Learning Leadership

Summary Written by Peter Taylor

The Big Idea

Yes, you can learn to lead

"Learning is the master skill. When you fully engage in learning—when you throw yourself wholeheartedly into experimenting, reflecting or getting coaching—you’re going to experience improvement. When it comes to getting great at leading or anything for that matter, you have to keep on learning."- Learning Leadership, page 49

The absolute crux of the message in this book is primarily a belief that you can become a better leader—it is about feeding the right wolf within you. This is a reference to the old Cherokee parable of the two wolves fighting within us (good versus evil); it is about a growth mindset, about discovering your values, what challenges you, what inspires you, what gives you energy and encourages you. You have to believe in yourself, you have to know without a shadow of doubt that you can lead as well as anyone else. You have to take the initiative and be willing to have and accept challenges, take positive and negative criticism, engage peers and have courage. Leadership cannot be instilled into you, it must flow from the inside out, your beliefs and values must be coherent with your leadership style. Once you understand where leadership comes from within you, the journey becomes easier.

Studies have shown that a teacher with 20 years of experience is, on average, no better than a teacher with 10 or even 5 years of experience. We tend to plateau. The same could be said of leaders. Where can we make a difference? How can we continually improve? The authors consistently remind us that learning is the key. We must want to learn, to push ourselves to be better, to feed the good wolf, to challenge ourselves. It does not matter how you learn. What matters is that you do more of the learning style that works for you—get a coach, watch others, read, listen, attend training or just try a new skill. Whatever it is, do it daily and learn from it. Never stop learning. Those that think they know it all are dead in the water. Their evil wolf has won.

As the authors remind us: “The best leaders are the best learners.”

Insight #1

How am I doing?

"The act of self-questioning—so simple, so misunderstood, so infrequently pursued—changes everything"- Learning Leadership, page 196

Learning leadership is difficult. Very difficult. That’s why, in our current world, we are screaming out for them.

What do good leaders do that is different? One of the most meaningful ways is to become accustomed to daily commitments or habits. It doesn’t matter what your habits are, as long as they create some benefit for you. To become an exemplary leader, as discussed above, you have to commit to learning on a daily basis.

One of the easiest habits that is discussed by the authors, is self-questioning, which can be easily implemented and, for me at least, would be extremely beneficial.

Self-questioning is based around active instead of passive questions. Below are examples of five questions focused on learning to lead.

1: Did I do my best to remain positive about my abilities today?
2: Did I do my best to focus on exciting future possibilities today?
3: Did I do my best to challenge and stretch myself today?
4: Did I do my best to learn from other people today?
5: Did I do my best to practice a new leadership skill today?

Be honest with your answers and give yourself a score out of 10. The answers are not important in the author’s opinion. What is important is instigating the process of a daily habit. Generate your own questions and ideally “buddy up” with a trusted partner and challenge each other to continue habitual questioning as this will improve your results considerably.

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Insight #2

Connection conundrums

"To become an exemplary leader, you have to connect to others. You have to invite people into your life. You have to knock on doors and introduce yourself"- Learning Leadership, page 152

To be successful in any field requires a team, a coach, colleagues and a crew. The best performers, especially in sports and the arts, show gratitude and appreciation to their coaches and parents, those that encouraged them. This behaviour is rare in the corporate world, which in the authors’ opinion is a shame because it would make leaders appear more human and approachable if they could acknowledge that without advice and support from others, they may not have been as successful. As an aspiring leader you must accept that you cannot do it all alone.

Points to consider when making valuable connections are:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help as most people are happy to help. The point is to get help to learn.
  • Show empathy by reaching out to people outside of your comfort zone, i.e. people who have different political views, different religions, etc.
  • Learn from people better than you. Invite them into your life; watch and study them.
  • Choose people who make you feel good about yourself, encourage you, coach, inspire and care for you.
  • Drop negative people from your life.

In order to become a better leader, you need to become connected. Have the courage to develop and sustain these relationships, ideally to a point where mutual trust allows honest feedback without judgement or prejudice.

Leadership is a shared responsibility. You must be aligned with the needs of others, you must ask questions, provide support, align others to a common cause, coach others to be their own leaders, and make others believe that anything is possible.

Learning leadership is not easy, but this book give you the skills to begin your journey. There will be roadblocks and times when you want to quit. Employ the self-coaching exercises, start a leadership journal, aspire to improve every day, challenge yourself, engage support and commit to being the best and make it a successful one.

Read the book

Get Learning Leadership on Amazon.

Barry Z. Posner

Barry Posner is the Accolti Professor of Leadership at the Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University (located in the heart of Silicon Valley), where he served for 12 years as Dean of the School. Barry, along with his co-author Jim Kouzes, received the American Society for Training and Development’s highest award for their Distinguished Contribution to Workplace Learning and Performance. Named as one of the nation’s top management and leadership educators by the International Management Council and recognized as one of the Top 50 leadership coaches in America, and ranked among the 10 Most Influential HR thinkers in the world by HR magazine.

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