5 Ways to Continue Learning in Leadership
Why Learning is Important as a Leader
In leadership often the key to our success is our ability to learn, adapt, and apply. We must be able to learn new information and drive change by disseminating that information. Being able to do the latter is a bit useless without the former. A foundational skill that leaders must master is learning, and believe it or not, it is often trickier than it sounds.
It is kind of silly that in our public-school system we devote a lot of time and resources on learning very specific topics, however, very little time and resources teaching students how to learn. We encounter several situations where individuals struggle with learning and as a society, we are quick to label them as having a learning disability, when in all reality the case too often is that the individual has never been taught how to learn.
I believe that with enough time, effort, and self-understanding that anyone can learn anything. I don’t believe there are learning constraints that prevent certain individuals from learning certain topics. I would encourage every individual to discover how they learn best and how to apply various techniques to improve their ability to learn. I would strongly suggest that individuals interested in leadership take a much more aggressive stance at understanding how they learn best to maximize their chances of success as a leader. A leader who is able to learn any topic before adapting and applying it to their specific situation or organization is unparalleled by an individual who is trapped within a set of learning constraints.
What I mean when I say “Learn how to Learn”
When an individual who understands how they learn best is introduced to new material that may be foreign to them, they begin a set of practices that includes determining whether they should learn this new material or whether they should discard it as unnecessary for them to learn. If they determine that they want to learn it, they actively use techniques that they know will allow them to absorb and retain information. When an individual engages learning in this manner, it could be said that they know how to learn.
Understanding how our body and brain learns best is a skill that can be acquired. This may seem like an oxymoron, because if we innately knew how to learn, then we would just learn how to learn, right? If we didn’t than we never would. It may be confusing if you look too deeply into it, but I suggest that we think about it more broadly. Like many things, some people naturally take to them. It seems common-sensical to some people that if they wanted to pick something up that they knew nothing about that they would focus on that topic, use their inner dialogue to talk to themselves about it, take notes on it, and immerse their lives in and around it.
When I say, “Learn how to Learn”, I am talking about acquiring an inner self confidence that one can learn and apply any topic to ones life or organization regardless of the complexity of the topic or the public opinion regarding how “difficult” the topic is. While attending college I remember of the horror stories of learning calculus, and how it was a deal breaker for many college students trying to obtain a degree. Often times, many students would change their majors to an “easier” one that did not require this course, when in reality, the approach required to learn this topic is much like the approach required to learn any topic.
Let’s explore some techniques in learning how to learn, as well as techniques for the actual learning itself.
1. Recognize that learning is a skill
The key word here is self-confidence. We need to studying learning as a topic and identify it as an actual skill that we can possess much like tying a shoe. Once you learn how to tie a shoe, you don’t worry about whether you will be able to tie a different shoe. When you stumble upon a different pair of shoes to tie, you approach it in the same way to tie the very first shoestring that you encountered. We need to look at learning exactly like this.
This involves identifying some techniques that mesh well with our mind, and then when challenged with retaining new information, begin applying them until an adequate amount of information on the topic has been retained. Once we have adopted this way of thinking about learning, we are empowered to desire to learn things that we would have previously dismissed as un-learnable. Also key here is simply the realization that retention of information is just that, and successfully mastering this step has to do with perception more than practice. If we allow a small paradigm shift here in order to view learning a bit differently then we will have already begun the transformation.
This applies directly to leadership because often we are challenged to learn things that may not particularly interest us, or that would otherwise seem too tall of a task. As leaders we will encounter many situations where we are tasked to learn something new and then regurgitate this information to others. We do not want to be the leaders that are the last to learn a new topic, after all, that would aggravate the very definition of leadership.
2. Taking Notes
It is no coincidence that some of the best learners are also the best note takers. It is widely accepted that taking hand-written notes is a highly effective way to retain information. I feel that it is almost a negative stigma to be “that person with a notebook” in a non-classroom environment. The truth is, if you want to be prepared to learn anything on short notice, you would be wise to carry around a notebook and a pen.
The benefits of taking hand-written notes are multiple. Just by having recorded something down for later review is a benefit. I would also count the slow inner dialogue that happens when we write something down as a direct benefit due to the familiarity we gain by consciously talking to ourselves regarding the information that we are recording. I also believe that something magical happens when we craft the wording for our notes that doesn’t necessarily happen when we just unconsciously copy something down. I was given the opportunity to attend a broadcast by Jim Kwik, who is a trainer of learning and speed reading. Mr. Kwik advises that we should take notes directly by copying them down, and then take our own notes of our notes where we further explore what we recorded to ourselves. You can find more information from Mr. Jim Kwik below as well as some books related to the topic.
