back1 Blog 84 Learners“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” Henry Ford

Leaders are learners.

At a university graduation a graduate said, “Now I’ve completed my education.”  I wanted to say, “I’ve got news for you!  You’re never going to complete your education.”

If you’re not learning, you’re not really living.  The problem is that a lot of people, by their mid-thirties, stop acquiring new skills.  When was the last time you learned a new skill?

It’s sad to see people who have stopped thinking ten years ago.  They are alive but they’ve been brain dead for a number of years. Leaders should have a continuous commitment to lifelong learning.

I believe there are four essential attitudes that keep you in a learning mode, keep you growing and developing and stretching.

  1.  Openness

We can be open to learn from anyone, any place, any time.  Just yesterday when I was conducting a team development day I gained fantastic insights from these people that were invaluable.  I would have paid to learn what I learned just sitting around a table with them.  Just being open.  There’s always excuses for not being open.  “I already know it all…  I’ve already learned these things….  “  The growing person is the open person.

  1. Curiosity

To go with openness is curiosity. To learn we have to be curious about the world. Curious people investigate; they dig into things by asking questions, or by doing research. A curious mind loves to ask “how” and “why”. There is a childlike questioning. Some people look like they are curious but because they are not open; their curiosity is actually a way to catch others out and to find the flaws. Curiosity takes effort because it means putting aside your assumptions, comfort and experiences. It takes hard work because to be a learner who is curious means that you also need to listen really well. The growing person is perpetually curious about the people and world they encounter.

  1.  Humility

You cannot learn without humility. Wisdom and humility go together. Any time you see a humble person, you’re seeing a wise person.  Pride and ‘stupidity’, humility and wisdom go together.  It was Winston Churchill who once said, “I love to learn but I hate to be taught.”  I think most of us know what he’s talking about.  We want to grow but many times we don’t want to place ourselves under somebody who is younger or less educated or another nationality or different background or different denomination.  Yet you can learn from anyone if you’ll just be open to it.

The roadblock, of course, is pride – “I already know it all.” Children are always open to learning.  Young children’s favourite question is “Why?”  Children learn so much because they’re not afraid to ask questions.  But adults stop learning because they’re too worried that they might appear dumb.  There’s no such thing as a dumb question.  The dumb thing is to not ask. As we humble ourselves, we learn more and more.

  1.  Enthusiasm.

We learn faster when we’re enthusiastic about what we’re learning.  I’m trying to learn some computer things and I’m very enthusiastic about learning them so I’m learning them fast.  On the other hand, I’ve been trying to learn some things about accounting, which I’m not enthusiastic about at all.  It’s taking me a long time to understand it.  If you want to learn, engage your enthusiasm and participate.  Don’t set on the sidelines.



I call it Think Time.  That means you block out a specific portion, segment, of your schedule that you’re going to use just for thinking. You can’t really think unless you can get alone and get quiet.  Get by yourself and just think.  You say, “I don’t have the time.”  Then you’re too busy.  You need to make time.  I find that when the stress level goes up in my life it’s because I’m getting behind on my think time.

As a leader it’s your job to think ahead of everyone else.  The only way you’re going to think ahead of other people is if you’re making time to think ahead of other people.

I believe if you’re the leader of your team or your organisation, then you need to spend at least ten percent of your time just thinking.  That’s my rule of thumb.  Somebody has said that in most offices five percent of the people think, twenty percent of the people think they think, and 75% of the people would rather die than think. To set aside this time a lot of leaders need to change their mindset. Most will think they are wasting time – you are not! People will be amazed about your ability to cut through the entire whirlwind and know what is next, or the priority or the issue that needs to be fixed.


I have referenced articles and books I’ve read in countless conversations, not to sound intelligent, but to relate to those with whom I’m speaking or help to point them in a direction I think might be helpful. Here are a few ways you can make the most of what you’re reading:

  • Take notes and share them with your team. This has multiple advantages if this is a prearranged agreement amongst everyone. You multiply the learning of your team by tapping into the different interests and topics covered. When you share notes you will keep others in the loop about new thoughts and ideas you are having. When you have discussions have common reference points is very helpful.
  • Spark debates with your team around something you read that you are grappling with. The ability to think critically is a vital skill in leaders. Debating sharpens this factuality and also allows you to come to more mature and considered conclusion.
  • Back up an idea you have or a decision you want to make. You can use an article/book/speech from a respected person in your field to back up a decision you want to make. I’m not saying you should make decisions based solely on what you read, but it does give you more leverage when you say, “I read in So-and-So’s book that he had success with X, and I thought that we could implement this idea in our company by doing Y.” It’s a little more likely to stick than saying, “Who knows if this has ever worked for anyone in the past? But heck, let’s be the first to see if it can work!”

I believe that you can read yourself out of any rut if you’ll just choose the right books.  There are a lot of books that aren’t worth reading.  But if you’ll learn to read, you’ll learn to lead.  All leaders are readers.  Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.

When was the last time you read a book?  When was the last time you visited a library just to see what was there?  I would encourage you to fill your life with good literature.  Not just books but also good magazines, blogs etc.  Read broadly and read widely.  Others appreciate it because your decisions, critical thinking and conversation will get better and better.

I read the other day that Americans spend more money on beer than they do on books.  If that’s true, it is a real concern.

We need to plan our reading.  Make sure you balance it. You can develop a reading plan based on your key areas of responsibility and interests.  Read a book on vision, if that’s a part of your job description.  Then a book on recruiting, communicating, staffing, and delegating etc.  If you are a parent, include books on parenting, or marriage. There are many different plans but make sure you get a broad balance.  Read things that you wouldn’t normally read just to expand your horizon and develop.

Next blog I’ll go into this in more detail.

Let me say here there are three kinds of reading material that you need to be aware of.

The first kind of reading material is POISON.  Poison are those things that cause you think negatively, focusing you on the unhelpful or unhealthy influences. Poisonous reading materials take us down dark paths. You know what they are for you.

The second kind of reading material is FLUFF.  Fluff are those things that are just not necessary.  A lot of magazines, a lot of newspapers, a lot of TV shows, they’re not necessarily wrong, they’re just not necessary. We have a limited amount of time, so to learn and grow we need to maximise the use of time. There are times when reading a good novel or watching TV is relaxing and needed. Like the food we eat, if you only eat fast food it will leave us very unhealthy, it is the same with what we are reading.

The third kind of reading material I call BRAIN FOOD.  These are things that teach you, things that inspire you and help you be a better person, things that give you a skill, But there is a lot of things to read out there. Next blog I want to explore this topic in more depth.   



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