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Why Leaders Should Be Lifelong Learners

Why Leaders Should Be Lifelong Learners

Professional development is becoming a key factor in job searches and employee satisfaction. In fact, 86% of employees say they’d switch jobs for one with more chances to grow. However, if a company invests in employees’ careers, 94% said they would stay at the company longer. Therefore, a majority of employees view skill and professional development as a non-negotiable and an important necessity in their careers. If companies can’t provide opportunities for growth and learning, businesses suffer as they lack innovation, updated resources, productivity, satisfaction, and adequate turnover. On top of these shortcomings, employees have little opportunity to advance within the company because their skills are not evolving and they are not tackling new challenges that require learning to solve.

So, we recognize the need for employee training, but what about managers and leaders? There is a gap in business values and actual business practices regarding leadership development. 83% of companies say developing future leaders is important, but only 5% have leadership development programs in place. The reality is that a leader’s professional development is just as important as an employee's. In fact, leaders who continually learn and upskill experience benefits that make them stronger bosses while positively influencing employees.

What Is Lifelong or Continuous Learning?

Continuous learning means consistently and constantly expanding knowledge and learning new (or enhancing current) skills. This can also be described as lifelong learning, which is the neurocognitive ability to continuously gain new knowledge and skills.” Either way, lifelong learners commit to bettering themselves by staying up to date on current and relevant information. They dedicate time to learning more about their crafts and passions so that they can become well-rounded professionals and innovative thinkers.

Continuous learners understand that their current level of expertise is not the highest level. Skilled leaders who are lifelong leaders welcome new ways of problem-solving and are open-minded to different perspectives and knowledge they might not know so that they can make more informed decisions without bias. These folks want to find opportunities for learning in their daily life and discover all of the information needed to experience growth.

How Lifelong Learning Benefits Leaders

“Just because you have reached the perceived pinnacle of your career does not mean that you have reached the pinnacle of your effectiveness and impact.” This quote reminds us that there are always improvements we can make and challenges we can face that make us better problem solvers and role models. Here are some ways in which leaders benefit from continuously learning and applying their knowledge:

  • Become agile amongst change. Lifelong learners collect tools, strategies, and experience during their learning journey that allows them to be flexible when changes and challenges arise. Those who are not used to continuously learning can freeze when changes come up and might not have the resources or knowledge to solve the problem or quickly adapt. Leaders are able to attack the challenge by using all of the information available and navigating the situation appropriately. 
  • Become a better decision-maker. With more information, leaders can become more skilled problem solvers. By optimizing their process for solving challenges, leaders become stronger decision-makers.
  • Advance faster than competitors (act first). Leaders who continuously learn can make decisions quicker than competitors because they are informed on the latest and most relevant information. This allows leaders to serve customers with modern solutions quicker than competitors and in a manner that is authentic to the problem.
  • Inspire the team to be lifelong learners, not only for their professional development but their personal development as well. A leader who consistently shows interest in learning more about their team, current matters, and upping their leadership game sets a great example for employees to take initiative and challenge themselves. When leaders encourage learning, employees feel safer to explore what they are interested in, dedicate more time to developing their skills, take more risks, and ask more questions which opens more doors for collaboration.

“if your goal is to help people develop as creative thinkers and lifelong learners,… rather than offering extrinsic rewards, it’s better to draw upon people’s intrinsic motivation — that is, their desire to work on problems and projects that they find interesting and satisfying.

— Mitchel Resnick

  • Foster a learning culture. When lifelong learner leaders inspire and encourage team members to continuously learn, the workplace takes on a strong learning culture where learning and developing skills is a natural part of the company, on organizational, team, and individual levels. A learning culture developed by these leaders creates opportunities for innovation, collaboration, problem-solving, and creativity.
  • Use relevant strategies. As academia and technology develop, new resources and best practices arise which are imperative to learn so that strategies can target new challenges that require contemporary solutions. Staying up to date with technology and trends helps leaders develop highly relevant strategies that utilize up-to-date resources to execute.
  • Improve personal life. Leaders who implement new and compounded knowledge into the workplace can become motivated to improve aspects of their lives outside of work. Whether it’s time management, health, or relationships, lifelong learners have the foundation to learn and implement knowledge to improve these aspects of their lives.
  • Develop soft skills. Professional development that most businesses invest in often targets new developments in the field or skills specific to the job. Soft skills, which can make or break customer care effectiveness and employee engagement and satisfaction, are usually overlooked and deemed less important. Leaders who continuously learn can dedicate time to working on their soft skills and becoming more rounded leaders who can tackle challenges with technical precision and care.
  • Expand comfort zone. When we live our day to day in our comfort zone we can get complacent and uninspired and quickly creep towards burnout. Leaders who dedicate time to consistently learning can grow their comfort zone and become inspired daily to optimize the workplace to better serve managers, employees, and customers, even if they have never taken the steps to do so. Learning and being confident in newfound knowledge gives leaders the push to try something new and implement changes that might be slightly risky yet well-informed, well-researched, and ultimately effective. 

