One thing that I have learned in life is that you never stop learning. Just when you finish college, there are advanced degrees that beckon. And just when you finish an advanced degree, there’s books, articles speeches, etc. talking about “What They Don’t Teach You at _______.” Well, I fundamentally believe in what John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” What this means to me is that leaders understand the value of continuous learning.
And to be clear, learning is not about reading books, taking classes, attending seminars and the like. But rather, it is a combination of all of these plus surrounding yourself with bright people who offer differing perspectives on topics we must deal with in the course of our lives – be it professional or personal. Leaders, at least the best of them, know what they know and more importantly, they know what they don’t know. Surrounding themselves with people who know what they don’t know is critical for continuous learning.
In my role, I have had the great fortune to work with some people for many years, through roles at more than one company. These individuals, like me, realize that we are able to continue learning from each other and push one another to higher levels. This has afforded me the opportunity to learn from them each and every day. Of course, we are also fortunate that new people have joined our team and infused new perspectives, new experiences and new networks. This allows the team to continuously learn and, ultimately, to achieve higher levels of performance.
One very important point to keep in mind is that learning can occur from all sides and all directions. Don’t presume that if someone has a position lower on the totem pole that they have nothing valuable to offer – just the opposite. In many cases these people are closer to the customers and/or the details of your business. I believe wholeheartedly that there is a lesson in every individual. It is ours for the taking so long as we suspend any judgments, biases or prejudices and go into each human interaction with an open mind…one open to hearing and learning something new.
So, whether you have a college degree from a world class college, an advanced degree from a leading university or a hard fought-for degree in life from good old experience, don’t rest on your laurels as far as learning goes. Rather, wake up each day and ask yourself, “what am I going to learn today?” Trust me when I say, lessons are available in all shapes and sizes and just waiting for someone to grab a hold. As Carol Hymowitz noted in a piece from 2006 posted on CareerJournal.com, “what counts most, CEOs say, is a person’s capacity to seize opportunities.” So, my advice, carpe opportunitas!
Nina nets it out: Learning never ceases and leaders know better than most that each and every day brings a new opportunity to enhance their knowledge. Furthermore, they know, without doubt, that lessons can come from anywhere. We’ve all learned things in our lives that came from unexpected sources. I’d love to hear about the valuable lessons you’ve picked up and where you learned them.