Many people throughout history have noted the connection between leadership and learning. You may be familiar with the saying that education is the mother of leadership. The man who coined the phrase, Wendell Willkie, was an accomplished lawyer and corporate executive who made a bid for the Whitehouse in 1940. Willkie became quite the activist and statesman before his death in 1944 at the young age of 52.
“Education is the mother of leadership.” Wendell Willkie
After studying Willkie’s background, this quote has far more depth than we give it credit.
Most leaders share the common trait of being learners, as noted in the Harvard Business Review article Good Leaders Are Good Learners. Business leaders authorize billions of dollars each year on leadership development, so it only makes sense most of them passionately believe in education.
Lifelong learning has been an essential part of practically every leader’s life I have ever known. All it takes is a quick search on the internet for the term “lifelong learning and leadership,” and you will find more than one million results!
The child of education
I find it fascinating that leaders come in all shapes and sizes, and of all ages, from very young to very old. They can be of either sex, with entirely different educational backgrounds, and from anywhere in the world. There is something more in play than simple formal education.
While formal education can play a role in making leaders, being a leader in today’s world requires far more. The highly regarded Harvard Business Review outlines this truth. Their article the Myth of the Well-Educated Manager makes the case it is more than the number of degrees a person holds that makes them an effective leader.
School can be the beginning of making a leader, but their education extends far beyond this.
It is easy to see that most leaders have a different attitude toward life. They are usually more optimistic and have greater confidence than the average person. Whether they have formal education or not, most of their learning occurs because of their initiative and experience.
While leader is a noun, leadership, like leading, is a verb that connotes action. For an individual to be considered a leader, they must actively lead. Titles matter little to real leaders as they do not earn their power from the title but by what they do and say — through their actions. Therefore, it only makes sense the most important way for a leader to learn leadership is by doing.
Academics can talk about leadership, but unless they are actually leading and experiencing leadership, it is mostly theory and conjecture, some of which may be valuable.
It is true for many larger corporations that formal education is a requirement. Education may get you in the door, but performance keeps you there and takes you up the ladder.
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” John Fitzgerald Kennedy
The mother of leadership
Here are a few ways a leader can continue their education beyond their current level:
- Obtain actual leadership experience on the job
- Volunteer for an NPO (non-profit organization)
- Read books by leaders, including biographies
- Have at least one mentor involved in your life at all times
- Study leadership by reading articles, listening to audio, and watching videos
- Write about leadership
- Teach leadership
What are some other ways you can think of helping people learn how to become better leaders? I’ve love to have your input in the comment section below!
“Learning is not a one-time event or a periodic luxury. Great leaders in great companies recognize that the ability to constantly learn, innovate, and improve is vital to their success.” Amy Edmondson
Birthing the child
If you are a leader and you are reading this, you are likely a lifelong learner. Learning gives you energy, inspires you, makes you want to practice the art of leadership.
You have surely heard the saying “leaders are readers.” This was a shortened version picked up from one of our former presidents who said:
“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Harry Truman
If you are not reading, you are limiting your growth as a leader. Why not pick up a book and begin reading, even if it is only a few pages a day? If you become consistent, you will be amazed at how quickly you get through a book. I’m the kind that loves to mark up and dog-ear pages in a book. I have had many people to whom I have loaned books say things like, “You really read a book, don’t you!” While I am picky about the books I read, I rarely find one from which I do not learn a lot!
Think about this; If you get only one idea from a book, it can pay huge dividends for the remainder of your life. I can assure you that you will gain far more than one idea from any decent leadership book!
One of the greatest ways to learn as a leader is to read leadership books from the greats like Peter Drucker, Stephen Covey, John Maxwell, Patrick Lencioni, and Jim Rohn. Today, we are fortunate to have access to countless books on leadership in print and electronic form at very reasonable prices. There is no excuse not to have something available to read at all times.
I also suggest you find at least one new piece of information or idea about leadership each day. It can be something you read, or if you are more auditory, it could be from a book on tape, a recording, or a podcast about leadership. If you are a more visual learner, why not watch a few minutes of a video on YouTube, a Ted Talk, or the numerous other free resources on the web? There is no end to the free information available today, so why not take advantage of it, even if it is just a small bite each day.
Think about it. If you were to learn one thing a day about leadership, that would be 365 new things a year. Do you think 365 new pieces of information about leadership could help you grow as a leader? Why not make it into a habit? In no time, you will reap enormous benefits from this small yet important activity.
“I am still learning” -Michelangelo’s final words at age 88
Do you consider yourself a leader, or do you wish to become one? I believe we are all leaders in some way in our lives, with or without a title. Every person influences someone in some way and therefore has the opportunity to lead them. Give it some thought, and this fact will become clear.
What do you want to do with your continuing education/learning? Why not come up with a plan to begin learning something today? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!
I can think of no better way to end this article than with the words of one of today’s most influential people on leadership and learning.
“Real learning gets to the heart of what it means to be human. Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we reperceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life. There is within each of us a deep hunger for this type of learning.” Peter M. Senge
Thank you for reading this article! If you enjoyed it, I’m sure you will like the others below.
The 3 Fundamental Leadership Traits of an Exceptional Leader
How to know a great leader from a bad one in any organization