Titles focused on leaders like this can be so pompous and arrogant. Is the author trying to compensate for their lack of understanding on what they are writing about? Full transparency: I am. If you are okay with that, I invite you to read on.
I want to communicate three things I’ve been learning in regards to how leaders, well, learning.:
1. Constant learning is a great goal we should all strive for, but the reality is we are only able to learn as much as we retain in a healthy way.
2. Our processing of new knowledge runs through psychological anchor points and filters from our past experiences. This is where we have to have healthy habits around retaining in a healthy way. Being aware and intentionally working towards seeing past our hidden bias limitations is key to the end goal of learning new things: effectively communicating them to ourselves and others.
3. The target of our communication is the only means to know if our new knowledge, shaped by subjective filters and experiences, is properly received; whether, that’s our own consciousness or others. Your communication’s effectiveness is not measured by your comprehension or eloquence, but by the reception and impact it has on your audience.
My impetus into this topic was realizing the divergence between my actionable retained knowledge as a leader and the vast amount of new content I was taking in through books, podcasts, audiobooks, trainings, and conversations. I felt like I was constantly consuming but failing to remember the majority of what I was learning.
Perhaps you feel the same way.
“Leaders are learners” is a popular phrase in leadership and management circles everywhere today. What happens when we listen and learn new things without properly processing or converting them into wisdom that can be used in externalizing our new knowledge in effectual ways?
We flood our brains with pearls and nuggets of new ideas from an ever-increasing and diverse amount of inputs without taking the time to process all of this new information into our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This is not a healthy approach to learning. I would venture to say this stems from the motivations behind why we learn, that is fear of being lesser than someone else or a motivation to be perceived as smarter than others in order to wield more power or influence. Whether acknowledged or not, this is the reality of the human psyche.
The first purpose of writing this was to process how to fix this in myself as a leader first.
I only publish it because to not then share it with others would be adhering to the old way of thinking about learning. So what things can we do to increase our depth of wisdom and create an ability to provide value to others through our learning rather than a power to wield over them?
The first thing is focused inputs. Decide on a certain period of time to focus your attention on learning new things in one area. Leverage downtime or “unaccounted for” minutes (driving, walking to work, subway waiting, etc.) for learning. You’ll learn new things and process them in a way that can be effectually utilized.
Second, create processing time during and after learning and input time.
Learning is realized most when our behavior changes. If you’re pursuing more knowledge just to know more than the next guy, you won’t communicate it in a way that will have an impact. People put up psychological barriers when they sense the intention of your communications, otherwise known as “Reactance Theory.” In other words, you’ll have a head full of stuff with empty seats in front of you.
Data inputs must be committed to long-term memory before they impact our lives. We need to respect, not fear, the depth and complexity of a new topic. Move past the intimidation of not having a degree in it and learn it well enough to teach it. (This includes moving past the illusion of explanatory depth.) Process new information the way someone tries new food: mull it over, cleanse your palate then try another bite. Read or listen, then write or talk to someone, adjust it in for a personal context or in relation to a personal situation. Processing through the lens of real life creates a diverse filter, minimizing the effect of our personal anchors and filters, allowing us to bring humility to our understanding of the new knowledge.
The third and final step is to be able to take your new insights and knowledge and not force it down other people’s throats.
Most of us are rich in experiences of others, jettisoned by their excitement, vomiting their new knowledge and examples of why it’s (subjectively) compelling onto us. They’ve learned something potentially useful, but infused with the energy of their personal emotion, past experiences, and other subjective psychological anchors, they only show why it’s compelling for them.
So why are we not asking ourselves how to do it differently? Is the purpose of learning to become better than those around us — or to push them away?
Understanding how to process, with an awareness of our personal filters, and externalize new knowledge through communication habits and behaviors is a mindset paradigm shift that needs to be talked about and addressed in a culture constantly trying to learn and evolve.