be, we tacitly if not begrudgingly accept that reality. If you’re somewhere past your 30-somethings, the tipping point arrives and biological gravity takes over. If you are disciplined about it, you also approach this new phase of life with a determination to fend off the ravages of age with exercise, diet and whatever is your definition of good living.

What can be forgotten, though, is that our knowledge and skills also decay. It is fallacious to think that our body of knowledge and skills can be layered up over a career; as self-described complexity scientist Samuel Arbesman suggests, knowledge (and the skills associated with applying it) are constantly being displaced and replaced by new knowledge and facts. (Pluto is no longer a planet? When did that happen?)

Albert Einstein, no slacker for elasticizing his brain, said that intellectual growth starts at birth but ought not to end until your final heartbeat.

Learning for the pure motive of staying relevant, productive, engaged is reason plenty, but as a leader in your organization, there is yet a higher purpose: Your people need to see you embracing personal change for yourself if you expect them to welcome it for themselves. If you want your people to learn, start showing them you are open to learning yourself.

This does not mean the next level of executive development course or just some conference. It is the get-out-of-your-lane adventure in learning that tests your boundaries, rather than reinforces what you already know.

The best antidote to being irrelevant and complacent is to be curious — and only way to be curious is to be humble. We don’t exercise our humility by taking in only what makes sense or is familiar to us, but more that does not and is not.

A person who has mastered the art of learning is one who approaches new areas with a profound, almost child-like wonder and fascination. It’s not taking the new level of class or training, but throwing ourselves headlong into something where we simply have no idea what to do — for it is in those tumults we discover not only ideas but something about ourselves.

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