The leader who learns

By asking yourself some simple questions you’ll find the direction you need to grow your leadership skills and empower others to do the same, says industry leader Steve Pettit.

On any given day it can be difficult to prioritise the really important things in life. We get ‘busy’ and use that as a force field that can blind us to other opportunities. After a long day or a full-on week, the last thing we might feel like doing is learning. However, I haven’t met many people that regret having made the time to grow themselves and their leadership skills.

Learning can come from many different sources, such as the books we read, the courses we do, the experiences we reflect on and the conversations we have. Irrespective of a lesson’s origin, though, its foundation has to come from a desire to grow.

The right questions

‘Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other’ – John F Kennedy

Think of the great leaders you’ve encountered and then consider their common traits. Towards the top of the list you’ll likely note that they were great at listening and invested in the development of others and of themselves. As you progress along your leadership journey, reflect on your own growth so that you can assist the growth of others.

Stephen Covey’s second habit of highly effective people is to ‘begin with the end in mind’. When considering any form of learning I’d recommend asking yourself the following four questions:

  1. Will this learning assist me to reach my goals? (if you’re not sure what your goals are, figure those out first!)
  2. Does it interest me?
  3. Am I learning for myself (and not somebody else)?
  4. Do I have the necessary support to complete what it is I set out to do?

As you consider your next course, certificate or qualification, these questions will help direct your decision. If you’ve identified a great learning opportunity and the answer to the above four questions is yes, then you’re onto a good thing!

Find the lesson

‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’ – Joseph P Kennedy

The time of greatest learning is when the going gets tough – the time that requires the greatest level of discipline, tenacity, honesty and professionalism. Think back to a time in your career when you’ve been the most stressed, anxious, overworked or out of your depth, and consider what you learnt from that experience.

If you’re a glass half empty kind of person you’ll only see the pain of the moment and you’ll look for excuses to explain why things aren’t going your way. If you’re a glass half full kind of person, you’ll recognise that you’re going through a difficult time and you’ll reflect on the experience to learn the lessons that will put you in a stronger position when you face a similar situation. In tough times ahead, make sure you ask yourself the question ‘How has this experience helped me to grow?’. As soon as you begin to answer this question you’ll be a glass half full kind of person.

The power of a mentor

‘When the student is ready the teacher will appear’ – attributed to Buddah and others

The thing about opinions is that everyone has one: you need to surround yourself with people that have your best interests at heart and in whose opinion you trust.

Look for mentors that have in some way achieved what you would like to achieve, as they will be more likely to offer you pertinent advice and have your growth – not their own ego – as their number one priority. Always be open to a mentor disagreeing with you or challenging you, because it will motivate you to look at an issue from a different perspective. A great mentor won’t necessarily give you the answer, they’ll be an expert at asking questions to assist you to make the right decision. As you consider your next learning opportunity, chat with a trusted mentor to confirm that it’s in your best interests.

Ask yourself the question ‘What’s the next step in my learning journey?’, and when you’ve figured out the answer, make it a priority and get on with it!

Steve Pettit BPhEd, BCom, MBA, GAICD enjoys disrupting the traditional view of leadership and paving the way for both emerging and established leaders to think differently about their success and the success of those they lead. He has worked with some of the world’s leading fitness providers, including Les Mills Asia Pacific, and is now the Group Managing Director of Australian Fitness Network and Australian Institute of Fitness.