No standing still: continuous learning is the key to effective leadership

What can leaders look forward to 2023? And more importantly, how will they need to prepare themselves?

Barring another hyper-shock such as the Russian attack on Ukraine, and who would bet against that, today’s leadership landscape has been formed in several clear ways.  Most are a continuation of trends that were in response to Covid or other significant socio-political and technological developments.

Driving multiple changes

The most obvious day-to-day change is the embedding of hybrid working, and its acceptance in many workplaces.

Then, we have also seen the rise of values as the driving force in many dimensions of business, whether that is diversity and inclusion, or the environment.

An awareness of the importance of mental health and wellness is another.

A tight labour market where the right skills are sought-after also remains pertinent.

Finally, the continued pace of digital innovation, especially of AI is, if anything, quickening.

"We have clearly moved from the shock of the new to a situation where these drivers are a 24/7 normal part of business life", says Dr. Marco Henry V. Neumueller, partner at Odgers Berndtson Germany.

These dynamic changes demand constant and serious attention. And each one of these offers its own complex web of challenges and opportunities, which to complicate matters even more, are constantly evolving.

Keeping pace as a leader

 In the light of this multiplicity of change, leaders would be wise to recalibrate their own approach to personal development and growth in order to stay on top of matters.

Firstly, prioritize what will be required. Of course, this will vary by industry, individual and role, but there are some basics that will begin to answer contemporary demands:

  • Communication
  • Managing hybrid and remote teams
  • Building diverse teams
  • Constructive feedback
  • Problem-solving

Whatever the focus, any  approach to the challenge of staying ‘leadership fit’, as it were, must be a rolling year-long, regular program that is embedded in your year.

Taking an agile, continuous approach with smaller, but more regular sessions, whether they be bite-sized skills training, coaching or personal self-development, is more likely to meet the needs of a changing landscape than one or two substantial commitments.

By learning new things on a continuous basis, you’ll be able to keep up with current changes in your industry, stay ahead of the curve, and make better decisions that will benefit your team.

"You’re more likely to remember what you learned if there isn’t a six-month lag, or if you’re not learning the skill after you already needed to know it.”

The trend towards remote working has brought with it a new wave of online coaching.

Dan White, leadership development specialist at Ezra and director of Ezra’s Impact Labs, explains in Raconteur.

“Technology in learning has moved on. We can now meet the learner where they are, at the point of need, so that they can learn in context, better than we ever could before.” In the digital economy, White suggests abandoning rigid learning timeslots. Instead, why not provide learners with more extensive virtual resources, including systems that can be programmed to trigger events automatically?

Digital environments permit precise targeting of the unique needs of each individual learner, says White. “When we deliver face-to-face learning, something I’ve done a lot, we do get that feeling that not all of the content is relevant to all learners.”

Continuous learning  delivers multiple benefits, continuously

Undoubtedly, taking a continuous learning approach unlocks a host of benefits.

(Incidentally, Leadership IQ research reveals that employees who are always learning new things are literally ten times more likely to give their best effort at work.)

Firstly, continuous learning helps you understand different perspectives and weigh all the available information before making decisions. As you gain more experience (ideally hands-on) and knowledge, you are naturally better able can see things from different angles, and ultimately arrive at wiser conclusions that are also more likely to be appreciative of diverse inputs.

When you’re constantly learning, you’ll find yourself better equipped to keep up with the ever-changing needs of your customers, partners, and other stakeholders. That can lead to stronger, richer and more rewarding relationships with those stakeholders, building the invaluable bonds of trust.

In a very tight labour market, where talent is so valuable and employee engagement remains low, a further benefit of continuous learning is that it attracts and retains the best employees.If leaders are constantly refreshing themselves with new ideas, knowledge and understanding, they are so much better equipped to understand their industry and the challenges their employees (or potential employees) face.

That also feeds into having a competitive edge in negotiations and recruitment, not to mention fresh perspectives on managing their teams.

Stale leaders do not create vibrant workplace cultures.

And stale cultures do not  encourage employees to challenge themselves and see thinking outside of the box as part of their job description.

Also, your behaviour as a continuous leaner who approaches learning as a natural part of working life sets the best possible example to their team and wider workforce. “Sorry, I can’t meet at that time, because I have my weekly personal development session”, sends the right message.

"Good leaders never claim to know everything, or pretend that they do", states Franziska Dietz, Partner at Odgers Berndtson Germany.

Their natural state is curiosity and interest. They want to know more, they ask questions, they listen to those who do know, and don’t dismiss their point of view, even if it makes them feel uncomfortable.

They are students of their company, their industry, their workforce, their teams, always learning and evolving.

Continue the discussion with us (online or in person)

If you would like to discuss this subject in more detail, and its application to your corporate strategies or indeed your own personal career trajectory, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.