Co-author Roger Hoffmann
Global CTO and Country Manager, Philippines for US Auto Parts Network
“We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn” ~ Peter Drucker
Highly effective leaders and organizations have three basic practices as seen in what they learn, do, and teach. Returning to and mastering these basic principles makes all the difference between a good and great leader.
Each behavior is a dynamic process dependent on the other. The success of one sets the stage for the success of the other. Like a three-legged stool each component needs to be robust for the whole to succeed.
Practice #1 – “Here’s what I learned today”
A great leader is a lifelong learner with a highly teachable disposition. He/she demonstrates strong correlation between continuous improvement and long-term success. This involves a willingness to expand his/her awareness and engagement in the pursuit of organizational and professional objectives.
Because yesterday’s skills are not good enough for both the present as well as the future, leaders need to continually master their ever-developing craft, choose to become a lifelong students, stay engaged with other practitioners, join online interest groups, participate in meet-ups and conferences, contribute our knowledge, and join the debate around best practices.
When it comes to high preforming teams, continuous learning doesn’t happen by accident. It must become an intentional and measureable part of the culture via deliberate planning and support from senior leadership. As a result, every employee needs to
- Identify a development area
- Seek out the manager’s input and feedback
- Solicit support in expanding job-based skills
- Identify a coach or mentor who can help in the development of these capabilities.
Great learners are curious about everything including the world of their peers in other domains. Learning about other functions, appreciating the challenges and opportunities they are facing, and finding ways to support them sets the stage for learning through collaboration. Such cross training sets the stage for effective future C-suite leadership.
Practice #2 – “What I learned today, I did today”
Most learning comes from focused doing. One successful manager would end meetings with the question “Who is going to do what by when?” In so doing she illustrated the principle that “A strategy without action is a fantasy”
Present priorities for leadership effectiveness necessitate that we operate autonomously without requiring constant external direction. It is imperative that we create our own work by identifying opportunities to improve instead of simply waiting to be told what to do. We need to take the initiative and have a bias towards action. Chance favors those with a prepared mind, so effective leaders seek it out instead of waiting for it to be delivered to them on a silver platter.
Practice # 3 – “To reinforce learning something, I teach it”
We often read of a leader who retires and has not passed on his/her domain knowledge. This person should have built up a leadership bench. In this passing on of the baton or succession planning the leader would have chosen and groomed a replacement and moved on without incurring any risk to the business.
There’s an approach to technical design called “high availability” or HA which eliminates single points of failure in a system, always specifying at least two components so that if one fails, the other can take over. Organizations should follow this strategy by cross training so that all essential functions have a primary, secondary and emergency role.
As a leader do you,
- Identify your right hand people and start training them to do your job?
- Ensure all critical business functions supported by your team have no single points of failure?
The show must go on even if someone is out sick, on vacation, or retires.
Constant innovation and forward thinking is required in an age of global competition. Resting on one’s laurels is never a smart strategy to stay ahead of the competition.
Many case studies, like that of Kodak, reveal the peril of assuming that a dominant position within an industry or one’s profession will remain unchallenged. Kodak ignored the discovery of digital photography by some of its employees (It did not learn). In the end competitors adopted this photographic innovation and Kodak’s film-based business model was replaced. (It failed to innovate or do).
Companies, global industries, empires and even entire civilizations have learned this lesson the hard way.