What you learn as a leader is more important than what you teach

What’s the most significant thing you learned in the last 10 days?

By “learning,” I don’t necessarily mean attending an educational event. Rather, what have you recently discovered that will aid you in leading your team? If you’re struggling with an answer, maybe the daily grind is stifling your ability to pay attention and notice things.

Noticing can lead to valuable insights, if you have the presence of mind to make it a daily habit. When you frame “learning” in this way, it can take many forms. You might discover a creative way to approach a vexing business problem if you resist the impulse to jump in with your ideas. Perhaps you will learn that a colleague is struggling with a project, or that one of your direct reports is especially upbeat because of a positive event in his personal life.

In addition to acquiring knowledge that allows you to lead more effectively, discovery produces a valuable byproduct. Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kantor has written, “Leaders are more powerful role models when they learn than when they teach.” That’s right, when you are curious about your surroundings, you demonstrate to those you lead how important continual learning is.

When you are open to new ideas, not only might you learn something, but your team will, too. They’ll see you as someone who isn’t willing to rest on their laurels, and they’ll be inspired to try new things as well.

Here are seven ways to discover significant insights by simply building learning into your daily leadership tasks:

  1. Ask someone to show you how to do something new.
  2. Whenever a colleague offers an opinion that you find irritating, school yourself to ask them, “What brings you to that conclusion?”
  3. Ask, “How are you today?” (and then actually listen to the response)
  4. Make a point to have lunch with someone new at least once a month.
  5. Get comfortable with the phrase, “I don’t know the answer to that question.” And then say,  “Let’s go find the answer together.”
  6. Walk around your workplace with no specific objective other than to observe. What do you notice?
  7. Read a news source or a piece of literature that is outside your area of typical interest.

One of the most meaningful things you can do for your team is to pay attention so that you are continually learning. This improves your value to the team, and it also sets an excellent example for team members to make discovery part of their everyday work life.

 

Jennifer V. Miller is a freelance writer and leadership development consultant. She helps business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Want more leadership tips? Check out this post on 20 leadership ideas for being a role model.

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