The Leader’s Learning Agenda

So often, the emphasis on improving at work is focused on doing the job more productively. After all, we normally get paid for our competence at our job, so doing it better has a lot of direct payoff. Not surprisingly, I have met very few people whose specific job title was “leader.” The job was always something else (frequently described by function or level), and the leadership expectations of the job was usually in addition to the main job.

Becoming a more effective leader therefore can require a bit of a mindset shift. You must accept the fact that as a leader, your job is to lead, not just manage or produce. You must also realize that leadership is not just something else you hope to get to every day. What makes this so difficult to embrace, is the fact that you likely get paid more directly for what you manage or produce. I do not recall ever hearing someone tell me she received a nice bonus because she created a truly inspiring vision of the future. However, many have earned incentive pay for exceeding a financial forecast.

Leadership development does seem to require people to swim against the current. Yet, there is one common theme I have heard from many recognized and accomplished leaders. Their words sound something like, “if I am going to take my craft or my skills up a notch, I have to first take myself up a notch. They go on to say that becoming better in the job is easy, when compared to becoming a better leader – or a better person for that matter. That is truly the hard stuff.

So, how much of your learning time today is devoted to improving you – your leadership, your relationship capabilities, or your own character? For many, there is a lot of development time spent on learning the business, competitive strategies, financial acumen, how to analyze data, the process of evaluating talent, and countless other things. All are important for sure. Unfortunately less time, often much less time, is spent on understanding the wants and needs of direct reports, learning how to inspire others to do their best work, or truly and deeply investigating one’s own strengths and blind spots. Maybe people do get to devote some time to themselves once every couple of years or so, in some kind of leadership program. Yet, the emphasis on learning how to improve one’s formal job capabilities seems like an almost everyday affair.

People do want their leaders to be competent in their disciplines, whether that is finance, marketing, strategic innovation or whatever. However, I have also heard from waves of people who, wished their leaders were more capable of providing clarity of direction in times of confusion, and were more encouraging and supportive as people are sticking their necks out during times of change. They want leaders who help them stretch and grow, and with whom they forge trusting, “I will be there for you” relationships. Those are examples of responsibilities you might find in a job description for leaders.

If you can ever get to the point where you view your primary job as leading others, your development focus will likely change. You will recognize that you must continue to work on being the best “you,” that you can be. But go into this with your eyes open. For some reason it just seems easier to admit you could benefit from a top tier university program on international business or creating disruptive technological advantage. But to admit that you have blind spots, or are not wired to be inspiring or a great relationship builder hits too close to home. The ego just will not allow you to be that honest, with yourself or others.

As the world changes, we must all continue to grow both our functional and leadership skill sets. And my guess is, it will take continuous improvement in each of these, to do – and be – our very best. Good luck and “learn on!”

Comments

  1. Jodi Landers says:

    This just hit the nail on the head for me!! Amazing!!

    If you can ever get to the point where you view your primary job as leading others, your development focus will likely change. You will recognize that you must continue to work on being the best “you,” that you can be. But go into this with your eyes open…… But to admit that you have blind spots, or are not wired to be inspiring or a great relationship builder hits too close to home. The ego just will not allow you to be that honest, with yourself or others.

    • It does take some old fashion courage and honesty to develop ourselves, doesn’t it? Thanks for writing.

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