There are a handful of characteristics that separate leaders and followers. But one of the biggest must be that leaders are learners.
John Maxwell put it this way:
"In a study of ninety top leaders from a variety of fields, leadership expert Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus made a discovery about the relationship between growth and leadership: 'It is the capacity to develop and improve their skills that distinguish leaders from their followers.' Successful leaders are learners. And the learning process is ongoing, a result of self-discipline and perseverance. The goal each day must be to get a little better, to build on the previous day's progress."
You might find this an interesting topic from someone who didn’t attend college. But if you narrowly categorize learning to a classroom setting, you greatly misunderstand learning.
When I was 19 years old, I was trying to decide if I should go to college. I had been out of high school for two years, working in the real world in a leadership environment. A management consultant came to town and spent several days assessing our leadership team. I asked him to spend some time helping me determine whether I should continue on my current path or go to college.
I’ll never forget the advice I received, “College is a great environment for three groups of people: A) Those who need structure to learn; B) Those who are trying to figure out what they want to do with their life; or C) Those who need a degree to pursue their goals.”
Then he said, “Tim, you don’t fit any of those categories. You have proven that you are wired as a learner, and you don’t need college to keep learning.”
And I’ve been on a path of life-long learning ever since. As far as I know, I’ve never been denied any opportunities because I don’t have a college degree.
You have to decide how you learn best. It might be books for some, conferences for others, or hands-on environments for others.
I find that some of my greatest learning experiences have been when I've had the chance to gather with a small group of leaders for the sole purpose of sharing ideas, brainstorming, considering the future and talking about trends. Think less conference, and more roundtable. This is more about coaching and less about workshops or seminars.
Here is some of what I’ve learned about my learning style:
- I think best when I can take notes. At a recent gathering, the facilitator asked us to put our laptops and paper away for the first half of the day, and it nearly disabled me. I was probably the slow guy in the room, but I wasn't able to process the information or gain much. The last part of the day worked for me.
- I'm a practitioner. I don't do theory very well for very long. At some point, it's got to make sense. It must answer, “What the heck does this mean in the real world?”
- I'm a listener first. A writer second. A talker third. Not saying that is the right order, but it is how I’m wired. Sometimes in small learning environments that is misunderstood as disengagement. That usually isn’t true.
- Meeting people wears me out. That's not their fault. It's just my personality. Being an introvert, mixing with people I don't know requires energy and focus that isn't natural. However, the older I get the more I appreciate and seek opportunities to network. I learn from others when I have a chance to hear what they are learning.
- I am a research fanatic. Smart phones and iPads were made for guys like me who love to constantly and instantly be learning more about the things I see or people I meet.
Be a lifelong learner, always looking for what God is teaching you, and one sentence from a business magazine could revolutionize the way your church is organized.
How do you learn best? Are you making sure your schedule allows time to learn?