Learning is like the weather, everyone talks about it but nobody does much about it. But as leaders, the greatest sin is switching off to learning opportunities around us. John F Kennedy summed it up well when he said, ”Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”.
Leaders are unique beings who go around with a permanent ‘learner’s licence’. They remain committed to using their minds even to learn from the most mundane things, that they could grow perpetually. There are three broad ways in which leaders keep learning and growing.
Learn Constantly — Leaders learn every moment. They constantly and actively strive to learn. Constant striving means that you even sleep in order to be more productive; sleep itself becomes part of the growth process. Taking a break is viewed as a chance to chew on the information taken in and to create an optimum state for imbibing new information.
Perhaps the most famous story of constant learning is that of Friedrich A Kekule. He had been struggling to understand the structure of the benzene molecule. One night, as he slept, he dreamt of atoms dancing like a snake forming a ring. Inspired by this, Kekule hypothesised that the benzene molecule was a ring. He was correct and this discovery was a huge leap for organic chemistry.
Learn Continuously — Leaders learn without interruption. Whenever they pursue a specific goal, they do it without disruptions. Research has proved that it is actually better to study for one hour straight, than for two hours with interruptions. Interruptions break our train of thought and limit our ability to retain information. They take the power out of learning.
Sherlock Holmes, the legendary detective, attributed a major part of his success to his remarkable ability to detach his mind at will to focus on the problem at hand. Though just an imaginary character, potential leaders can surely learn a lesson from this detective.
Learn Cyclically — Leaders understand that life is not one-dimensional. It must be studied from every side and turned upside down. Hence, they learn with repetition and review. Whatever subject you choose, there is always more to learn. Even as you move to other areas of knowledge, be alert to pick up information pertinent to previous topics. This allows for cross-referencing, and ultimately, a deeper understanding.
Leadership Takeaway: Leaders never let their mind shut down. Whatever you are doing at any given moment — watching the news, working on a business deal, talking to a friend, reading this article — give it your full attention and keep learning.
The writer, Sangeeth Varghese, is a leadership thinker and the founder of LeadCap