Pareto’s Principle states that 20 percent of our efforts lead to 80 percent of our desired results. No matter which of the above benefits leaders or businesses want to achieve, by investing in learning and leadership development, leaders and companies efficiently reach results. 


Legacies of Lifelong Learners Turned Experts and Industry Leaders

From Julia Child to Ernest Hemingway to Leonardo da Vinci, there are many examples of lifelong learners who made a huge impact on society and created legacies that inspired future generations. 

Julia Child introduced America’s home cooks to French cooking through her second career as a cook, TV host, and author. After leaving her government job, Julia Child spent years learning and applying the knowledge she gained by creating her own school, show, and cookbooks. Child was not satisfied with merely learning how to cook, she continued for decades to hone her skills, understand complex processes, and continue challenging herself to create and express her passion through multiple outlets. A quote that encompasses the gravity of continuous learning is one from Child herself: “even if we were never able to publish our book, I had discovered my raison d’être in life, and would continue my self-training and teaching.”

Ernest Hemingway was an experiential lifelong learner meaning he gained knowledge from inspiring life experience rather than from formal education. Hemingway’s avid traveling before he became an author allowed him to shape authentic characters and write moving stories. He was able to observe, reflect compile, and apply his learnings into his life’s work. The Nobel Prize winner reached high levels of success by recognizing his own potential and committing to a growth mindset in order to continuously become a better author. 

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

- Ernest Hemingway

Leonardo da Vinci oozed curiosity and exploration. Da Vinci was an artist, botanist, autonomist, musician, architect, astronomer and so much more. How did he become so well-versed in such a large array of technical topics? He valued hands-on experience and explored anything and everything that he had an interest in. He was an incredible observer and learned by utilizing all of his senses. He was patient and continued to pursue his goals no matter how long they took or how many drafts were needed. Da Vinci also used what he already knew to build upon and multiply his knowledge. By relating new subjects to those he already knew well, he found the interconnectedness in the many areas he studied and related them to each other to find deeper meaning in his work.

The persistence and commitment of these iconic mentors are what made them incredible learners and strong leaders. Julia Child’s desire to perfect and then share her learnings inspires generations of cooks. Hemingway’s dedication to tell stories of true experiences and cataloged lessons inspired young writers to write and produce personal yet knowledgeable stories. Da Vinci’s interest in the unknown and ability to find beauty and opportunity in everything inspires inventors and the curious to try new things and explore passions. 

How Leaders Can Continuously Learn

Author Sky Capriolo’s wisdom that “your capacity to learn is directly correlated to your willingness to learn” is important for leaders to keep in mind when starting their learning journeys. If leaders do not set goals, regulations, and plans for themselves when searching for, collecting, and applying knowledge, they won’t reach peak success. Leaders who want to be lifelong learners must find their motivation for learning and define how they will successfully gain new knowledge.

Here are some tips for leaders on how they can realistically become lifelong learners:

Leaders need to set clear goals. If you set out to simply “learn more about recent tech” or “become more knowledgeable in modern customer care,” your path to reaching an ill-defined goal will be muddy. Leaders should focus on how they want to grow, what specifically they want to learn about, and why they want to learn it (how they will use the knowledge). 

Dedicate time specifically to learning. Make time in your schedule daily or weekly for learning whether it be reading a book, making progress on an online course, listening to a podcast, researching, attending a seminar, etc. 

Focus on networking. When building your skills and learning new things, take note of the people in your industry or adjacent fields who can open your eyes to different perspectives and with whom you can swap applicable knowledge. Sixty-four percent of people who learn something made new friends in the process which not only opens new opportunities for collaboration and new perspectives but helps leaders feel more satisfied in their role due to healthy work relationships. 

Reframe setbacks and failures as opportunities to learn. When viewing mistakes as growth opportunities, we are practicing continuous learning. Every situation that does not go according to plan gives us information about how we can better remedy a similar situation in the future.

Lean into curiosity. Being curious keeps the willingness to learn alive. If you aren’t curious about gaining new knowledge on topics that pique your interest, your learning goals will not be met. Let yourself explore things that spark your interest and make you feel more passionate about your work.

Constantly look for new ways to learn and attend events. Stay up to date on conferences and workshops that you can attend to up your skills and knowledge. Also, research e-learning courses and online programs that you can attend at your own pace on perhaps more specific subjects. 

Looking for topics about how you can empower your employees, develop your leadership skills, build and bond your team, or increase workplace productivity? GettaMeeting has comprehensive meeting modules to help you and your team gain new knowledge on these topics and strive toward your related goals. Check them out here.

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