In Change, Leaders

“Life is tough…it’s even tougher if you’re stupid.” – John Wayne

I had the good fortune to be part of a panel discussion at a local college recently. We were answering questions from a group of students, and one of the questions was the standard “What advice would you give students who are just starting their careers?”

Several panelists (including your truly) said that one of the most important things people embarking on their career can remember is that your learning doesn’t end with your formal education. I said something to the effect that your school years are just preparation for your real learning, which begins when you get out of school and get to work. And I think that’s true.

I’ve been thinking about that as I visit with leaders since, and I think one of the real gaps for many leaders is the lack of continued, focused learning throughout their careers. Yes, as we go about our daily work we learn things constantly. But are we really stretching ourselves?

I would argue that most leaders are not. We might get some little piece of information here or there, or we might go to a formal training course somewhere. But how often are we really pushing ourselves to specifically improve in a certain area where we really need it? How often do we evaluate our own performance as leaders and then put together a plan for improving our own capabilities and behaviors?

Yes, we’re all busy, and that takes time. But it’s like anything else in life. Invest a little time now, reap big rewards later. The time you spend to improve yourself now will be recovered with interest in terms of improved performance down the road.

So here’s a challenge. Get out a pen & paper right now and list 10 things that you think you need to be great at in order to be a fantastic leader. Score yourself today on a scale of 1-10. Now think about what your business & industry will look like in 3 years. What will you need your scores to be in 2021? Which of those 10 things have the biggest gaps? Which one do you think you need to work on first? What specifically are you going to do to get better? If you’re not doing this or something like it, how can you think that you’re going to be ready to lead at a high level in the future?

Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of ignoring your own education. Don’t convince yourself that by simply doing your day-to-day tasks you’re going to be prepared for what’s coming down the road. Take charge of your education and get ready for the future.

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