Do Not Get Too Comfortable Just Because You Are The Boss. Keep Learning.
By Steve Schumacher
Whenever I have worked with leaders and talked to them about setting goals for themselves, both short term and long term, in looking back over those years, most of the goals we talked about were money, positions, promotions and other measurable achievements. The idea of setting goals around learning new things was not on the agenda unless that new learning led to a new position, more money, etc.
Over time, from a personal standpoint, I began to understand that just learning itself could, and should, be a goal for everyone, especially leaders of people. Certainly, it is vital to know all you can about the technical skills and leadership skills of doing your job well. As any teacher will tell you, the process of learning is more often more important than the specifics of the topic you are learning. Learning how to learn will often benefit you more through your life than the nuts and bolts of individual lessons.
If you have gotten to the leadership position you have hoped for and begun to relax, think again. You have competition out there that wants your job or the one above you. The days of automatically moving up because of seniority are long gone. If you are sitting still, you are falling behind.
I am not talking about learning that your company imposes on you, mandatory annual certification learning, or refreshers on the latest performance review process. I am talking about learning that will make you more of a whole person and a complete leader. Some things to consider:
You are a role model. Every leader knows that employees watch them and emulate them in more ways than we know. You are the personification of success for many people and they will copy what you do. If you as a leader are trying to instill a culture of learning and constant improvement, you must be the role model of that. Be a visible advocate of what you are asking everyone else to do. Show everyone that you are constantly looking for ways to learn and improve, and are never satisfied with your place in life or work.
Learn to teach. I have seen many leaders who miss the fact that part of their leadership responsibilities is to teach others. That does not mean to simply send someone to a seminar and pay for it. It means understanding the role you play in your employees’ learning.
Take what you know and share that information with your employees. The wise leader is one who prepares others to take leadership positions. Coaching and mentoring are tools you have available to you to teach others. Keep in mind that some people learn best by hearing, seeing, or doing. I have never understood why companies send everyone through the same type of training, when everyone learns differently.
Customize your teaching to individual learning styles. The final stage of learning is actually teaching. Understand that teaching a subject locks it in for you. The same applies to your employees. When you have an employee teach a topic to others, it locks in for that employee.
Look at yourself as an entire person. Yes, you are an employee and a leader with probably a specific skill set. Accept that and think about yourself as an entire person and do a gap analysis. Where do you want to be as a person, not just a leader?
Consider things like a personal mission, behavior that mirrors your values, maximizing ethics/integrity, volunteerism, etc. Go beyond the confines of your company and your role within it. Certainly, you have a job to do and you should never let that slip. My belief is that the better you are as a whole person, the more your company will benefit.
Stay current. Consider for a moment the technical skills you learned and how long ago that was. Do you think things have changed in that arena over time? Do you think there are things you could learn that are new in that arena? Of course, is the answer to both those questions. Your response may be that, as a leader, you do not need those skills anymore, and you would be right. Keep in mind though, the perception you are trying to create with your employees.
Getting yourself up to speed on the latest and greatest will show that you want to keep learning and it will give you more tools to coach employees and give specific feedback on performance.
As a leader, you set the tone for your employees and your organization. If you are complacent with your knowledge level and do not keep learning, others will do the same. Set a goal for yourself to be a model of continuous learning.
Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].