How to Learn as a Leader

Eric Stutzman

leadership, leaders, professional development, management, workplace culture, learning

At the heart of people-oriented leadership lies humility. We don’t ever arrive! To be effective as leaders, we need to be growing and learning continuously. With all our responsibilities, it’s easy to forget to work on our own development. It is common for many of us to focus on production, profit, and the worthy goal of developing employees, but these priorities should not come at the expense of our own growth.

I, Wendy, recently attended one of my son’s basketball games. Though his team played hard, they weren’t able to come out on top. Debriefing after the game, my son told me that he was inspired by the other team, and he wanted to become a better player. I asked him what he could do to make his goal a reality, and the answer seemed obvious to him: “I just need to get out there and play more.”

To be effective as leaders, we need to be growing and learning continuously. With all our responsibilities, it’s easy to forget to work on our own development

Know What & How to Practice

All athletes know that the key to improvement is practice, but the best athletes also know what and how to practice. Before putting in too many hours of hard work, they first reflect and gather feedback from coaches or teammates to identify the specific areas that need improvement.

For my son to improve, he needed to do more than increase his time on the court. He first had to learn how to practice. If he simply did more of what he was already doing, without considering how to get better, his road to improvement would be much more arduous.

Practice with Intentionality

We advance our learning more quickly when we are intentional about what we do. We may get better over time just by “playing,” but we only become truly masterful when we practice with intentionality.

Learning leadership skills is in some ways just like playing basketball. In order to grow, we must hone in on particular aspects of leadership, and we do this best when we have the time necessary to reflect on our possible areas of improvement. To grow as leaders, we need to pay attention to the particular areas of development that we have either self-identified or heard in the feedback of others.

Gather Information & Listen

When it comes to learning new things, it is easy to focus on the what and forget about the how. Focusing on the how means critically reflecting on our performance, reading widely, taking in seminars, asking others to identify our weaknesses and strengths, and engaging with leadership coaches. These are strategies that feed the mind, increase self-awareness, and generate ideas.

When we know the how, we are more equipped for the what – we are ready to go back to work and apply our newly refined skills. If the skills we have developed are effective, we will be propelled to develop them further. If they fail, we need to reconsider the how and try something different.

If you want to ensure that your organization is a great place to work, make leadership development a priority. Leadership development should not be a once-a-year event, but rather a continuous, ongoing process. So be sure to take the time to learn, solicit feedback, and reflect on your weaknesses and strengths.


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Authors: Randy Grieser, Eric Stutzman, Wendy Loewen, and Michael Labun.

This blog is an excerpt from ACHIEVE’s book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work.

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© ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership

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