When Does The Learning Stop?
While preparing for this post, I ran across a factoid (published by the Jenkins group, a private book publisher) that boggled the mind (or at least mine). According to Jenkins, 42% of college graduates never read a book again, ever. Um…wow. That’s even worse than the 30% of high school graduates who follow the same path. Is there a relationship there? Are people who achieved a higher degree more likely to stop the learning process? Why is that? And what, if any, relevance does that have to leadership? Several things come to mind.
From a selfish perspective, your desire to lead and thus compete for leadership opportunities that bring some tangible reward, will bring you into competition with those who are similarly inclined. It would be of some comfort to know that 40% of the competition isn’t paying attention to the syllabus anymore. Life definitely is not graded on a curve.
More importantly, if you are a leader, or want to be a leader, you will find out about the Big Secret soon enough. The truth is that you won’t have all the answers before your leadership opportunities present themselves, you won’t suddenly get all the answers if you get tapped on the shoulder, and the amount of Things You Don’t Know is going to increase exponentially once the leadership title is affixed to your name.
The most critical point I see in trying to make sense of this apparently widespread behavioral pattern is from the vantage point of coaching new leaders through the usual growing pains, and of identifying those with the potential to be successful in leadership positions. As an old coach once said, “attitude over aptitude”. The most important traits an aspiring leader can have that will be of value is curiosity tempered with humility. When you admit you don’t have all the answers, WANT to know the answers, are willing to dig and work hard for them, and combine that desire with the knowledge and understanding that there is always something to learn, you have an unbeatable combination of attitudes that are in place to form successful habits of leadership.
The next level of learning for leaders is learning from failure. Get used to the possibility. There are critical errors of aptitude or hubris that can bring a team or organization down quickly. Keeping these to a minimum is a full-time job of a management team. On the other hand, there are hundreds of daily decisions and interactions that leaders, new and old, should examine and evaluate for potential improvement. Keeping up with the latest evolutions in the profession of leadership is one way to continually ensure that as you practice this self-examination, you are leaving no stone unturned in getting to the right call.
I am struck by how much the leaders of past history are used as models of current management techniques. Changes in technology and times are typically no match for excellent leadership skills and an organizational dynamic conducive to solving problems rather than creating them.
So, as you move from opportunity to opportunity, understand that you are treading on the paths of those who have walked the same route. Seek them out in whatever forms they may be and find the answers. And never stop reading.