How do you rate yourself when it comes to the practice of lifelong learning?

If your ideas and insights are based on experiences from 10 or more years ago, it’s time get learning. Your life – and your capability as a leader – depends on it.

The funny thing about learning is that we do a ton of it in our early days in school. And for some weird reason, people think that, once they’ve finished school, they can be really successful without continuing to learn.

It actually doesn’t make a lot of sense when you step back and look at it.

A beautiful quote from Mark Twain, “The man or woman who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”

We often feel sorry for illiterate people in our world (of which there are many), or people who struggle with reading. Unfortunately, those of us that can, sometimes don’t leverage this to our own advantage, and continue to rely on skills that we would have learnt 10 or 20 years ago – and then wonder why we’re not successful today.

Key point – You need to double your capability every three to five years to deserve the designation of being a leader.

You heard me right: to deserve the designation of being a leader.

Leadership is a very important responsibility, both in terms of the growth and development of the people that you lead, and the success of the company or business that you’re in charge of. If you don’t continue to stay at your best and at the top of your game, really you should step out of the way.

Everyone can practice lifelong learning – and continue to learn and grow. They’ve just got to put some time and energy into it.

You really need to work on this if:

  • The ideas and insights you have are based on experiences from 10 or more years ago.
  • You have no formal learning scheduled for the next 12 months.
  • You haven’t read a book since you finished your formal education – unless it was required, or you were forced to.
  • You haven’t learned about a completely new topic in the past year
  • Learning is basically a survival tactic for you: you acquire knowledge to handle the current situations, but not strategically to prepare for the future.

In reality, if you’re okay with just being average or mediocre in your career, you can ignore me. But if you want to be the best – and continue to be at the top of your game – taking on more responsibility, having a bigger impact, and leading a company to somewhere great, then you need to take this one pretty seriously.

What and How

It’s important to know what you want to learn: The things that are going to help you to grow in your sweet spot. The how you learn is a big deal that’s often overlooked.

For myself, there are a few key things about how I love to learn, and learn best. The biggest is experiential. If I have a choice, I will hire an expert, a coach, a guide – whatever it happens to be in a certain area – and have them work with me, one on one. I like to learn at a very fast pace, and I like to learn by doing, so hiring someone like that is an ideal thing for me.

The second thing I like to do for learning is to attend conferences where there are multiple speakers, over one or two days. So I get little snippets on topics. These keynote speakers give you, in 60 minutes, their best material, and then I can decide which ones I want to pursue further.

The third is books. I read a study years ago that the top leaders read 24 books a year. Yes, 24.

It was actually done by Brad Smart in his book Topgrading – and I found out they were half business, half personal.

Well, I’m telling you, there was no way I was reading 24 books at that time. But from that moment on, I did. But I have a great little secret that helps me to continue reading 20, 30, 40 books a year. And the secret is thanks to Mr. Steve Jobs: it’s the thing called the iPhone and iTunes. I listen to all my books on audio, and it’s perfect for me. It feels more like a conversation with the author and fits very well into my travel schedule. So if you see me when I’m traveling – whether in the airport, on the airplane, or even exercising in the mornings – I’ll always be listening to an audiobook.

Actually, the truth is either I’m listening to an audiobook or I’m on the phone! I use my travel time as my classroom time to get through all these audiobooks, and it works extremely well for me.

It doesn’t matter how you do it. Maybe you like to attend classes, maybe you like to watch videos online, or maybe you like to read books and, if you do, mine’s a great book you could choose to read. The key is, find the way you like to do it, and then when you have the right how, it’s easier to go and work on the what you need to learn.

Strategic Learning Grid

The tool I’d like to share with you is called the Strategic Learning Grid. It’s really, really simple, but the challenge is for you to download it and fill it out right now.

  1. What are your top strategic initiatives for the next three to five years – whether it’s the top initiatives in your work or maybe some personal goals?
  2. What do you want to master to support this initiative?
  3. How would you like to learn – a way you would like?
  4. When?

This is not rocket science: it’s a simple way to think about your learning, to allow yourself to be clear on what you need to learn – and you’ll be more likely to do it because you’re going to do it a way that you like.