The task of leading becomes ever more challenging given the forces and pace of change. In addition, our busyness as leaders gets in the way of our ability to process, think and reflect on the key issues our organizations face now and in the future. There are, however, seven practices of leader learners that can change the very nature of our leadership. I use the term leader learners deliberately. Not all leaders are learners and not all learners are leaders but leaders who are also learners have a powerful combination.
1. Read widely. Anyone looking at my library would say that it is eclectic: biographies, science, psychology, theology, fiction, classics and the new. Wide reading expands our minds to think bigger thoughts, to prompt new ideas and to give us a rich knowledge base from which to draw life, leadership and practical skills. Reading beyond our expertise area is particularly enriching.
2. Ask questions. We are surrounded by people who do interesting things. Regardless of their occupation or expertise, asking a lot of questions expands our own thinking. What is their strategy, what informs their decisions, why did they do what they did, what is the biggest dumb tax they have paid and what are they learning presently? Learn from others.
3. Think deeply. A friend tells me the story of Bill Gates at a resort in Hawaii where he just sat, rocking back and forth for most of a day - thinking. Thinking deeply is a lost art because we have far too many distractions that vie for our attention. Taking the time to think deeply over issues that matter yields insights that are had no other way.
4. Think differently. Common wisdom is very common and often not wisdom. Question everything! Why do we do what we do the way we do it? Are their "game changers" that would take us to a whole new level rather than a small tweak? Look for contrarian thinkers who give you advice that you might not even agree with but which causes you to consider. Innovators are people who are always asking the why question. They can be irritating but they are also the people who leapfrog others because they think differently.
5. Hang with innovators and creative folks. I am not the most creative guy in the world but I know a lot of people who are and the more time I spend with them the more creatively I think. I especially love time with young creative leaders who see life through a different lens than I do at 55. I need them to stay young!
6. Pray for wisdom and insight. They Holy Spirit has intelligence about what we do that we don't! Ask Him for insight and wisdom and expect that He will talk back. I am convinced that the best ideas I have had did not come from me but came from Him. Ask and you shall receive!
7. Whiteboard monthly. Take just one big rock a month, get the right people into a room and have a whiteboard session around that issue. You will be surprised what the combined intelligence will yield compared to you alone. So simple, but it takes time. I rarely tackle an issue alone. I want the multiplication factor of bright folks and their combined intelligence for the best solution.
The common denominator of these seven practices is time and intentionality. Of course that is what it takes to be a leader learner.