Learning and leadership go hand in hand for senior-level learning and development executives. Some might say the two are intrinsically linked. Consider the traditional learning model of apprentice, journeyman, master and teacher. Each stage requires a cycle of learning and mentorship from a more experienced teacher.
Similarly, the CLO, having grown into the role of learning and development leader on an enterprise level, now must consider the best way to grow leadership capabilities to push the impact of programs and learning even further in order to meet increasing global performance pressures.
“I’m more convinced than ever before that good leaders are also good learners,” said Ken Blanchard, co-founder and chief spiritual officer, The Ken Blanchard Cos. “One of the places that you learn how to lead is by having been mentored at some point in your life by a good teacher. In the old days mentors moved you from being a novice to an apprentice to a journeyman to a master teacher over a period of time. The whole key to creating great organizations is to empower your people to bring their brains to work and act like they own the place. To do that you can’t just go, ‘You’re empowered — go out and do this.’ You have to mentor them. You have to teach them how to make decisions within the boundaries that you’ve set up in your organization.”
Boundaries might include the company’s vision, purpose, values and goals. Blanchard advises all new professionals in a leadership or a managerial position to think back to one of the most powerful learning experiences they have had, consider who taught the lesson, where they were in their career and then evaluate why was it such a powerful experience.
“That will probably give them the best example they have of what it would take to be a good leader,” Blanchard said. “All a leader is trying to do is influence people to be their best, to be as magnificent as they can be and to accomplish agreed-upon goals. Whether you’re seasoned or new, the best leaders are good learners. Jim Collins got a real insight when he wrote ‘Good to Great.’ He found two characteristics of great leaders: Will, which is determination to be the best, to follow vision, accomplish a goal. But the thing he never anticipated is that they’re humble — you cannot be a good learner unless you humble yourself. If you think to yourself, ‘Who’s this person?’ ‘I don’t need this,’ etc., you’re caught by your ego. You’ve closed off your learning valve, and now you’re into yourself. Learning from good mentors has helped me more than anything to be a good mentor and leader for others.”
In addition to great leaders being learners and humble, Blanchard said they also possess an elevated level of self-awareness. This enables them to answer this important question: Are you there to serve or be served?
“People with humility don’t think less of themselves — they just think about themselves less,” Blanchard said. “Every leader, whether new or seasoned, has to look into their heart because leadership starts on the inside and moves out. It starts with the question: ‘Why are you leading?’ Are you there to serve or be served? We’ve seen too many examples in government, in business, in churches of self-serving leaders who think leadership is all about them, and all the power and recognition should move up the hierarchy and forget everybody else. People are sick and tired of that.”
Naturally, Blanchard said, most people don’t want to admit they’re self-serving. A clue to determine whether this is true is to ask leaders about their behavior. For instance, ‘How do you respond when you get feedback?’
“Feedback is an opportunity to learn,” Blanchard said. “My friend Gordon MacDonald wrote a wonderful book called ‘Ordering Your Private World.’ He said there are two kinds of people in life: Those who are driven, and those who are called. Driven people think they own everything. They own their relationship, their possessions, their positions. If you give feedback to someone who thinks they own their position, what do they do? They have to defend what they own. If you tell them anything, particularly something negative, they have to deny you. You can always tell a person with a servant heart because when you give them feedback, you know what they say? ‘Thank you.’ ‘Is there anyone else I should talk to?’ ‘Gee, I never thought about that.’ ‘That wasn’t my intention.’ You don’t have to go to a class to learn feedback.”
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