Why all great leaders need to be lifelong learners

Looking out for what is happening in our industries, what competitors are doing in different areas, and any new technologies coming onto the market helps us not only ensure that our organizations stay relevant, but that they keep at the forefront of innovation.

There are many ways to be a great leader and effectively manage teams, or whole organizations, successfully. But in a working world where the pace of change is faster than ever and the half life of any skill is about 5 years, one of the most important things a leader can do is be a constant learner. COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation in an unprecedented fashion, and we’re living in a time when leaders especially can’t afford to fall behind.

The best leaders learn from experiences - including failures - and apply those lessons to unfamiliar situations in the future. They see challenges as opportunities as opposed to threats, proactively seek knowledge to stay up to date in a rapidly shifting professional environment, and are curious to identify areas for development and try new ways of doing things. They have what we call a ‘growth mindset’, which is the attitude and belief that we can all improve our skills, abilities and emotional intelligence with time, effort and energy.

Here are three reasons why believing that there’s always more we can learn, even if we’re an expert in our field, makes us better leaders and helps us steer our teams to success.

It drives innovation

Looking out for what is happening in our industries, what competitors are doing in different areas, and any new technologies coming onto the market helps us not only ensure that our organisations stay relevant, but that they keep at the forefront of innovation.

Leaders who are constant learners are open to change based on fresh opportunities, as well the needs of their employees and customers. They don’t only rely on things they’ve always known or strategies that have worked in the past, they seek new information and think of ways to apply their learned experience in different ways depending on the situation. This includes listening to and learning from others, whether that be external parties, friends and family, or colleagues and team members.

The biggest hindrance to innovation is a culture where people don’t want to try anything new due to a fear of making mistakes, and this usually trickles down from leadership. When leaders value learning, they encourage people in their teams to experiment and share their ideas, and they understand the importance of diversity and different perspectives, which can lead them to solutions they might not have seen otherwise.

It builds great teams

When leaders understand the benefits of continuous learning, they invest in their team and each individual’s development in the same way that they invest in themselves, because they appreciate that everyone has the capability to grow. This creates strong, motivated teams and fosters a culture where everyone is empowered to reach their full potential.

No matter how much someone invests in their own growth, at the end of the day leaders are only as good as the team that they lead. Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, has attributed the company’s transformation since he took the helm in 2014 to instilling a growth mindset as part of the culture. The company recently implemented their new ‘Model Coach Care’ management framework as part of this, which encourages managers to ‘model’ a growth mindset in order to show teams how to approach problems and recover from setbacks, ‘coach’ employees by creating spaces where they can learn from their mistakes, and ‘care’ by investing in the growth of others. This leadership style has helped Nadella take Microsoft to record performance and a trillion-dollar valuation.

It makes us resilient

Research has shown that people with a growth mindset are better at dealing with change, solving problems, successfully implementing and giving feedback, and accomplishing goals.

Leaders who are continuously scanning for change and comfortable with reacting to what they learn tend to be much more prepared to act accordingly in times of crisis. When they see business challenges as opportunities to accelerate their team’s growth, it makes them more agile in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity.

If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that we need to be ready to adapt. Leaders who are committed to life-long learning will be more able to identify the need for change when it arises and more likely to reward their teams for trying new things, all of which will help them guide their companies to success and not only survive, but thrive.

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