So, you’ve made it to the position of chief executive, director, partner, or other executive leadership role.
You’ve worked hard for years, you’ve sacrificed, you’ve delivered, you’ve proved yourself and earned the respect and title.
Now the learning can stop, right?
For those who reach the top echelons of their organisation, there’s a temptation to think there’s nothing left to learn… a rather dangerous mindset!
Why? Because continuous learning for the most senior leaders within any organisation is important to drive the success of the organisation, prevent stagnation and dropping back behind the competition. Yet it’s so often simply ignored, seen as irrelevant.
Yet – would a professional athlete stop training just because they had achieved one gold medal as a World Champion in their athletic discipline? No.
Why? Because they want to be at the top of their game for a while – not just at that moment! They know there is always room for improvement – for growth, continuous learning. They’ll not stop seeking the things that they need to keep them in that top spot, ahead of the competition.
And, it should be the same for executive leaders because the external marketplace and business arena is constantly evolving. External influencers – changing dynamics in competitors – economic pressures – new regulatory frameworks and legislation, all require a commitment to continuous learning at all levels to help the organisations gain or keep the competitive advantage.
Executive level leaders therefore need to work at constantly updating their capabilities and skills to be ahead of the curve – to have that ‘edge’; to have that razor-sharp business acumen to drive the organisation forwards, not allow it to stagnate, whither and ultimately die.
They also need to practice what they preach to demonstrate authenticity, to be a role-model to help galvanise their people.
Cultivating a culture of continuous learning is one of a CEO’s most important mandates, endorsed by them demonstrating that they too are constantly growing, staying open to learning, and remaining humble to all that they don’t know.
They need to demonstrate the importance of the skill of learning – as ‘past’ learning does not always fit. For as Alvin Toffler writes, “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and re-learn.”
However, executive development does not have to be formal. Rather, it may be more about adopting the mindsets and practices to stay in a curious, open, learner mode. For some, it may be personalised executive development or the sharing of experiences within their own peer networks to help them develop their knowledge, skills and resilience over time.
For me, one of most important element for anyone as a senior leader is to operate in a state of curiosity – which is a key element of our Adventurous Leadership model, that child-like instinct that we lose with age, so as to see everything we do – everyone we speak to – everything we read or listen to on a daily basis, as a potential learning opportunity. For, as the old saying goes: “Every day is a school day.”
And, when leaders demonstrate a curious nature, they’re tuned into what’s happening in the business world around them. They take every opportunity to seek out different perspectives and discover the ways in which other leaders handle challenges. This helps them develop a broader, more open-minded outlook that brings new ideas, to keep the business growing and ahead of its competitors.
Whatever the learning route, the benefits to the leaders – both professionally and for their organisations – are huge.
- They’re better problem solvers – they approach challenges in different ways because they’ve learned how to open themselves up to new solutions.
- They’re better communicators – their commitment to learning isn’t just across hard, technical skills but softer, critical skills like communication and empathetic leadership.
- They have greater job satisfaction – through learning, they are continuously expanding their knowledge and honing skills, which is intellectually rewarding and stimulating.
As the famous Chinese proverb says. “Learning is like rowing upstream; not to advance is to drop back.”
And no executive leader should want to drop back.
Indeed, position does not excuse anyone from learning.4th April 2023