Leadership Lessons from Adult Learners

Leadership Lessons from Adult Learners by Dr. Scott Yorkovich

Photo by WomanOnTheEdge, available at www.morguefile.com

I just spent three days with more than 1000 adult PhD learners in the role of faculty, but I learned much more than I taught. The event was the
Capella University Atlanta, GA PhD colloquium. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work in that I get to see the proverbial light bulb go on and I get to observe people grow a little bit closer to what God designed them to be.

Leadership Lesson 1: Leaders help other leaders grow.

One of the conversations we conduct in these settings is to explore why each person is giving up so much and working so hard for a number of years. Earning a PhD is no small task. Only a minority of those who start this journey actually complete it. The obstacles are varied and large, so it is important to maintain a focus on the goal of that journey. Specific reasons for the journey are as unique as the individual, but they fall into three categories: to pursue a better job, to facilitate a career change, or to make an impact in some way. All of these are legitimate reasons, but the more clear and specific these goals are, and the more passion there is in the reason, the more likely it is that that person has truly found the right motivation to complete the journey.

Leadership Lesson 2: Leaders have clarity and passion for why they are on their path.

The motivation and goals of the journey are not enough to succeed, though. Phenomenal investments must be made. The obvious investments are finances and time. We all know that PhD programs are very expensive and the time commitment is similar to taking on a part-time job that requires 15-20 hours per week. Above and beyond the financial and time commitment, though, is another kind of investment that is even more difficult and more “expensive.” Adult learners must be open to dramatic transformation of their sense of identity and their perception of the world. One of my closing comments to the group today was that the most significant results of the PhD journey is not what you learn, but how you change as a person. This kind of transformation requires being open to being changed and to developing a new understanding of the world around you. Those who are not open to this transformation will not complete the journey.

Leadership Lesson 3: Leaders are open to changing their concept of self and of their world.

It is time to apply these lessons and engage in self-assessment.

Leaders help other leaders grow.

Charles Manz and Henry Sims coined the term “SuperLeaderhip” to describe a style of leadership that challenges and enables other leaders to lead themselves. This requires helping leaders grow and become better leaders. Are you a leader who merely leads others? Or, are you a leader who helps others become better leaders?

Leaders have clarity and passion for why they are on their path.

Motivation is as basic as breathing. Inhaling oxygen is an automatic and necessary function for life. Motivation is automatic and necessary, too. Every action you take and every decision you make has a reason behind it. The difference between breathing and motivation is that you cannot choose the purpose and application of breathing. You can choose the purpose and application of your leadership. Do you have clarity and passion regarding your leadership path? Or, are you just along for the ride?

Leaders are open to changing their concept of self and of their world.

I’ll be honest; this lesson is too big to tackle here. For now, let’s recognize that leaders acknowledge they do not have all the answers and that it is entirely possible their perception of reality itself may be faulty. Correcting these perceptions begins with openness regarding self-concept. Are you a leader who realizes that the most important changes are within? Or, is your focus of change always external?

Which leadership lesson is most challenging for you? For me, it is the fact that I need to change, more than I need to change the world. I suspect you are in the same camp. Please post a comment and let me know.

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