In Action, Change, Leaders

“Learning is not attained by chance.  It must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” – Abigail Adams

The post in this space from a couple of weeks ago (check it out here) generated some feedback from a number of people.  The feedback essentially fell into two categories.  The first we’ll call “I Don’t Have Time”.  The second we’ll call “People Learn by Osmosis”.

Leaders are busy, no question.  I completely appreciate that it feels like there is a bottomless ocean of stuff to do.  The people in the “I Don’t Have Time Group” felt like there were so many things that they had to do that there just wasn’t time for things they’d like to do, such as learning.

I would argue that the entire premise of the argument is wrong.  Learning is not just something we’d like to do.  It’s not optional, it’s not something that would be great if we could squeeze it into the schedule.

Learning is mandatory.  If you don’t continue to learn throughout your career, and learn purposefully, you will fail as a leader.  We have to have the mindset that learning isn’t just something we try to squeeze in.  It’s something that’s as required as making payroll every month.

The comments that we’re calling “People Learn by Osmosis” were trying to say that if you’re an up and coming leader, and you’re around other leaders, you’ll learn how to be a great leader by simply being around them.  You don’t need to purposefully consider what skills and behaviors you need to have as a leader in the future, or how you may need to lead differently than those who are currently in leadership roles.  You just stay close to people who are currently leading and everything will work out.

False.  It’s true that you can learn from the example of others.  The problem is that I’ve seen the learning by example lead to as many bad behaviors as good ones.  Not only do we want to stop making the mistakes the current leaders are making, but the reality is that even some of the good things current leaders are doing may not be relevant down the road.

Modeling what you see in current leaders may be great in theory, but it’s only great in practice if you’re purposeful about what you’re modeling.  And, regardless of what you see in current leaders, you have to think about what you will need to be to succeed as a leader in the future, not just copy what worked for somebody else over the past 20 years.

Leading is not optional, and it doesn’t just happen.  You have to purposefully determine what you want to learn, and what you need to learn, and then intentionally go learn it.  Don’t make excuses.  Your own development will go a long way to determining your future.

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