What separates good leaders from great ones?
In a recent Inc. video, author and ethnographer Simon Sinek explains how great leaders keep the learning process going throughout their careers.
“Leadership is a skill, a learnable, practicable skill, and the best leaders don’t consider themselves experts— they consider themselves students,” he says.
Sinek says good leaders are “practicing.” They have picked up on leadership skills and are beginning to apply what they’ve learned.
But a great leader is beyond that point. Sinek says that this person has truly exercised leadership skills and has a real knowledge of “prioritizing the needs of the people — sometimes, before our own needs.”
Great leaders are always learning
Sinek says that “great leaders are those who consider themselves students regardless of their status.”
I’ve met some really, really senior, really, really remarkable people, and all they wanna do is read about leadership, talk about leadership, watch interviews about leadership— they have an insatiable curiosity to continually improve their leadership skills. In other words, they understand it’s not some rank they’ve achieved, but rather, it’s a skill they need to perfect for the rest of their lives.
He explains the same concept in another video.
“Teaching — like anything — is the art of sharing not just what you know, but what you don’t know,” he says.
He also advises against using the term “expert” because he says “there’s so much more to learn.”
Here are three ways you can keep learning throughout your career.
1. Embrace the “beginner’s mind”
In a Harvard Business Review article, Roderick Gilkey and Clint Kilts define this term, which was reportedly used by Buddhist monks, as “a willingness to step back from prior knowledge and existing conventions in order to start over and cultivate new options—a challenge that typically activates right-hemisphere cognitions.”
In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, author Shunryu Suzuki describes the Zen mind as one that is open, allowing for both doubt and possibility, and one that has the ability to see things as fresh and new. As he observed, ‘In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.’
No matter how many years of experience you have in your field, be open to the idea that there is always more to learn.
2. Explore non-work topics
It’s important to challenge yourself to learn something different, Kelsey Meyer writes in Forbes.
Engaging in presentations, specifically question-and-answer sessions, is my favorite learning practice. One of our investors, adventur.es, hosts education sessions monthly on topics ranging from game theory to why we get fat. As a leader, you should encourage these types of events during the workday to challenge your employees to learn something outside their specific job responsibilities. This will stimulate their brains by making them focus on something unexpected, which will undoubtedly enhance their creativity and brainstorming skills at work.
Be open to learning new things — doing so can both challenge you and keep your skill set sharp.
3. Use others as a resource
Just as Sinek says he learns from his students, you should be receptive to others so you can learn new things, no matter how far up the corporate ladder you are. Your employees and fellow executives can be immense resources for inspiration and creativity.
Don’t limit yourself to what you know already — get comfortable with the idea that there’s a universe of knowledge you’re not yet familiar with, and make an effort to get there by trying new things and learning from others around you in the office.
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