A Leader Must Also Be A Lifelong Learner

If you dare to teach, you must never cease to learn.

You may have a leadership title at work, or you may be called on to exert some leadership in your home. But somewhere or other, you serve as a leader.

That means you’re also a teacher. You’re teaching people what to do and how to do it.

My question is … are you still a student? Are you continually learning? You can’t expect to be an effective leader or a positive influence if you’re not in the process of learning more and getting better.

I see it all the time in my speaking programs. The audience is all excited about the material I’m sharing and the skills they’re learning. Then they’ll write on their evaluation forms, “Great stuff. But why aren’t our managers and leaders here? They need to learn this stuff.”

And I see their point. In all too many organizations, the leaders are “too busy” to attend the training session. Or if they do come, they’re constantly popping in and out of the meeting. Even though they don’t mean to be doing it, they’re subtly sending the message that they don’t really “need” to be in the session. They have “more important” things to do.

I wonder. I wonder if those “more important” things are really “more important.” After all, leadership effectiveness does not automatically come with the “leader” title. It comes from being a student of human behavior.

Dr. W. J. Mayo, one of the founders of the Mayo Clinic, wrote about that way back in 1927. In the “Journal of the American Medical Association,” Dr. Mayo said leaders tend to spend too much time on “getting the job done” and too little time on “vision and people management.” He said, “Without intending to criticize unkindly, I believe that we devote too much effort to driving home detailed information and too little time to the development of perspective.”

No matter what kind of official or unofficial leader you might be, I’ve learned several things that will make you a phenomenal leader–whether that be with your coworkers, team members, or employees. And that’s a part of what I teach people to do in my on-site program called “PEAK PERFORMANCE: Motivating The Best In Others.” People walk away with SKILLS they use immediately and work immediately.

But to get you started, let me outline three PRINCIPLES you need to remember .

=> 1. Leadership Is More Often Learned Than Earned.

I was speaking with Lou Holtz, the great football coach. We were both addressing the same convention. And he hit us all right between the eyes. He said, “Someone can name you to a position, but no one can name you to a leader.”

He’s right. All too often, great workers are promoted to managers. But the skills needed to manage — and manage well — have almost no similarity to the skills needed by the worker.

A cartoon in the “New Yorker” magazine said it best. The caption read, “I made the change from skilled labor to unskilled management.” Sad — but often true.

It should be obvious, but it seldom is. Leadership is learned, not earned. So that means …

=> 2. School Is Never Out.

Good leaders, who are in the process of becoming great leaders, are always in the learning mode. In some of the very best organizations I address, I will invariably see the CEO “TAKING notes.” He/she is in the process of honing his/her leadership skills.

By contract, some of the “lesser leaders” are “MAKING notes” about their coworkers’ behavior in the workshop. They’re not getting the fact that they need to learn or re-learn what is being taught in the programs.

At one of my Peak Performance Boot Camps, one of the participants, Victoria Martinez from American Airlines, talked about how school is never out for their managers/leaders.

She said they surveyed their employees to find out what they thought were the most important characteristics of a truly effective leader. They collected the data, compiled a list, and gave the list back to their employees. They were asked to circle the three characteristics they most wanted to see in their supervisors.

That allowed the supervisors at American Airlines to “tailor make” their leadership styles to fit the needs of their employees. Martinez reports that this approach has been very effective, and this approach has added a great deal to the whole employee-morale equation.

And finally, all people in an organization — but especially the leaders or leaders-to-be — need to make sure they use what they learn.

=> 3. People Need To Be Held Accountable For The Training They Receive.

There’s no question that training pays. That’s been proven many times over. But it really pays if you hold people accountable for the training they receive.

A survey by the American Society for Training and Development compared two groups of 40 public companies. Those in group one invested $900 per employee for training, while those in group two only invested $275 in each of their employees.

The findings? Those that spent more money on training reported 57% higher sales and 37% higher gross profits per employee than those that spent one-third as much. The difference was huge, and the difference was significant.

But I would suggest you take it a step further. Don’t just offer training. Make it an expectation that you and your coworkers WILL attend training and WILL use the training.

Skip Lefauve, CEO of Saturn Cars, even took it a step further. He required 92 hours of continuing education of every employee every year. And if an employee did not comply, 10% of his/her salary was deducted. Lefauve found that only 2 of the 7000 people in his organization failed to receive their required education.

On the positive side, you can encourage follow-through on training by offering a bonus. Bob Pike, author of “Creative Training Techniques,” recommends a bonus. He suggests giving employees a bonus–30 to 45 days after a training session–if they can show what they learned, how they applied it to their jobs, and the results they got.

Action:  If you were asked by someone to outline your routine for continuing education, what would you tell him/her? Would you be able to specify the number of courses you’re taking, the books you’re reading, and the CDs you’re listening to on a regular basis? And would you be proud of your answer?

If you stumble over the question, if you do not have a clear plan for your personal and professional development, you are cheating yourself and those you’re supposed to lead.

Get a plan. Get a plan now. And stick to it.