My friend, T. J. Addington, a truly gifted and effective leader, posted a blog article this past Tuesday titled “Seven Practices of Leader Learners.” He pointed out that not all leaders are learners, and that not all learners are leaders. He said that the leader learner is a “powerful combination” and that those people engage in seven practices. I agree with T. J. regarding the power of leading and learning. I also very much support his list of practices, but want to respectfully add one practice to his list.
Here is T. J.’s list of seven practices – below I share my own addition to his list and what I label the “Three Attitudes of Leader Learners.”
T. J. Addington’s Seven Practices of Leader Learners:
- Read widely
- Ask questions
- Think deeply
- Think differently
- Hang with innovators and creative folks
- Pray for wisdom and insight
- Whiteboard monthly
(Please read T. J.’s article for full descriptions of each practice.)
The one addition I would make to this list is “Engage the contrary.” Someone (I wish I could remember who) once taught me that the most effective leaders intentionally engage ideas and perspectives contrary to their own. It is easy to listen to ideas and opinions that bolster your current thinking. It is important, though, to be willing to redefine your sense of direction and reality, even your sense of identity, by actively engaging the insightful perspectives of those with whom you disagree. The exercise can be very frustrating – but also very energizing. When I exercise this practice it helps me to see my world more completely, be prepared to argue positions more effectively, and it often helps me moderate my own position to be more thoughtful and wise.
As I have observed leader learners who engage in these eight practices, there are some consistent themes in their attitude and character. They include:
Curiosity – It would be very hard to engage in several of the eight practices without an attitude of curiosity. Anyone can read a wide variety of materials, but to truly engage the material and benefit from it, you need to be curious about the people, events, technologies, places, and ideas you are reading about. The same is true of asking questions, thinking differently, and hanging with innovators and creative folks. Curiosity is the fuel that makes each of these practices work!
Humility – Let’s be honest, humility is a subject many leaders struggle with. Leaders often have a tremendous sense of direction and confidence. This does not require the absence of humility, but it often accompanies a lack of humility. However, it is humility that creates a channel allowing the ideas and insights offered by others to integrate into your own thinking. Honest leaders know they do not have all the answers. A core function of the eight practices of leader learners is to broaden thinking, challenge ideas, and develop new approaches. Here is another way to think about it: Can you truly pray for wisdom and insight (practice 6) without humility? No.
Risk-taker – The most effective leader learners I know also take risks. They act without guarantees. I am not saying that they “throw caution to the wind” and go crazy, but they do understand that there are more uncertainties than certainties and that forward progress in any endeavor involves many unknowns. Leader learners take reasonable risks by taking on the bulk of the responsibility and sharing the bulk of the rewards. None of the eight practices of leader learners have effect without risk-taking.
Once again, I thank T. J. for sharing his seven practices of leader learners. I’ve added one to his list and identified three attitudes of leader learners. Perhaps you have a practice you feel belongs on this list. Please share!
Happy New Year!