Are you a leader open to learning?

I believe that learning is in scarce supply in many workplaces. My view, based on direct experience, observation and research,  has developed over 38 years in professional business and consultancy. I’ve worked in local government, not-for-profit organisations, and the commercial sector and everywhere I see a dearth of learning. The main culprit is organisational culture – the norms and practices that require conformity, rather than creativity. That culture is compounded by a ‘do as I say, not a4F8K4ADXK8s I do’ leadership approach.

In this post, I explore why that scarcity exists, how I have personally responded to that challenge, using curiosity to help me revive my learning, what benefits it brings, and the steps you can take to ensure learning becomes a stronger habit, embedded in your everyday practice.

Scarcity of learning

It is ironic that what many leaders and managers, often intuitively, admire and desire is the ability to learn or to demonstrate knowledge. And yet, this capacity is not cultivated. The straitjacket of culture keeps people shackled to boundaries that do not encourage or liberate learning. The command and control nature of most organisational leadership provides little opportunity for expressions of creativity and freedom to think more widely.

My personal response  

I have practised both learning and demonstrating learning for decades. I frequently receive compliments for my wisdom. And yet I am unsure if I am wise or not, which I think is for others to judge. What I do know is that I am always open to learning, each and every day.

I tap into my curiosity whenever I am able. It guides my explorations of issues and challenges. It helps me investigate things more deeply, as my curiosity is rarely satisfied. It enables me to deal with constant change. It has destroyed that insidious myth and self-belief that leaders are all-knowing and all-doing.

My desire to learn also helps me better illuminate needs, build a stronger rapport with others, and thus establish trust more quickly. I communicate more effectively, freeing up information flow, and encouraging others to share by leading by example, as I demonstrate my desire for others to learn.

Operating this way builds stronger relationships with others. I grow those relationships by the admission of ignorance. I know that there is no shame in not knowing. I believe that it is better to lead in ignorance than through ego. By opening up that ignorance, new leaders emerge from within your team, and organisation and they feel valued because their opinions, ideas and thoughts count.

The benefits of a learning mindset

I discovered, in my learning journey, that openness to learning produces real results. For myself, my team and my organisation.

I have seen better business results, more efficient outcomes, and greater impact on the bottom line, and, more importantly, for those people using the services I led. Being open to learning, and powering it through curiosity, generates energy and enthusiasm in the workplace. It supports and encourages innovation because a curious leader models those behaviours needed to innovate.

It enables you to understand better your staff, which helps with talent retention and development. It supports a virtuous cycle of on-going improvement, through open channels for learning.

All of this leads to better understanding of your customers, suppliers and stakeholders. In this way, you will deliver services, products and real value to those who matter most, and better than your competitors will. Your customers, as I found with my consulting practice, will become repeat customers, not once but many times over.

How to improve your personal practice of curiosity and learning

I believe there are five key steps to improving your learning through applying deep curiosity:

Step One

Know when to seek help with your enquiries and when not. Be unafraid to admit ignorance, and be prepared to share learning, and to seek others’ input frequently. There is no better way, in my view, of building stronger relationships with your team than seeking their input.

Step Two

Realise that curiosity is inherently who you are, not what you do. My wife calls me nosy; I say I am extraordinarily inquisitive.

Step Three

Be willing to look foolish or take a backwards step to move forward. Remember my earlier comment about wisdom. There are no experts, only learners. In your team’s case, they are united behind a common set of goals, mission or vision. How you arrive at the best outcome can be any pathway, not a defined pathway.

Step Four

The key to better self-development and growth is intentionality. Determined curiosity fuels your journey, and using visualisation as a tool is most useful. The thoughts, images, and feelings you conjure up will all propel you on your way.

Step Five

Push the limits of your curiosity, even to what some might say is the point of stupidity. I mentioned earlier that my curiosity is rarely satisfied. Keep pushing the boundaries of what you know and think. The results will astonish you!

Through practising these steps and invoking that deeper sense of curiosity, you will discover new things about yourself, about the people you care for, and the processes up, down and around your organisation. It will, I guarantee, enable you to lead differently and far more efficiently.

As always, I welcome your comments and meaningful dialogue. I am always happy to listen and ready to help. I wish you an entertaining and enlightening experience of the series of posts. Thank you for reading.

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