The century in which we move and work requires much more of managers and leaders than ever before. It seems cliché but it’s true enough. John P. Klotter, the well-known organizational leader, writes that “the twenty-first-century employee will need to know more about both leadership and management than did his or her twentieth-century counterpart,” and he goes on to say, “The twenty-first-century manager will need to know much about leadership.”
Call it lifelong learning, continuing education, or learning organizations—but staying ahead and keeping adaptive in our individual professions and industries and nonprofits will remain a continuing challenge.
Speaking about individuals Klotter has seen and known over the past decades, he writes in his book Leading Change that “in the twenty-first century, I think we will see more of these remarkable leaders who develop their skills through lifelong learning, because that pattern of growth is increasingly being rewarded by a rapidly changing environment.”
He goes on to share that “in a static world, we can learn virtually everything we need to know in life by the time we are fifteen, and few of us are called on to provide leadership. In an ever-changing world, we can never learn it all, even if we keep growing into our nineties, and the development of leadership skills becomes relevant to an ever-increasing number of people.”
Success in our jobs and companies, and the economic success of our enterprises, will depend on developing our skills. Our business environments grow increasingly difficult and complex, and we have to find a way to keep up. Continual learning and refusing to grow stagnant is the key.
Klotter also says that lifelong learning depends not only on keeping up with business innovations, but also suggests that there are certain mental habits that support lifelong learning:
* Risk taking: Willingness to push oneself out of comfort zones
* Humble self-reflection: Honest assessment of successes and failures, especially the latter
* Solicitation of opinions: Aggressive collection of information and ideas from others
* Careful listening: Propensity to listen to others
* Openness to new ideas: Willingness to view life with an open mind
How open are we to the reality that we don’t know it all and don’t have all the answers? That is the starting point. We move forward from there to pull from the contributions of our team, and weighing the value of their input. Did you hear what this kind of learning requires…listening, really listening.
Looking back over my career, I haven’t always been one to listen carefully and heed the advice of others. That can be a fatal mistake in developing a career and contributing to organizational goals.
We are in the early years of this century, but it seems to be moving at warp speed. Says Klotter: “The old white-collar career path did help people learn, but only in narrow functional grooves. One had to absorb more and more knowledge about accounting (or engineering or marketing), but little else. To progress beyond a certain level, one had to learn about management, but not much about leadership. Successful twenty-first century careers will be more dynamic.”
People who become more useful to their organizations will learn to adapt to change, grow in their skill sets, and identify their leadership potential. The future belongs to those who have the vision for helping their employers and their teams, to continue learning.
This month at the Grand Point Leadership Network breakfast gathering, we will be discussing with Randy Wilson about “The Importance of Continued Learning.” Randy started his own company in 2015 called REEL PD (Reliable, Efficient, and Ethical Leadership Personal/Professional Development), and is dedicated to helping leaders reach their maximum potential. With over two decades of leadership application in the US Air Force, corporate world experience, and recently becoming an independent certified member of the John Maxwell Team, Randy is excited to help us explore taking our learning to the next level. Join us at Chambersburg First Church of God this Thursday, September 21st at 7:15 AM. Register here.
Continue the Conversation
What are the barriers that hinder you from intentional continued learning?
In what ways does your company or organization promote continued learning? How can your company or organization improve continued learning for its employees?
Where in your life or leadership could you use some intentional learning?
Ron Keener was editor of “Church Executive” for eight years before retiring to Chambersburg and becoming an aspiring author. His career in journalism has been mostly with trade magazines in associations and other nonprofits. His particular interest is with church congregations seeking to revitalize and transform themselves. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and The University of Oklahoma.