Inspiring A Love Of Learning

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
John Quincy Adams

As a professor years ago, I got a little tired of all the academic classes on leadership. There would be debates on the merits of the various “theories” of leadership. Frankly, I didn’t care, and I still don’t care.

When it comes to leadership, I only care about what works. I want to know WHAT the most effective leaders do and HOW I can do something similar. And quite honestly, that’s the same thing my clients want to know — the WHAT and the HOW.

Well one of the KEY things the most effective leaders do … and you’ve got to do is…

=> 1. Help your people grow.

As Julius Walls, Jr., the CEO of Greyston Bakery, says, “My job is to help people grow. When I take care of them, they take care of the product, and the product takes care of the profit.”

Yes, Walls gets it. But I would venture that many leaders … and many potential leaders… never even think about helping their people grow.

C. Richard Panico, the president of the Integrated Project Management Company, discovered that. He said, “All true leaders have a tremendous responsibility to the future of others and, as simple as that sounds, it is most often overlooked.”

Panico continued, “Recently I made a presentation to an MBA class. I asked the students why they were pursuing their MBA’s and, of course, most were seeking professional advancement; this was going to help them get promoted. Out of that class of about 40 or 50 students, there wasn’t one who said he or she had an interest in helping others advance in their careers, which, I believe is the essential element of leadership. It’s about helping and influencing others.”

Right on. So let me ask you, if you’re a leader … or aspire to be a leader … do you have a deep desire to help other people grow? If not, you’ve got some serious thinking and some serious re-tooling to do.

And if you’re in an organizational environment when you’re selecting leaders … or training high potential leaders … are you checking out their desire to help others grow? If not, you need to.

Of course, some of you may be wondering what the big deal is. Why is it so important for leaders to focus some of their energies on helping people grow? The reason is…

=> 2. When you help people grow, they go … further.

Your people go forward. They do more and achieve more. They get better results … because their motivation is on fire.

As business executive Steve Farrar notes, you’ve got to “Assume each and every person wants to do a better job and grow.” No one wants to be a failure. And no one can feel good about himself if he does just enough to get by.

When you help people grow, they go further. Coach Phil Jackson talked about that in his book “Sacred Hoops.” As the coach to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, Jackson said there wasn’t much he could do to improve superstar Jordan’s basketball playing ability. So Jackson focused his efforts on helping Jordan to see his role as the team leader who would help raise the level of every other player on the team … not merely the player who stole the most balls and scored the most points.

And it worked. It is this contribution … Jordan’s ability to help his teammates be better players … more than his super athletic talent … that made the Chicago Bulls the worlds’ winningest basketball team.

Quite simply, the 19th century explorer, C. Gene Wilkes had it right. He said, “People prefer to follow those who help them, not those who intimidate them.”

But there’s one thing you can start to do right now … to help your people grow. And that is…

=> 3. Instill a love for learning.

My teacher, Mrs. Virgelee LeDue, did that for me in high school. My first boss, John Weiner, did that for me when I was a shoe salesman throughout high school and college. My professor and advisor, Dr. Sally Webb, did that for me in college. And consultant, Dr. Sidney Simon, did that for me after college.

If you’ve had someone instill a love for learning in you, you’ve been blessed … not only for a season … but for a lifetime. And if you instill a love for learning in your team members, you bring out their best at work and everywhere else.

Clifton Streifling talked about that as he described how his boss changed his life. Clifton said, “When we met in 1972, Bud Abbott was 52 and I was 18. Bud was a Navy veteran of WWII, having piloted landing craft in the South Pacific, ferrying Marines from ship to shore in extremely dangerous missions. I was a long-haired kid adrift in life. We met in a woodworking shop where Bud was a master craftsman and I was a know-nothing amateur.”

“During the 18 months I worked for him, Bud took me from a teenager rebelling against all manner of authority to a young man willing to accept personal responsibility for my own actions and future options. He instilled in me a work ethic and appreciation for education that remains with me to this day.”

“Bud was able to do this because he practiced what he preached. Bud was always 30 minutes early for work; he never, ever overstayed a coffee or lunch break by even one minute; he never, ever put his tools away before his shift was over. And he always accepted my mistakes, as long as I admitted them.”

“Bud taught by example that performance mattered; self-acclamation did not. He never said so, but everyone in the shop knew Bud was the master craftsman among us. Bud told me, over and over, that I needed a trade or an education, and he recommended education. I listened to him, because his daily example compelled me to believe in him.”

“I left his shop to go to college. Every year, I returned to tell him I had completed another year, and many times the thought of disappointing him kept me at my books. I earned a college degree, but no teacher ever gave me lessons more valuable than those I learned from Bud. He taught me to be proud of America, proud of work well done, and proud of myself.”

There’s no better way to leave a legacy than instill a love for learning. And there’s no better way to motivate the people on your team.

Wayne G. Paul, the Vice President of transportation at Home Depot, subscribes to that philosophy. He says, “I want to have people around me that are confident and ambitious. I want them to want my job — and I want to help them get it. So I expect continual learning. I recommend and buy books for associates that I think can be helpful and insightful.”

You can do that. It’s simple and it’s cheap.

So you want to be a more effective leader? Great. Just remember. It’s not about you. It’s all about them … and helping them grow.

Action:  List 5 ways you are now … or could in the future … instill a love for learning in your teammates.