Tag Archives: change

3 Reasons Why Learning Is Essential To Leadership

learning is the key to leadership

If you’ve read books or attended conferences about leadership, the topic of learning must’ve taken up a large chunk of the discussion, right? It always does.

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other,” as John F. Kennedy said.

But if I asked you why learning is essential to leadership, would you be able to give me a clear answer?

Not easy, is it?

Here’s my answer in three points:

Leaders must be learners, because leadership is about

  1. changing oneself
  2. changing others
  3. changing the world

So is leadership all about change?

Yes it is.

Real leadership is transformational, and that means it’s in the business of growing people and changing things for the better.

  1. Leadership is about changing yourself

The premise behind this first principle is that leadership is not about personality, but behavior. So becoming a leader means improving your behavior, and your two sources of learning here are your past and other people.

You learn from your past by developing a high degree of self-awareness, by spotting your mistakes and by adjusting your behavior accordingly. Seeing mistakes as opportunities is crucial.

You learn from others by observing, listening and asking for advice. Good leaders look and listen more than they speak. How can you inspire people if you don’t understand their needs and motivation?

  1. Leadership is about changing others

As the American businessman H. Firestone said, “the growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.

So good leaders inspire people to learn and go beyond their comfort zone. The best way to achieve that is to teach by example and become a role model. Ultimately, your goal as a leader is to produce more leaders.

  1. Leadership is about changing the world

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower,” as Steve Jobs famously said. So if you don’t have a vision to make things better, you’re not a leader.

But before challenging the status quo and transforming your organization, you first need to be an effective learner. You must become “the change you want to see in the world.”

All in all, great leaders have no choice but to be peak learners, and peak learners are well positioned to become great leaders.

Leadership is not an outcome, but a process, and that’s why learning is an integral part of it.

2 Fundamental Reasons Why People Don’t Like Change

fear of change

I grew up in a traditional environment that had a strong bias against change. For example, the main social changes of the last 50 years were rejected, technological change was often deemed suspicious, and the good old days were definitely preferred to the depressing modern times.

But since then, I’ve noticed that this bias in favor of the status quo is strong everywhere. Granted, our world is changing faster than ever, but truth be told, only a handful of change agents are responsible for that.

People resist change for political, sociological and psychological reasons. Today I’ll dwell on the latter and show that resistance to change runs really deep.

Here are the two culprits responsible for this situation:

  1. Fear: Humans are hardwired to initially dislike unfamiliar stimuli
  2. Laziness: Humans use System 1 (an automatic mode of thinking) by default

First, people unconsciously prefer things for no other reason than their being familiar with those. This phenomenon is called the mere-exposure effect and has been studied extensively.

Of course, for our ancestors, this made sense. As the psychologist Gary Marcus says, what great-great-great-grandma knew and didn’t kill her was probably a safer bet than what she didn’t know. Similarly, those who stuck to the well known tended to outlast those ventured too far into uncharted territories.

Fear of the unknown and attachment to the familiar might once have helped us adapt, but now we’re stuck with this unconscious bias. This explains why incumbents are typically favored in an election, and why people often accept and even defend systems that truly threaten their self-interest (slavery, communism, apartheid, etc.).

Second, people instinctively rely on a cognitive process, System 1 (see my post on the topic), that discourages change.

Yes, we’re lazy and often prefer using heuristics (mental shortcuts) rather than deliberate thinking. For example, instead of analyzing the costs and benefits of a change, we’ll apply this simple rule: “If it’s in place, it must be working.”

This reliance on System 1 explains why we’re creatures of habit, and why it’s so hard to break away from routines and comfort zones. It’s true that habits increase efficiency, but they also impede improvement and innovation.

You can always change for the better; so be on the look out for those improvement opportunities. More than anybody else, peak learners must avoid inertia and embrace change.