Leaders Learn

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

— John Wooden | Hall of Fame Basketball Coach

Leaders are learners.  It is as simple as that.  The moment a leader ceases to learn, they cease to be a leader.  The person may not immediately lose their positional authority, but they sure as anything lose their expert authority and will eventually lose their referent power (that is the power that comes from identification with or admiration of the leader).

Systems change, technology becomes obsolete (increasingly more quickly), and resources break – this is a fact of the life we live today.  If a leader stagnates in the face of all this change, gradual or otherwise, they too will become obsolete like the technology we throw out after 18 months.  While I’m not naïve enough to believe that a leader should be able to do everything their subordinates know how to do – we hire people to cover for our weaknesses – the leader should definitely know what their people are doing well enough to answer questions and provide guidance.  A leader should never be too far removed from the work.

In a previous job of mine, I had two major supervisors.  The first was a phenomenal boss.  What made this boss so phenomenal is not that they knew everything or could fix anything, but they knew where to go to get answers, learn from those answers, and then implement them to the team in flawless succession.  This boss was able to admit that they did not know and didn’t let ego take its hold on their position.

The second boss was miserable.  As systems changed, they pretended that they could coast on the knowledge they still had about the previous system.  Instead of getting answers for their team and admitting that they didn’t know, they would make up an answer and hope for the best.  There was a slight chance they would follow up with someone who may know, but the chance was slight indeed.  The entire team knew not to ask this boss questions because the boss was unknowledgeable about new processes, basic information, and interdepartmental news.  It eventually got to a point where in order to get what the team needed, the team had to go over the boss’s head.  Trust and respect had left the team dynamic.

The ability to learn, teachability if you will, boils down to humility.  Teachability is the ability to recognize areas of ignorance, cast aside arrogance, and grow in knowledge.  As the quote above reads: Knowing it all counts for nothing, but what you learn after you know everything is what counts.

If you take a step back from yourself and look around, you will see there are tons of opportunities and things to learn.  I can guarantee that you can find someone who is more knowledgeable than you in one topic or another, and you can surely learn from them.

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