Just about everywhere I go I will have some sort of media to record information. Not only is this beneficial to learning new things, but we often overlook retaining information about meetings, people, and events. We can use the power of retention and note-taking to maximize our effectiveness as leaders by using this technique in various situations for reinforcing retention of various things.
3. Consistent Exposure
I believe in consistent exposure to media that we wish to learn. I believe that if we want a more thorough understanding of a topic, then we should seek to immerse ourselves in that topic in as many ways as possible. I spend a lot of my time on the road commuting to and from work, and I do not like to think that I just waste this time in travel. Aside from time reflecting and listening to current news, I listen to a lot of books on Audible. Audible has a wonderful credits program where you are able to purchase books for bargain prices as well as a wonderful software implemented to read these books to you.
Jim Kwik also said that the benefits to having a book is that an author is able to condense ten years of experience into a few hours of reading. If our goal is to compound the information that we have as individuals, we should be spending a lot of our time learning the amassed information of others. For this reason, I recommend books as a source of information on just about any topic that exists.
Audible isn’t just something that I blindly market. While I am an affiliate marketer of audible and its products, I regularly use this as a core tool to reinforcing my learning. The amount of information that I have extracted from audible during my commutes is immeasurable. While it may not be for everyone, I highly recommend it for anyone seeking to collect information from reading books, but due to circumstances listening to the books is the most feasible way to digest them.
4. Continuing Formal Education
Now more than ever it is possible to continue your formal education with smaller investments of time. With the proliferation of online courses, it is possible to integrate obtaining a formal education in just about any instance of life or living arrangement. I do not recommend over-booking yourself and stretching yourself so thin that you live in a world of stress, however, I encourage everyone to constantly be actively learning. Taking one course or so at a time is relatively inexpensive and provides direction to your life as well as keeping the blade of your mind sharp.
There are so many topics that you can pick up on that aren’t taught formally in grade school. I look at all of the instances of finance and money as they relate to life, and how ill prepared high school graduates are to actually enter and succeed in the real world of money, bills, and finances. While I don’t discredit being goal focused toward a degree while obtaining a formal education, spot educating and taking only courses that you are interested in for the knowledge that they can provide is also very beneficial. Regardless of your path, something here is better than stagnation and nothing. I think it is also important to mention that if you are degree motivated to not be dissuaded by the amount of time it will take to accomplish this goal if you only have the time available for taking one course at a time.
5. Becoming Emotionally Invested
I recommend that anything it is that you seek to learn that you become emotionally invested in that topic. This can be tricky to do depending on our personal interest in the subject matter, but with practice we can learn to manipulate our emotions for our benefit. When we begin the journey of learning something new, we need to tie this to our emotions. The best way to do this for me is to allow the knowledge of the subject matter to excite me. As I was learning topics such as organic chemistry, I envisioned myself being able to start entrepreneurial journeys related to chemistry and felt the emotions related to success in the area. I believe that using our imagination here is the key to unlocking our ability to manipulate our emotions.
I recall back to the near distant past where I was challenged to thoroughly learn the topic of calculus. I wasn’t really interested in this topic and did not particularly care for its complexity, however, I began to manipulate my emotions in order to become emotionally invested in understanding calculus by looking back into what some famous physicists were able to prove by knowing calculus. I imagined what it must have been like to use calculus to postulate theories and understand some hidden meanings of our universe and then I used these emotions to drive the learning process. I allowed the emotions to flow through me as I would engage new sections and topics of calculus, and allowed those emotions to drive me forward as I was taking notes and reading content.
The Take Away
As leaders, we need to be well versed in learning. We need to understand how our brain works and use it in order to retain new information as well as sort through and analyze various bits of information from many sources. I believe this is a facet of our mental health that goes largely ignored. I believe this is a cultural problem. As a society we are so focused on so many specifics that we forget some very key general points to life. We need to keep the blade of our mind sharp, and to do that requires constant work.
I believe that it is very easy to recognize a leader who isn’t opposed to learning. I believe that these leaders give the greatest contribution to their organizations and have many opportunities that others do not. I would encourage every leader to become a beacon of learning and drive the passion of learning and brain health into others with passion. I believe that by applying these techniques will give us a good framework for learning and retaining information that will help us along the way. Feel free to comment, email, or reach out to me on any one of my various social media platforms if you would like to discuss this further.