Looking For Growth As A Leader? Carefully Examine How You Learn

Today, the list of leadership development challenges is extensive. It involves learning technical skills, establishing and maintaining trust, communicating persuasively (including listening), managing conflict, building effective teams, thinking strategically, and engaging people's heads, hearts, and hopes. In essence, it is all about learning.

David Novak, the former CEO of Yum! Brands address this challenge in his book "How Leaders Learn: Master the Habits of the World's Most Successful People." Despite starting life in a trailer park and living in 23 states before high school, Novak rapidly ascended the corporate ladder to become the co-founder and CEO of one of the world's largest corporations. He credits active learning as the key to his success.

Novak emphasizes that organizations must make continuous learning an integral part of their culture. He relied on three habits to encourage his teams to learn and grow. First, they used processes to uncover objective truth and see the world as it really was, not how they wished it to be. Second, they worked to eliminate "not invented here" thinking and appreciate new ideas before addressing weaknesses. Most importantly, they recognized people for their contributions to the learning environment.

Novak also focused on helping people learn from their own upbringing and life experiences. He suggests analyzing important life events to understand how they have influenced one's thinking and behavior. Self-awareness is crucial, as it helps people challenge their own assumptions, biases, and prejudices, which can block the flow of new ideas and insights.

Pursuing new experiences, roles, or environments is necessary for growth, even though the human brain prefers certainty and safety. Novak suggests asking three questions to assess when it's time to move on: Are you still learning where you are? Are you getting bored? Are you more excited by the growth potential in a new opportunity than you are worried about the risk?

Novak acknowledges that leaders must also learn from their failures. He suggests analyzing the role you played in a failure, spotting the missteps, and determining how to avoid the same mistakes in the future. Listening to learn, rather than listening to rebut, is a key to effective leadership.

Building an organizational culture that promotes learning requires trust. Novak believes in running an organization based on the assumption that the vast majority of people want to do good work. By extending trust in positive intentions, he has been able to overcome challenges, uncover innovative solutions, and develop collaborative, safe environments.

Ultimately, Novak sees life as a masterpiece in progress, where the more you learn, the more the masterpiece reveals itself, making life and work more fun, exciting, and interesting. 

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