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What all great leaders have in common

5 tips to improve your leadership skills through lifelong learning

B.J. Fineman | November 4, 2015

Leigh Branham, author of 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, analyzed over 20,000 anonymous surveys asking employees why they left their last job. Although most managers believe pay is the primary reason people quit, Branham discovered that the number one reason is actually “loss of trust and confidence in senior leaders.”

As leaders, how can we behave in such a way that we don’t become part of that statistic? How do we create a public identity that draws top performers to us, and generate an environment where they want to stay?

For starters, we need to be honest with ourselves and our teams. We need to follow the Golden Rule and treat others as we would like to be treated. And it’s imperative to create opportunities for professional growth and development.

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
—John Fitzgerald Kennedy

You are likely already living by these axioms. But another one that’s just as important, though not typically tied to employee engagement, is adopting the mindset of a lifelong learner. Lifelong learners are driven by curiosity, reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, and learn from their hits and misses. It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean beating ourselves up when we fall short of our own goals and expectations—it’s about continually learning from those mistakes.

How? Here are five tips to improve your leadership skills by acting like a lifelong learner.

  1. Define your desired public identity.

    Reflect on the leadership skills that you want to develop. What do you want to be known for? How do you want your team, colleagues, and clients to think about you? You don’t necessarily need to identify areas of weakness; your goal might be to build on the leadership strengths you already have.

  2. Assess the current state.

    Where are you today? Self-reflect, collect feedback from those close to you, and review any diagnostic results that you’ve received throughout your career.

  3. Map out your gaps and declare a goal(s).

    Create a learning and development goal that is realistic, addresses gaps in skills that you want to close, and gets you jazzed when you think about achieving that goal in the future. Prioritize your goals in such a way that you can have some relatively quick wins.

  4. Identify an accountability partner.

    While some leaders have the fortitude to learn on their own, most of us achieve more, faster, with a partner’s support. As Arina Nikitina states in her blog post, The Role of an Accountability Partner in Goal Achievement, “Most goals are not achieved because we are not held accountable to anyone to achieve them.”

    An accountability partner should also play the role of cheerleader and motivator in the early stages of learning, when the act feels awkward—when it feels like you’re taking one step backward for every two forward.

  5. Be vulnerable.

    Being open with people about our learning and growth goals requires getting comfortable with vulnerability (or comfortable with being uncomfortable). Being vulnerable also holds the potential for your team to appreciate your effort to better yourself, and your awareness of the need to do so. As Brené Brown says so eloquently, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they are never weakness.”

In other areas of our lives, we inherently accept that to reach a goal, we will have to go through periods of growth and learning (e.g., learning a craft such as painting, or increasing your batting average). Apply the same mindset to your leadership growth, and watch how your employees’ satisfaction with you, as well as your satisfaction with yourself, rises to new levels.

B.J. Fineman is no longer with Slalom.

B.J. Fineman

B.J. Fineman is a leader in the Organizational Effectiveness practice at Slalom’s Dallas office. B.J. enjoys helping organizations and teams produce outcomes that matter.

B.J. Fineman is no longer with Slalom.


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