3 effective habits for lifelong learners
Many C-suite leaders consider themselves lifelong learners and with good reason. Over the span of their careers, they have adapted to changes in the market, new operating models and constant competition, picking up new skills along the way. That tracks with research from the Pew Research Center, which found that 74% of U.S. adults have participated in one of the following in the last 12 months:
- Read a publication related to a subject of
- Attended a meeting to learn new information
- Attended a convention
- Taken an online or in-person course
“The mark of a great leader is realizing—despite success—that there are still people who can help, and that it’s OK to say, ‘I don’t know, what do you think?’”
Jay McDonald, an Atlanta-based Vistage Chair with more than 30 years of experience as a business adviser
Here are three habits to help leaders continue growing their knowledge and competitive advantage:
1. Brush up on new technology
Advances in software and technology constantly change how business is done. And keeping up could lead to uncovering new advantages, says Dave Nelsen, president of the Pennsylvania-based Dialog Consulting Group and Vistage speaker.
“It is critical for business executives to understand technology,” Nelsen says. “If you don’t want to, that’s OK. But I don’t think you will long be in business.”
For professionals worried they’re too far behind — or don’t have the time to read up — Nelsen suggests using audio book apps that can use while doing mundane tasks like driving or mowing the lawn. “When you’re in the audio domain,” he says, “you can listen and learn.”
2. Share knowledge with others
Sharing what you’ve learn can help leaders build relationships and acquire new information and skills from others, a constant imperative according to leadership consultants Kenneth Mikkelsen and Harold Jarche.
“In a time where the half-life of any skill is about five years, leaders bear a responsibility to renew their perspective in order to secure the relevance of their organizations,” they wrote for the Harvard Business Review.
Mikkelsen and Jarche recommend leaders share resources, ideas and experiences with both their networks and peers. When “we pass our knowledge forward, work alongside others, go through iterations and collectively learn from important insights and reflections … we build respect and trust,” they wrote. That trust can lead to gaining new insights, recognizing patterns and making more informed decisions.
3. Reflect, review and repeat
Leaders should take time to deeply reflect on what they’ve learned, says training consultant Samuel A. Malone, author of “Awaken the Genius Within: A Guide of Lifelong Learning” (Glasnevin Publishing Dublin, 2014). This way, leaders won’t forget what they’ve recently acquired. “Information is quickly forgotten unless reviewed, and skills fall into decay unless [practiced],” he says.
Malone lists several of ways leaders can reflect that include building out periods for review, modeling how accomplished learners (researchers, academics, etc.) reflect, and reaching out for feedback from others on how they understand that knowledge.
Malone also cautions leaders from taking any criticism personally. “It may be a pointer to your shortcomings and a way of learning from your mistakes,” he says. “Continuous improvement and lifelong learning should be your goal.”
Whatever method they choose, leaders should remember retaining knowledge is the key toward implementing it in the future. “Reflection is a most important aspect of learning,” Malone says. “Retention of information requires repetition, as well as reflection on how others learn and take feedback,” he says.