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Three Reasons Why It’s Crucial For Leaders To Be Lifelong Learners


By John Rampton, founder of Palo Alto, California-based Calendar, a company helping your calendar be much more productive.

People expect leaders to know a lot. After all, those being led look to them for guidance and influence. When they have questions, they believe their leaders should be able to answer them.

They aren’t completely wrong. Individuals in leadership roles bear a responsibility to resolve questions and address issues to keep the ship on course. While this is a logical presumption, expecting an immediate answer every time is not. Leaders must learn throughout their lives, and great leaders make a commitment to doing so.

Albert Einstein is known to have said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” While this principle can apply to anyone, it’s especially relevant for leaders. Curiosity is a vital leadership trait. Here are three reasons why.

1. Leaders must be adaptable to change.

The premise behind the theory “adapt or die” is as old as life on the planet. Especially in today’s world, constant change demands that companies adjust or even pivot in response. Leaders who haven’t made a commitment to lifelong learning won’t survive the twists and turns.

Moreover, effective leadership doesn’t involve merely keeping up with change. It requires leaders to anticipate what’s coming down the pike. The only way to have that sort of vision is to be constantly learning about your company, industry, customers and everything that will have an impact on them. Take Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg, for example. He recently made significant leadership changes, which some have said could be to prepare the company to eventually become a philanthropic trust. By making efforts to help the company adapt, Bloomberg can expand to reach a greater audience in the future.

Leaders who look in the right places will have the capacity to adapt. So keep current with industry and world events that will affect your business. Read white papers, case studies and books to discover how other leaders and companies anticipated and adapted to change. Autopsy your own successes and failures, and learn from them.

Whatever you do, don’t become blinkered by the present. Change is inevitable. It’s your job to see what’s coming next and get ahead of the curve.

2. Leaders need to engage others.

There was a time when patients believed their doctors had all the answers. In the digital age, many patients no longer follow their doctors’ advice blindly. They question, research and challenge. In doing so, they become more engaged in their own health to help them achieve better outcomes.

A healthy skepticism of authority works the same way in workplace settings. I believe employees are more engaged in their work and the company’s success when they ask questions. But they’re only comfortable asking those questions when they’re led by individuals who are always asking questions themselves.

To open yourself up to diverse and broader perspectives, spend more time asking questions than doling out answers. When an employee asks you something, stop long enough to determine whether you really have the one right answer or whether there’s more than one possibility. Instead of firing back a response, ask the employee a question that makes them engage with you in finding potential solutions.

Curiosity is contagious. If you fail to catch the bug for lifelong learning, you won’t pass it along to those you lead. You—and they—need it to succeed.

3. Leaders must excel at solving problems.

You can’t solve a problem until you accurately identify what the problem is. For some problems, it’s easy. For example, the car won’t start because it’s out of gas. But for most challenges, the reasons why they exist will be more complex. Leaders will need to ask the right questions to root them out.

Once the underlying problems are identified, the next task is figuring out how to solve them. Leaders who are lifelong learners will be able to not only draw upon the knowledge they’ve acquired over time but also apply it in innovative ways. They will use the experiences and ideas of others in addition to their own. It’s that broad view that will produce the best results.

When problems arise, it’s easy for leaders to just tell others what to do, regardless of whether that’s the optimal solution. Next time you’re faced with a challenge, compare it to problem-solving incidents you’ve read about and those you’ve encountered on your own. Share your knowledge with members of your team so they can use it while brainstorming solutions.

We all know that two heads—or more—are better than one. Lifelong learners also know that there’s usually more than one way to solve a problem. Help your team become the solution.

Learn something new every day.

No one ever knows everything because there’s always something new to learn. Even the most effective leaders have room to improve. Individuals who are lifelong learners will be adaptable, question everything and solve challenges as they arise. No one expects you to know everything. But everyone should expect you to have the critical ability to find the answers.

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