Become a Better Leader by Learning to Learn

Become a Better Leader by Learning to Learn by Dr. Greg Waddell

Old Barge Sunk in The Riachuela River, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Photo taken by the Author

Have you ever wondered how people learn? Or does that concern you? It should.. that is, if you’re interested in leading your organization, because learning, helping other people to learn, and helping your organization to learn are all foundational responsibilities of a leader.

The learning process begins with observation–and I include reading as one form of observation, though for some people that seems to be the only form of learning that they are aware of, and, of course, regurgitating the words of a book are the only way too many professors know of to test how much a student has learned, but in reality learning begins with observation and that can take many forms and usually involves the employment of the senses in a focused and proactive manner. This is very different from simply trudging through life and letting events and circumstances push us and pull us this way and that.

Observation has to do with saying to yourself: “What do I see here?” It’s about noticing: noticing colors, smells, movements, behaviors, and the way that man standing in the bus station just went out the door without taking his hands out of his pockets and instead simply used his belly to push the lever that releases the catch thus opening the door. Why did he do that? What kind of person is so laid back and so comfortable that they don’t even take their hands out of their pockets to open a door?

It’s a perfect image of how so many people go through life in this lethargic, meandering, purposeless state of passive existence, never growing, never curious, never exploring unknown territory, never learning. That is not the lifestyle of a leader.

Learning is about taking the moment, the experience, the crisis, the joy, the sadness, and asking yourself: “What does this mean?” “How did it happen?” “What went wrong?” “What went right?” “How can I repeat this experience?” “How can I avoid it?” “What should I take note of so that, in the future, I can improve this experience?” “What are the invisible forces at work driving this experience?” “What are the assumptions being made?” “What are the generalizations that should be questioned?” “What is the root problem?”

Of course, learning does not end with observation; it only begins there. But, if we don’t begin we can never end. If we don’t observe, we can never learn. If we don’t learn, we can never improve. If we don’t improve, we are destined to become pawns of circumstances, rather than protagonists in the great story of life. Theoretical Physicist, Brian Greene, wrote:

The boldness of asking deep questions may require unforeseen flexibility if we are to accept the answers.[1]

As leaders, we must become experts in learning! We must begin with ourselves and be completely and ruthlessly honest with ourselves and ask the question: “Am I a learner?” Don’t answer that question too fast; remember, deep learning requires complete honesty with yourself. Are you willing to have your fundamental assumptions challenged? Or do you repress the observations of others and thereby repress both their learning and also your own and that of the organization–because if you are not learning, and you don’t allow your associates to learn, then certainly the organization cannot learn and will soon become a relic of past glory having died in the shadow of its own rusty broken remains.

provides consulting services for churches and organizations. Contact Dr. Waddell today at gregwaddell[at]leadstrategic.com to discuss the needs of your organization.

[1]Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory. Vintage, 1999.

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