Tell Me What I Need to Do! The Case for Life-Long Learning

What kind of learner are you? What motivates you to learn? I’ve got a passion to learn new things, important stuff, useful stuff, trivial stuff, well not as much trivial stuff, but that can be fun and refreshing at times.

I listened to a discussion recently about The Learning Leader. I left the program with much to consider, not just about leadership and learning. One of the things that struck me was the discussion about why learning matters and what motivates people to learn. For example, are you a positive learner, who is passionate about the value of learning and knowing new things (a healthy curiosity) and who seeks excellence? Are you a neutral learner who views the experience as a means to an end – if I get the degree or certification, I’ll get the promotion or the new job? Finally, are you a negative learner, who views learning something new as a necessary evil to avoid difficult circumstances? I often see this reaction when the business external environment presents a change – technology change, regulatory change – and people are more interested in what they need to do to avoid consequences than what they need to learn so they fully grasp the impact of the change on themselves or their organization. My observation was that most of the individuals in the room could relate to all three motivations depending on the situation, but clearly, everyone could identify strongly with one of the three motivators.

The discussion turned lively when it moved to the things that are critical for leaders to learn. The responses were interesting:

· Learn about changes to their industry – for example, consumer and customer behavior or changes to technology
· Learn to trust others
· Learn from mistakes
· Learn to let go and let others take the lead

Good leaders have good habits around learning:

· They read – this extends beyond their field of interest or expertise
· The listen – this includes asking for feedback from others
· They question – this includes asking disruptive questions to help understand or avert a crisis
· They reflect – they means they set aside quite, structured time which can be as simple as taking a walk
· They experiment – they aren’t afraid to try or learn new things that are outside their comfort zone
· They set goals – they aren’t afraid to stretch
· They collaborate – they create learning partnerships that holds themselves and other accountable
· They teach – through teaching, they continue to learn from others.

For those times or situations where it’s tempting to be a negative learner, stretch yourself to learn more than what you need to do to avoid difficult circumstances. Delve deeper into the issue. Go beyond the sound bites, the checklists, and the PowerPoint slides. Read, absorb and take the time to understand what it is you need to know. Commit yourself to continuous improvement and life-long learning!

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